Wednesday, 20 June 2012

On the Steps of Cervantes in Algiers - Waciny Laredj






On the Steps of Cervantes in Algiers (2008) is a discussion in Arabic - with a French translation next to it - by Waciny Laredj on Algeria's past and present, the development of the Algerian novel.... and Cervantès.  It reads as a reflection on the Algerian collective-self.  I have it tagged for my next next reading but from the first two pages I was struck by the following.  Let me translate (emphasis in the text are my own) :

"Chance, sometimes, works things well; unfortunately, men don't manage as much.  In the second century and the tenth century, Algeria saw the emergence and the passage of two emblematic figures: Lucius Apulée and Miguel de Cervantès.  Both founders of an atypical genre: the novel.  Their texts are foundation stones, 'The Golden Ass' and 'Don Quichotte', who were born fully or partially on Algerian soil, altered the face of literature on a universal scale.  However, this is never spoken of in Algerian's schools, the ideal place for the transmission of knowledge, as if memory was a place of suffering that one should inevitably get rid oneself of."


 

"Four centuries after his death (he died on 23 April 1616 in Madrid), Cervantes reflects our image back to us and reflects it back to our memory.  It is no possible to comprehend the depth of a culture, of a people, of an ideal without understanding the spirit which moves it, the soul which feeds it from within, gives it strength and substance and shapes its future aims."


 "Today, and refraining from being too much of an alarmist, we quickly come to the realisation of having wasted a past, which is recoverable only with great difficulty, for an Algeria which is just being born.  Drifts are numerous, fallouts incalculable and the culture is ill-digested.  What has become of these outstanding individuals, the ones who passed through or the natives, who made Algeria's intellectual bliss, who turned Algeria into a crossroad of cultures and colours? Apulee? Saint Augustin? Cervantes? Ibn Khaldoun? Sidi Boudienne al-andalousi? Delacroix? Isabelle Eberhardt? Albert Camus and so many others?  A history truly to meditate and an amnesic practice to analyse so in order to never reproduce it again."         
 

I'm a bit bummed to see Camus mentioned (over and over again but not by Laredj only) but that glitch aside, Laredj underlines some perceptive and corner points on how Algeria's collective memory is being affected by a trend (unqualified as yet in the pages I've read so far) to alter history by ... essentially not speaking.  That is how I read it.  The transmission of one's history, or at least one's story, is achieved orally, through speaking.  This was definitely the case for an Algerian culture which is oral at its foundation and tribal in its strucutre.

What I see or rather hear, and therefore do not hear, is the silence that reigns over certain matters.  I mean a silence in orality not in writing.  Algerian authors, and particularly novelists and poets (it is my belief that historians are useless or rather useful only to the instituted canon)  are very out-written, to avoid saying outspoken, since they record and resist in writing.

What I find particularly striking in my 'Algerian readings' so to speak-write, is that Algerians interrogate their present and history on a collective plane but there are no examinations of the individual, by an individual, for an individual if you see what I mean. The exegesis of the modern Algerian experience is being undertaken as a 'we'.  

What about the I?  Where is the nombril? I am searching for the 'individual', possibly dual, for an Algerian eye, although I'll settle for a belly-button.






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