Abdelkebir Khatibi (1939-2009)

771007-915417Moroccan novelist, poet, essayist & sociologist Abdelkebir Khatibi passed away on Monday morning in Rabat. Khatibi was a major force in contemporary Moroccan writing. There are only two of his books available in English at this point, namely Love in Two Languages, translated by Richard Howard (& that one is in print probably only because Jacques Derrida’s book Monolingualism of the Other is a response to this essay by Khatibi) and The Splendor of Islamic Calligraphy, co-edited with Mohammed Sijelnassi (a large, splendid book indeed, about what lies at the core of Arabic culture, art & poetics, namely its deep investment in calligraphy).

There is thus a dire need to translate some of the core works by this incontournable Maghrebian author: a good place to start would be the novels La mémoire tatouée (1971) and  La Blessure du nom propre (1974), the collection of poems Le Lutteur de classe à la manière taoïste (1976), the essay  Le sionisme et la conscience malheureuse” (in: Vomito blanco, Collection 10/18, 1974), and the superb essay collection Maghreb pluriel (Denoël, 1983).

I have been reading Khatibi since I first came across his work in the early seventies: it is essential work for anyone wanting to understand not only contemporary Morocco, but also the whole of post-colonial North Africa. Writing about the Maghreb, I have several times quoted the following from Love in Two Languages:

Yes, I spoke, I grew up around the Only One and the Name, and the Book of my invisible god should have ended within me. Extravagant second thought that stays with me always. The idea imposes itself as I write it: every language should be bi-lingual! The asymmetry of body and language, of speech and writing — at the threshold of the untranslatable.

Which leads him to say in another essay that what would indeed be extraordinary would be to write “à plusieurs mains, à plusieurs langues dans un texte qui ne soit qu’une perpétuelle traduction” — to write with/in several languages a text that would be but a perpetual translation. A thought close to my heart & mind, one that I find essential for trying to think a nomadic or diasporic poetics commensurate with the complexicity of this, our twenty-first century world.


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8 Responses

  1. I have recently translated Nabile Farès, Hearing Your Story. A book-length poem (originally Escuchando tu historia). I hope you know him. And appearing in a few months will be his novel, A Passenger From the West (1971), in my translation.
    I was wondering if you know who might be currently translating Khatibi? Richard Howard is a guess, but he’s very busy–I wager he doing something else.
    Thank you–Peter Thompson, Roger Williams University

    • admin says:

      Hi Peter — Yes, indeed, I know Farès’ work — have in fact translated some of Le Champ des Oliviers (“The Olive Grove”), book 1 of his La Découverte Du Nouveau Monde, “The Disvovery of the New World.” Would love to see your translations — where are they coming out? Not sure who, if anyone, is translating Khatibi right now but am very interested to find out. Best, Pierre

  2. I’ve spoken to Réda Bensmaïa and Ronnie Scharfman (both of whom know Farès, incidentally), and I get the feeling no one is translating Khatibi.
    Are you trying to publish your Champ des Oliviers?

  3. Pierre–I just wanted you (and others) to know that I will be translating La Mémoire tatouée.
    I invite all comments and support for this project.
    –Peter Thompson, Roger Williams U.

    • gail bingenheimer says:

      I just got done reading the MLA October 2010 issue with “The Language of the Other: Testimonial Exercises by Abdelkebir Khatibi. I find it wonderful and yes I too would be interested in reading some of his other works. I read some french but not at the suffistication level of this man and so I don’t want to miss anything that he has to say.

  4. admin says:

    That’s great news, Peter! Keep me informed. —Pierre

  5. Important to note that a group has been formed by Lucy Mcneece, to translate the rest of Khatibi’s work. I will be working on La Mémoire tatouée within this group.
    Thanks, Pierre, for helping to keep all of us on the er.. same page.

  1. June 17, 2009

    […] the works of other French (or French-speaking) writers/authors. In their works, Jacques Derrida and Abdelkebir Khatibi often conflate the physical body for the typographical letter. For both Derrida and Khatibi, […]

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