Sunday, 9 March 2014

You like شعبي things...




Does language shape the structure of our reasoning, or do our (culturally-influenced) thoughts structure our language, are questions I have always found captivating. It’s a little like the chicken and the egg of linguistics. While I sit around feeling captivated, so have others before me all be it a lot more productively. Arab philosophers of the 8th to 10th century sat around among themselves too, but in assemblies of great minds to discuss the origin of language... a few centuries of bewildering mental activity before maqbul and makruh were pushed off the boat and 7lal and 7ram took over as the only subjects worth waking up for.

Whether language influences our thoughts or our thoughts influence our language, it is observable that we express our thoughts outloud according to a preset shape, along distinct terms of references, patterns of thoughts in essence, and we are predisposed to follow these.

Two blocks in an Algerian pattern I am learning to discern have been pointed to me: شعبي things and elite things. These two are part of one construction, a pyramidal world where one is set above (guess which) the other (guess which too), and looks beyond it. This division other than being anorexic (ever seen only two things on a what-constitutes-a-society menu?) is vertiginously vertical, Hydra Olympus standing over an El Harrach underworld with ignorant-devil overspill in ‘southern cities’. Ah, those southern cities hey. Among the many subjects debated in this binary manner are the events occurring in the south of Algeria, Ouargla of late. I was particularly struck by a recently published interview where an Algerian sociologist policy analyst anthropologist is studying human societies dwelling in southern Algeria working on explaining why people in Ouargla are still protesting even after they have been offered jobs, pay offs, and perhaps even cake. He comes to the conclusion that it’s because these protestors are Saharan nobles who don’t want to work in a job below their tribal social position, and so the government should offer them jobs that befit them, like… taxieur. What?

This binary world-view can strike anywhere with the most surreal results and no raising of eyebrows. Algeria is still often debated, nationally and internationally, in tribal terms, but what about leaving alone tribal, anthropology, researcher and researchee and start talking dignity.

What are the criteria that define ‘elite’ in Algeria I haven’t figured out yet, but I’m certain that western references for this term's definition don’t apply. What does elite do? Mostly, it calls itself… elite, you know you’ve met it/them because they'll tell you 'not like them'. What are their symbols? Not sure but they whisper a lot. Where does elite live? Up, above somewhere, wherever the where is 'not that place' and 'not down there'. So far, I’ve found that whatever’s elite, it is defined in the negative, notably and most especially, not-شعبي.

Logic dictates: find out what شعبي is to locate elite (then avoid elite…) 

So what is شعبي other than a music genre? شعبي  is a street, a 7ouma, it's like the guys on my street gathering to chitchat at the same hour, it’s the sunburnt vegetable seller on my building’s corner who roars out laughing at my abysmal maths skills, it’s the lines and lines of DIY kiosks spotlessly arranged by young boys who sell the latest movies and series on DVDs for cheap, it’s the lovers not even hidding on the corniche, it’s the kids who get bits of shopping for their mothers after school, it’s young women in colour-coordinated outfits impeccably made-up no matter the budget, it's restaurants with a ‘family area’ that serve m7ajib, it’s cafes playing El Guerouabi and Black Eye Peas, it’s the broken buses whose drivers always let you board mid-traffic and will never leave you alone in the street, it's....

I could go on for several pages and maybe I will in other posts but one thing's clear, whatever elite is going to turn out being, it's going to be colourless and unnatural, because it's core... is a negation.