Travels, Transcriptions, Tongues and the Eternal Plight of the ‘Étranger professionnel’ in the Corpus of Abdelkébir Khatibi
In Féerie d’un mutant, Abdelkébir Khatibi creates a dialogue in which one of the interlocutors declares that he is an “étranger professionnel,” a recurring expression in the Moroccan writer’s work that isn’t easily translated from French into English because of the multiple meanings of the first word: “étranger” is most often rendered as either foreigner or stranger, though these terms carry decidedly different connotations for Anglophone readers. This very resistance to translation may be what inspires the individual in the aforementioned textual exchange to specify that this self-description does not refer to a profession, but instead constitutes “a mobile position in the world” that entails “crossing borders: between languages, civilizations, markets.” (Féérie d’un mutant 2005, 38-39). This way of approaching the planet brings the “étranger professionnel” to embrace a stance that stands out in stark contrast to nationalist and xenophobic sentiments: “A foreigner, I must attach myself to all that is foreign on this earth.” (Amour bilingue 1983, 11). The ever-moving, ever-adjusting position that Khatibi extolls has consequences on multiple levels, affecting the body and the relationships of the “étranger professionnel,” but the effects are perhaps most evident on the use of language, which is never taken for granted or considered to be a “given”: “Language belongs to no one […] Hadn’t I grown up, in my mother tongue, as if I were an adopted child? From one adoption to another, I believed I was being born to my own language.” (Amour bilingue 1983, 11). The constant rebirth into language that characterizes Khatibi’s written work involves tireless translation in texts that depict travel as synonymous with self-creation and linguistic innovation that benefit from transnational perspectives that render all things foreign, in complicated but fruitful ways.
Keywords: Khatibi, postcolonialism, decolonisation, transnationalism, transcolonial, aesthetics, sociology, Islam, Maghreb, Morocco, travel, stranger, art, sign, literature, philosophy, translation, bilingualism, Mediterranean, language, performativity, Palestine, alterity, Derrida, Hassoun, Segalen, Tanizaki, Japan, semiology, carpet, spiritual, poetics, ethics
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