Christopher Gibbins (University of Alberta), 'Calligraphy and Dialogics: Moroccan Writings' Islamic Intertextualities'

Although a great deal has been said in recent years about contemporary francophone Maghrebi writing the majority of that criticism perceives it as an extension of European literary and intellectual traditions. From a certain perspective it is understandable why this might be so: the use of the French language seems to suggest to many the embracement of an entire culture and the rejection of another (a sentiment shared by many within the Maghreb). In addition, it is obvious that colonial presences, and in particular French occupation, have exerted a significant literary and intellectual influence throughout the Maghreb. Nevertheless, the insistence upon that influence has been limiting and has led to a significant lacuna: the very rich Islamic textual traditions which imbue, in diverse ways, Maghrebi literary production.

To illustrate this, I would like to focus upon the works three contemporary Moroccan writers --- Abdelkebir Khatibi, Fatima Mernissi and Tahar Ben Jelloun. A great deal has already been said about their work but no one, as far as I can tell, has yet discussed the manner in which Islamic textual traditions have shaped their writings. I have no desire to reduce their complex work to a textus islamicus, to paraphrase an expression coined by Maxime Rodinson; rather, I would simply like to situate a criticism of these writings in a site which lies somewhere other than a Western modernist or postmodernist literary and intellectual debate. Nor do I wish to argue that such a site is any more "true" or "authentic" than other sites but it is one which functions outside of a colonized francophone discourse and is one that I believe is central to both the form and the content of the works of these three writers.

An Islamic intellectual tradition is most explicitly at work in the writings of Mernissi who summons forth the textual struggles of the Mu'tazila, for example; but it is equally present in the works of Khatibi and Ben Jelloun who draw upon the spiritual and ontological aspects of Arabic calligraphy in the first instance, and on the dialogical nature of Islamic exegesis in the second. I would like to illustrate how the philosophical musings of Khatibi, the dialogical nature of Mernissi's polemics and the poly-vocal fictions of Ben Jelloun all reflect a textual and intellectual diversity whose origins lie outside of Western articulations of poststructuralism, feminism or post-modernism.

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