Words from the Maghreb: Plural Identities. These Voices that Haunt Us

Ali-Benali, Zineb
Quaderns Divulgatius, 15 2000

The Algerian writer is captive to an almost unbearable situation. Driss Chraïbi and Keteb Yacine both caused scandals, each in his own way, the former in daring to attack the central figure of the patriarchal edifice, the latter for being unreadable because he turned the usual aesthetic and genre categories on their heads. Politics weighs like destiny upon Maghrebi literature. Fiction is deciphered as a true story. If a writer talks of collective History, they will try to tell him or her what to say, and above all, will try to forbid touching on areas of this History.
Fiction can never escape from history, which it bears like a millstone, and it illuminates as a kind of metaphor from which spring the shortcomings and the incoherence. Let us take just two aspects: exploration of the past, with a central figure, that of Kahima, and historical narration within contemporary literature. The rejection of Kahima corresponds to aims that are not so much religious as concerned with effects on identity. The beginning of memory is a black hole: Kahima, a Berber woman, who has dared to lead the resistance against the word of Allah. History, as taught in the schools of independent Algeria, began in the seventh century. Before that, nothing, a black hole. But history can take its revenge on oblivion and the name "Kahima" has been given to a lot of girl-children, symbolically linking them with their ancestress.
Fiction recovers figures from the shadows and the writer thus becomes an explorer of lost territories, re-creating ties with what has been hidden, returning it to the light of day. Ouetta Tahar or Boudjedra write about episodes completely denied by the Official History of the liberation struggle. In the present situation of extreme violence against anyone who writes, texts are still proliferating. The novels of Maïssa Bey and Ghania Hammadou speak of everyday life. In Leïla Marouane's Ravisseur, one of the Islamic laws is literally put into practice, that of repudiation. In Peurs et mensonges, Aïssa Khelladi wonders what is the place of somebody who writes and who publishes what is written. How can one come up with an appropriate verb at a time when everybody dictates what one has to say? It is a dangerous process. It is the process of Algerian writers. Society cannot admit them, but cannot reject them either. They speak out for freedom, but accept no mission. In their own society they are an alien presence.

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