Words from the Maghreb: Plural Identities. Modern Word, Infinite Memory

Bennis, Mohammed
Quaderns Divulgatius, 15 2000

Memory and oblivion represent two stances on the relationship of letters to life and death. I see an essential difference between writing in French and being a French speaker. Writing in French is like any other writing as long as the writer does not consider language as a problem. Being a French speaker is a primary awareness of language, which remains at the level of language exclusively regarded as a means of communication. The strategy of language in writing defines the strategy of the "I" who writes.
I have always experienced the world through the word. My grandmother, my father, my teachers and my neighbourhood friends are words, on the basis of which the whole world of my surroundings is made and unmade. In evoking the "I" of my childhood, I try to re-read the memory of others who, like me, lived in Fez half a century ago. To return to the word, in a seething period of Morocco's modern history, is a way of reflecting on the mutations of both a memory and an imagination.
Modern Arab thought has reflected, upon the problem of memory and lack of will in juxtaposition, not to mention the rejection of any opening towards western culture and its universal values. Names like Taha Houssein, Gibran, Adonis and Laraoui represent an open vision with respect to past and the present. In their criticism of the domination of memory they do not attempt to free themselves completely from this past but rather to see it differently, in other words, to see it in a state of becoming. Arab cultural modernity, in the critical sense of the term, is a movement blocked in by the walls of tradition, unable to project itself into the present or the future. And the creator who attempts to change the word in order to change memory, is cast aside and condemned for the simple reason of introducing disorder into collective memory which, according to upholders of tradition, must remain true to a sacred past.
The problem of the word and memory continues to increase our torments in a time marked by the pace of globalisation. I understand that memory is a product of the word. The word determines our way of living in the world. Our sensibilities, our ideas and our values find their source in the word and in the imagination. And we find ourselves face to face with language. The problem of all modern Arab writers lies in the statutes of language. The Maghrebi writer is no exception to this. In spoken and in written language. The setting, the depths, the airs of my memory and of my imagination are sketched in my language, Arabic. My tongue is made of this language which has become, for me, a questioning point. For example, how does one write a modern poem in a language which remains conditioned by antiquity. The Arabic language is one confiscated both by the upholders of tradition, who want to hold it to a mission of being the deposit for an unchanging past, and by French speakers who deny it modernity.
It must be noted that our daily existence, the life of consumption and information, favours the abolition of memory. Young Moroccans give no importance to collective memory, either because they use another language, French, or because they have taken up the values of globalisation which reinforces the idea of the rupture of memory. The modern word is my voice. Infinite memory is the path I take. Both exist only in my language, Arabic.

Si voleu consultar aquesta publicació adreceu-vos a aelc@escriptors.cat.