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Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 193-194

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Book Review

Fugues de Barbarie: les écrivains maghrébins et le surréalisme

Fugues de Barbarie: les écrivains maghrébins et le surréalisme, by Hédi Abdel-Jaouad. New York: Editions Les Mains Secrètes, 1998. 251 pp. ISBN 0-9665360-2 paper.

Early in this seven-part study of the historical and creative affinities between surrealism and the cultural production of the Maghreb, Hédi Abdel-Jaouad quotes the 1981 witticism by the Algerian poet Habib Tengour, according to whom North Africans have long been surrealists without knowing it. The interest of this substantial study thus does not lie so much in its identification of influences or literary ramifications as in its thorough mapping of the philosophical and political factors that made the convergence of several cultural projects (surrealism, esotericism, mysticism, and Sufism) historically inevitable. The parodic nature of the title evokes what Abdel-Jaouad sees on the one hand as the fundamentally contrapuntal, counterdiscursive quality of the literary modernity of the Maghreb (a trait embodied in the notion of fugue) and, on the other hand, its disruptive and subversively dissonant identity (conveyed by the notion of Barbary).

As they muster the widest array of cultural and literary evidence ever gathered on the subject, the seven chapters of this book are meticulously documented and far-ranging. They do not only deal with history and literature but with painters as well (Baya and Atlan). A first movement (ch. 1-4) carefully reconstructs the historical, philosophical, political, and linguistic contexts within which the ideological and esthetic encounter [End Page 193] between surrealism and modern Maghrebian literature has taken place. This first movement culminates with an examination of the "expérience plurielle" of the "Souffles" movement of 1966-72 and of two of its major figures: Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostefa Nissaboury. It also briefly examines the resonance of surrealism in the works of Tahar Ben Jelloun and Abdelkebir Khatibi.

The centerpiece of the second movement, chapter 6, focuses on six literary figures, analyzing in great detail the textual specificity of works by Mohammed Dib, Kateb Yacine, Jean Sénac, Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine, Habib Tengour, and Salah Garmadi. Whether they deal with Dib's "inclination labyrintique" and telluric poetry, Kateb's "generative filiation" with surrealism, Sénac's "surréalisme solaire," or the bitter humor of Khaïr-Eddine's poetry, Abdel-Jaouad's accurate analyses display impressive erudition and comparative talent.

The last part of the study (ch. 7) returns to one of the book's central preoccupations, Sufism, at once (and like surrealism) an ontological and spiritual, but also esthetic, libertarian, and heterodoxical project. Abdel-Jaouad thus contends that Sufism is reborn in Maghrebian literature as "soufialisme," a neologism that conjoins the simultaneously esoteric and revolutionary qualities of modern Maghrebian literature.

The study considers an imposing array of cultural materials and is backed by the daunting apparatus of no fewer than 784 footnotes. Such encyclopedic deployment and a prolific system of chapter subdivisions occasionally make the reading difficult; but in the end, such structural fragmentation may be the inevitable consequence of the book's complex scope, and this observation may only reflect one reader's own organizational preference.

The multiplicity of Abdel-Jaouad's theoretical considerations and analytical topoi makes of Fugues de Barbarie a ground-breaking project. The book does not only deal with major esthetic movements and literary figures: in its approach of surrealism as a fundamentally political and metaphysical movement, it establishes a persuasive history of affiliative relationships North and South (through the examination of multiple forms of surrealistic comportment), as well as East and West (through the impact of mysticism and Sufism on continental thinkers). The book's erudition and its often scintillating reflection (witness the luminous pages on "le langage-objet" [89-91] or the readings of Dib, Kateb, and others in the sixth chapter, for instance) make it a landmark not only in the field of Maghrebian studies but in comparative studies as well.


Bernard Aresu

Bernard Aresu teaches literature and...


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