“I come from a family of Muslim theologians and academics in Tunis who belong to the theological tradition and I was present, during the fifties, at the unveiling of women in one of the strongholds of Islam, in the name of an ideology of westernisation and modernisation. It was for me a shock when the question of the veil and re-veiling of women in one of the strongholds of freedom and western culture, namely France, Paris, was raised again. I asked myself, what is happening here, where is the actual problem?”
Abdelwahab Meddeb crosses frontiers in a way which is not often seen in current literature and he poses questions to which there are no easy answers, as in this interview with the magazine ´Lettre International´. Born in Tunis in 1946, Meddeb is now a French national. Tunisia and France are equally close to him. But in his literary as in his academic work he is primarily concerned with the roots and history of Islam, its literature, its culture and the problematic integration of Muslim thought into the processes of modernity.
And so, since September 11 his status has been raised as an expert on the kind of cultural exchange which is experienced by many as culture shock and understood by only a few. After studying art history and literature, Meddeb became editor for a short while at a large Parisian publishing company, before supervising, from 1974 to 1988, his own literary series at Editions Sindbad. Two of his novels which came out during those years were also translated into German.
In ´Talismano´ (1979) the first person narrator in Paris imagines a stroll through Tunis, the town of his childhood, and recalls for the reader the diverse sensuousness of an Arabic medina. In ´Phantasia´ (1986) by contrast, the strolling narrator moves through the cityscape of Paris and links this with the city travels of Walter Benjamin. Since the 90’s, Meddeb has dedicated himself increasingly to academic institutions. He has been invited as guest lecturer by universities and research centres in Geneva, Florence, Paris and Yale. He nevertheless spends most of his time as a freelance writer and journalist in Paris.
In his latest book, ´La Maladie de l’Islam´ (2002), he attempts to portray an exact analysis of the Islamic movement. On the one hand he contrasts the poetic tradition of the freethinkers and medieval mystics with that of a militant tradition of dogmatic thinkers and purist fanatics, and on the other hand he criticises the simplified thinking of the West which sees in Islam a deadly enemy. Meddeb places emphasis on a more detailed knowledge of tradition. Writers such as Ibn Arabi, Dante and Yehuda Halevi are for him models of a more humane world, whose philosophies touch upon one another rather than against one another.
Author: International Festival of Literature Berlin (ilb)
Sortir de la malédiction. L´islam entre civilisation et barbarie
Edition du Seuil: Paris
Editions du Seuil: Paris
Albin Michel: Paris
La metière des oiseaux
Fata Morgana: Montpellier
Fata Morgana: Montpellier
La gazelle et l´enfant
Actes Sud: Paris
Tombeau d´Ibn Arabi
Fata Morgana: Paris
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Exhibition, Film, Discourse
(14 March 10 - 09 May 10)