Abdelkebir Khatibi’s “Tattooed Memory”

A pleasure to hear that Peter Thompson has finished translating one of the core books of Maghrebi (Moroccan, in this case) contemporary writing, Abdelkebir Khatibi’s autobiographical 1971 novel La Mémoire tatouée.  Here, a brief extract (& let’s hope that a US publisher will allow us to get the book soon):

I liked my rum-and-milk, my gaze blurred by the girls bouncing by. And? Robbe-Grillet and Godard? The talks burbled along, who-I-like and who-do-you-like—and what expertise! Let’s just say I didn’t know what to think at all, Robbe-Grillet is a guy obsessed with walls, a methodical maniac and, how should I say? a smallish system of smallish tics. Godard? a middle-schooler on his weekend, who was shrewd enough to snapshot the random sign of his times, he daubed out a few moth wingbeats in the blink of an eye. The Paris I haunted recognized its phantasms in this supreme Narcissus, surely it was all fake; as I had no prejudice against what was fake and because the delicious delirium of cultures is a joyous eyeful, I went to see his films to discuss them afterwards. After all, I was there to make time pass, to unbind my tongue, not to run away.

   To pick something out of the air, I preferred Vian. He loved jazz, wrote really funny books, savaged our consciences at a time when war was churning out cadavers. He paid with suffering, disappeared like a wanderer destined to be found again along the journey. It was this freshness of violence that linked me to his memory—he knew how to live, write and die all at the same time, a happy gift.

   All of that amounted to little, a minor flirting between culture and the lie. Inexorably, Paris appeared as inexhaustible speech in which I would have to decipher my own enigma, I changed neighborhoods, wondered over a strange street, came back again and again to the Latin Quarter, nostalgic and spent. With Moroccan friends I sometimes arranged a night of multiplied minor pleasures, and somber bars where abandoned saints presided, sucking on their cigarettes and running their gaze over you, I had an empty wallet and a Muslim body, hadn’t killed anyone, no longer sorry to be alive—this vision faded in the night, no dream of dying love-struck by a barmaid, however fatale she might be, only of following the shifting smoke.

    My taste, never belied, for these sophisticated images; I floated in an out-of-body languor, the flowers were artificial, why let myself be crazed by their dark seduction? We laughed hard, the alcohol was no madness, rather we simply endured a dry deprivation of memories. Now I know, if friendship doesn’t derive from a memory it improvises itself in conspiracy with the present, as if time, in this double movement, was evasion from an image never lived, never deduced.

   We used to end up at the Halles loading-docks, over burning hot soup. The morning slipped slowly in, we wandered a bit before sleeping, first whisperings of the sun among men. Everything spoke very simply to me.


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