Latest Review: "Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics" ed. by Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Emma Ramadan on Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics, ed. by Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio.

Emma herself is a literary translator from French. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and Literary Translation from Brown University and an MA in Cultural Translation from The American University of Paris. Her translation of Sphinx by Anne F. Garréta was published by Deep Vellum last year.

Here’s the beginning of Emma’s review:

Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of artists and intellectuals, Souffles was a written fight for democratic ideals and a new Maghrebi literature following independence in Morocco. For those of us who can’t read French or Arabic, or who don’t have the attention span to sift through all of the archives, we now have the excellent Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology, edited by Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio, with just the right amount of historical background and contextual commentary. There is also a delightfully substantial discussion of the different translation methods used by their array of skillful translators, including (to name only a few) Andrew Zawacki, Anna Moschovakis, Robyn Creswell, and Guy Bennett.

Souffles came about just as it was becoming obvious that even after Moroccan independence had been won, the battle for a liberated Morocco had only just begun. In the government installed in 1956, King Hassan II began persecuting democratic and progressive thinking, implementing torture and imprisonment. Islam was used as a tool to impose order. The generation that had seen its national culture wiped out entirely by the French protectorate then saw it denied or confined to the realm of folklore by the post-independence government, all to keep the Moroccan people weak, alienated, unable to come together through anything resembling tradition or national pride.

Enter: Souffles. The journal sought “cultural decolonization” in order to reconstruct Moroccan identity. In the words of Harrison and Villa-Ignacio, this meant they had to “forge new languages, forms, and genres that were not tributary to European cultural norms.” Valorizing Moroccan traditions and culture would give the Moroccan people a foundation to stand upon, a stronger sense of community and identity. These writers wanted to rediscover their national heritage and critically reinvent it, bringing it into contemporary creation and using it as a launching off point for modernity, something at once anchored in the ancient and infused with the new. The members of Souffles took it upon themselves to research and document Moroccan traditions (see Ahmed Bouanani’s richly detailed essay “An Introduction to Popular Moroccan Poetry”), using Souffles as a kind of archive.

For the rest of the review, go here.


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