Jean-Paul Sartre's famous question, "For whom do we write?"
strikes close to home for francophone writers from the Maghreb. Do
these writers address their compatriots, many of whom are
illiterate or read no French, or a broader audience beyond Algeria,
Morocco, and Tunisia? In "Experimental Nations," Reda Bensmaia
argues powerfully against the tendency to view their works not as
literary creations worth considering for their innovative style or
language but as "ethnographic" texts and to appraise them only
against the "French literary canon." He casts fresh light on the
original literary strategies many such writers have deployed to
reappropriate their cultural heritage and "reconfigure" their
nations in the decades since colonialism.
Tracing the move from the anticolonial, nationalist, and arabist
literature of the early years to the relative cosmopolitanism and
diversity of Maghrebi francophone literature today, Bensmaia draws
on contemporary literary and postcolonial theory to
"deterritorialize" its study. Whether in Assia Djebar's novels and
films, Abdelkebir Khatabi's prose poems or critical essays, or the
novels of Nabile Fares, Abdelwahab Meddeb, or Mouloud Feraoun, he
raises the veil that hides the intrinsic richness of these artists'
works from the eyes of even an attentive audience. Bensmaia shows
us how such Maghrebi writers have opened their nations as
territories to rediscover and stake out, to invent, while creating
a new language. In presenting this masterful account of "virtual"
but veritable nations, he sets forth a new and fertile topography
for francophone literature.
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