A Critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics
Edited by Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio




Abdellatif Laâbi

Translated from the French by Lucy R. McNair

The creation of a literary journal in a country like ours should respond to a necessity. It should not be a stopgap, as some would have it, but rather bear witness to a “reality in action,” open up perspectives that will ultimately define a path and impose a new vision. This amounts to saying that a journal is above all the materialization of a certain number of choices and considered options. If we do not clarify our demands from the outset, any effort risks becoming a collection of possibly illegitimate interests or mere filler.

But demand is a corollary to creation and creation is the culmination of awareness, an acute perception of national and universal problems.

Souffles arose from diverse motivations. Firstly, we needed to oppose an inflationary literary and cultural trend that has taken root in the country since independence, a trend that not only ridicules its representatives, who were overcome by events, but even more so our own country in the eyes of the world, for this official pseudo-literature happens to be relatively well read and even translated. Secondly, we did not want to give too much importance, in the interim, to a group nostalgic for a Casablanca-based cultural hegemony that attracts young Moroccan poets in flocks to its cosmopolitan gatherings and readings and operates under the pretense of guiding them and teaching them to write poetry. This kind of malodorous outgrowth of the old regime will wither away once these young poets have gained greater awareness of themselves and of the problems facing their country. We must nevertheless condemn the paternalistic agitations of these poetry-craving old men.

Faced with the impatience of the press and national opinion, we felt the need to take a stand. We have thus responded by making our presence known in our manifesto-issue, which is devoted to five poets (who also write novels, short stories, and drama) and is intended, above all, to put the reader in direct contact with their works, not their ideas or beliefs.

We felt impelled to attest to the productivity and creative vitality that current circumstances had condemned to vegetate in forgotten corners.

Souffles was thus a vital move forward, the only combat tool we could find to make our voices heard. For the record, I want to remind the reader that poet friends of ours such as Nissabouri and Khaïr-Eddine, lacking better outlets, first published their poems in the Casablanca Revue de l’Automobile, and that the author of this article published prose, poetry, and nonfiction in anachronistic foreign reviews.

Finally, Souffles was conceived in the beginning as a tool or organ permitting all those who had something to say in the field of literature and culture to express themselves in total liberty. The sole form of censorship we will allow being the quality of the writing, its degree of relevance, and its contribution to our national literature, whose first milestones we are seeking to establish. We stressed in our first Prologue that the Souffles Group does not constitute a school or an autocratic clique and that the writing published in this first issue had the simple goal of formulating a tone and defining a few basic principles and perspectives.

The letters and essays we received and the contacts we established in response confirmed that our intentions were not misjudged. The editorial board has already attracted new friends in the Maghreb, Africa, and abroad. But those were the first, collective goals that motivated the creation of this journal. Now each writer is responsible for his writing and pursues his creative adventure within his own context and according to his own means. Souffles should not impede that individual destiny, but rather witness it and be of help in a spirit of fraternity, of warm friendship, and with the awareness of shared goals.

We leave to those who are not interested in our undertaking—either because they suffer from academic or idiosyncratic biases and refuse to look reality in the face, or because they are dried up or bloated with illusions—we leave to such people the indescribable columns of The Little Moroccan. A cup of coffee, a crossword puzzle, the sports page, and the daily horoscope never hurt anyone. For the “intellectuals” there are always family planning issues, Karsenty cabarets, and the film club.

To all regular and involuntary readers of The Little Moroccan, we hope you aren’t hungry for much.

The only way to cut through this darkness and deal with our true problems, to find a way out of our current doldrums, is to deploy all our energy. Each of us is responsible and each gesture, each word, each piece of writing we present will hold serious weight. Petty speech, charlatanism, and concessions should not stop us. No one has the right to shirk their role.

Intellectual avarice that revels in its own contradictions ends up becoming a kind of sterility. The trick is to stay honest and not hide one’s impotence or tepidness behind pretentious palaver. Decolonization and national culture will remain empty slogans as long as we fail to take possession of ourselves, as long as in-depth analysis of our current problems remains a mere spinning on the surface of things, a vague inclination in so-called serious discussions. Every struggle is based on conscientious stocktaking motivated by hard-won experience and apprenticeship in local and distant realities.

Western science has held the monopoly on all research until now. Our history, our sociology, our culture, and our art have been studied and interpreted in the function of an externally motivated curiosity and rigor that fundamentally do not correspond to our perspective, our needs, or even our strict realities. While we can more or less objectively profit from the work that has been done, our role is to put everything into question, to reorient these analyses in light of new data and according to our own perspective. As for the scandalmongers, they agitate for immobility and do nothing but perpetuate the constraints we now urgently need to loosen. To do so, we need great lucidity and great courage. Mohamed Sahli’s essay, Décoloniser l’histoire (Decolonizing history), is significant in this regard and allows us to hope for a new departure.

Our journey has only just begun. We have not yet come up against the cyclical butchery of values, against the impasses that lead certain civilizations towards apathy or absolute skepticism. We are at the stage of reconsolidation, of rediscovery. We are on the threshold of speech that has not lost its meaning for us.

In this regard, the violence of the Souffles Group is no longhaired marijuana dealer’s shoulder shrug. Stop berating us with beatniks and other war-and-peace mongers. We are too anchored, too pure for that. We have not yet killed either the individual or the collective in these parts. If elsewhere man has done away with himself through his own speech and his own creations, we want to show that the only reason he has bogged himself down is because he wanted to play the game, because the socioeconomic machine he created has outpaced him, domesticating him while he tried to domesticate and direct it. We do not know whether other men are capable of refusing this conditioning and by which path they may rediscover true authenticity.

In this sense we owe it to ourselves to deflate such forms of hegemony and passive conquest, which are replacing traditional methods of assimilation and depersonalization before our very eyes. Hegemonies that present themselves as sincere dialogues. But we have not reached the stage of any dialogue. We have barely reached the stage of clearing house. Dialogue is only possible once we have satisfied certain demands. It will not be accepted in the name of tolerance alone.

Our role is to show that we were not born yesterday. It will no longer be possible to ignore these new vitalities. Soon they will ask to see the balance sheets.