Words from the Maghreb: Plural Identities. Who's Talking about Writing?

Saadi, Noureddine
Quaderns Divulgatius, 15 2000

Without even knowing it, the writer bears within himself or herself the invisible hand of a genealogy, the memory of the "inkwells from which one has drunk", a lineage, ancestors. In this sense, there is a variety of responses from writers, as many as there are possible ideological or cultural justifications. Meddeb says that the fact of writing in French is a kind of experience that gives the impression of expanding French literature while carrying out the work, thanks to the influence of Arab literature. A certain French critic still considers, in the mirror of exoticism, that such writing makes the French language a stranger to itself. This is a curious paradox by which a literarture becomes alien in relation to the very language of its writing. Writing in "their" language, they think, we are in a process of appropriation, of possessing their language or betraying it.
A book, as everybody knows, always has two authors, the person who writes it and the person who reads it. Openness to polysemy is something proper to all literature. "Every language is alien to the writer", says the poet Guilleric. While, with translation, we have the same work in another language, with literary writing it is the language itself that becomes other. This process is doubly so in the case of Maghrebi literature in the French language because, in "another language", it is not only that one changes style but that one writes "otherly " in the sense of writing "another thing". The relationship of Maghrebi writers with the French language is frequently constituted by a sort of linguistic insecurity which springs not so much from their not knowing French, but rather from a kind of hidden knowledge they have of the imaginary and symbolic content of its terms.
Far from any kind of slang or other types of linguistic acculturation, the French language of the Maghrebi writer appears as the written language of polyphony. Obliged to think in the language, the writers put a literary strategy into action. They end up thus rediscovering the modernity of contemporary literature, analysed by R. Escarpit as "creative betrayal" or hailed by Segalen within an "aesthetic of the diverse". Between an impossible integration to the French literary corpus and an ethnographic demeaning under the heading of exoticism, Maghrebi literature in the French language contributes to producing this plural French constituted by distances of language, of incorporation into a system of language with other cultural references.

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