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Tahar Ben Jelloun (also Tahir, Taher Benjelloun) is a leading Moroccan poet, novelist, essayist, and journalist whose rich intellectual and creative production now spans more than four decades. Most of his books are available in fifteen or more languages; the most popular have now been translated into forty-three languages.


Ben Jelloun was born in Fez on 1 December 1944. His autobiographical essay La soudure fraternelle (1994; Fraternal bonds) provides an important source of information on his early childhood and adolescence. In particular, Ben Jelloun recalls his arid apprenticeship at the local Qur’anic school as well as his premature confrontation with the experience of a classmate’s death. Ben Jelloun has also fondly evoked the nurturing familial atmosphere of his home, where devout Muslim parents raised him in a spirit of religious tolerance and freedom.


Name: Tahar Ben Jelloun (also Tahir, Taher Benjelloun)

Birth: 1944, Fez, Morocco

Family: Wife and daughter

Nationality: Moroccan

Education: 1956–1963, Fez ( Lycée ); 1963–1966, Muhammad V University in Rabat (philosophy); 1971–1975, Ph.D., psychology, University of Paris


  • 1971: Publishes first collection of poems, Hommes sous linceul de silence (Men under a shroud of silence)
  • 1972–present: Correspondent for the French daily Le Monde
  • 1978: Elected to Académie Mallarmé in Paris
  • 1987: Wins Prix Goncourt for La nuit sacrée (The sacred night)
  • 1991: Wins Prix des Hémisphères for Les yeux baissés (With downcast eyes)
  • 1994: Wins Prix Méditerranée for L’homme rompu (Corruption) and Grand prix littéraire du Maghreb for totality of his work
  • 2004: Wins International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Cette aveuglante absence de lumière (This blinding absence of light)

In 1955 Ben Jelloun’s parents moved to Tangier, and several of his novels abundantly address, through fictionalized accounts and historical mediation, his antithetical vision of the two cities. Ben Jelloun lived in Tangier until the age of eighteen. He has portrayed himself as a timid and studious adolescent whose passion for cinema—the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Orson Welles, for instance—started at that time. It is thus while still at his lycée (high school) in Tangier, at the age of fourteen, that Ben Jelloun saw Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog for the first time, an event instrumental in developing his own historical and philosophical comprehension of genocide. His love affair with cinema also led Page 186  to his first visit to Paris, in July 1961, where he attended a film series on the New Wave cinema.

His educational career subsequently took him to the Muhammad V University in Rabat, where he sat in on ABDEL KEBIR KHATIBI ’s lectures in sociology. His first exposure to philosophy, particularly Friedrich Nietzsche, also dates from his years in Rabat. He describes Thus Spake Zarathustra as an effective alliance between poetry and philosophy. Equally crucial was his involvement with the founders of the avant-garde review Anfas/Souffles (Spirits, 1966), in which his very first published poem appeared. The group included not only Khatibi but also such major figures of intellectual resistance as ABDELLATIF LAABI , Mostefa Nissaboury, and Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine. These were also years of deep political unrest that led to the politicization of the Souffles movement, which Ben Jelloun and Nissaboury would later leave.

The ruthless repression that met popular unrest in Morocco, particularly young people’s dissatisfaction with the monarchy’s failure to respond to essential educational and economic needs, is well-known. In March 1965 Rabat and Casablanca had become centers of dissent. The year 1965 was also when the opposition figure Mehdi Ben Barka was kidnapped and murdered in Paris. General Mohammed Oufkir’s sudden institution of compulsory military service resulted in Ben Jelloun (and many others) being drafted and sent to the disciplinary barracks of El Hajeb in the Meknes area. He was subsequently transferred to the NCO school of Ahermoumou, from which Commander Muhammad Ababou would launch his coup against King HASSAN II in 1971. The memories of the humiliations the young men had to endure, an experience Ben Jelloun once referred to as incarceration disguised as military service, later found their way into some of the most unforgettable pages of L’écrivain public (The public writer, 1983). Upon completion of his military service, Ben Jelloun went to teach philosophy at the lycée Charif Idrissi in Tetouan. His transfer to the lycée Muhammad V in Casablanca in 1970 was not the geographical promotion he had hoped, owing to the constant student unrest and numerous strikes that created havoc with his professional aspirations. Of Casablanca Ben Jelloun remembers unwelcome family pressures to get married, general ennui, and his revolt against the petit-bourgeois mentality that seemed to prevail. In Casablanca, however, he remained in contact with the Souffles movement. He frequented the studio of the painter Mohamed Chebaa (1935–), where he composed the first pages of his novel Harrouda (1973). Ben Jelloun’s first collection of poems, Hommes sous linceul de silence (Men under a shroud of silence), was also published in Casablanca in 1971.

The same year, Ben Jelloun interrupted his career as a philosophy teacher in order to continue his education in Paris. He earned a master’s degree in sociology the following year, when he also published his second collection of poems. In June 1975, he defended a doctoral dissertation in social psychology at the University of Paris VII. The dissertation later evolved into a case study of the wretched condition of North African immigrants, then a political taboo. It is the thirty-some volumes that have so far followed the publication of Harrouda and La réclusion solitaire (Solitary confinement) in 1973, however, that have established him as a poet and novelist of international repute. His literary career fully matured from the later seventies to the present, especially as a fiction writer who significantly renewed the novel as an esthetic and political genre. L’enfant de sable (1985; The Sand Child , 1987) and La nuit sacrée (1987; The Sacred Night , 1989), the collection of short stories L’ange aveugle (1992; The blind angel), as well as Hospitalité française (1984; French Hospitality: Racism and North African Immigrants , 1994), are the works for which he is perhaps best known. Ben Jelloun lives in Paris with his wife and daughter. As many North African novelists, he writes in a French language profoundly molded by transnational sources and influenced by Arab traditions. His collection of poems on the first Gulf War, La remontée des cendres (1991; The return of the ashes) was actually published in both Arabic and French.


The period 1973 to 1987 clearly remains the most significant in Ben Jelloun’s life, in that his creative talents came to fruition through a series of novels, from Harrouda to The Sacred Night , which have left their esthetic mark on North African as well as international writing. In Harrouda , for instance, Ben Jelloun started questioning the creative parameters of the modern novel and completely reconfigured its form, the better to adapt it to the narrator’s metaphysical exploration and political questioning.

Ostensibly hermetic, the text in fact subversively reverses the negative conditions of personal and political experience and transforms them into a positive force of contention, in a discourse of which the novel’s narrator says that it was meant to create havoc. Creation and desire, central to Ben Jelloun’s works, also ceaselessly reshape the narrative of Harrouda , a novel about dispossession, both individual and collective. Indeed, the themes of bodily suffering, of the infliction of violence, of the psychic wound conveyed through ubiquitous images of wound, fissure, and rupture, reflect preoccupations upon which the whole edifice of Ben Jelloun’s writings reposes.

Poetry in particular plays a crucial role in Harrouda , not only in the form of free verse spontaneously exploding the novel’s narrative flow but also through the high degree of figurative disruption and inventiveness that Ben Jelloun’s poetic syntax at times shares with surrealism. Unfolding as a narrative of passage and migration, the five movements of Harrouda thus dismantle the borders of the traditional novel in order to permit language to transcend the ceaselessly receding perimeter of its boundaries. At the same time, the life of Harrouda, the novel’s elusive female protagonist and the precursor of another rebel, the eponymous Moha in the 1978 novel Moha le fou, Moha le sage (Moha the madman, Moha the wise man), symbolically binds up not only with the collective lives of other characters but with those of personalized cities too: Fez and Tangier in particular, antipodal cities that came to play a crucial role in Ben Jelloun’s subsequent novels.

Another important book, the polyphonic story of a long and painful meditation on humiliation and death, La prière de l’absent (1981; The prayer of the absent), written both in French and Arabic, also conflates religious and historical themes with metaphysical ones. It concerns—perhaps in self-parody—the life of a teacher of philosophy, a native of Fez and a man of modest ambition. Aspiring to effacement but not quite liberated from history and the materialism he wishes to transcend, the anonymous protagonist grapples with the same kind of anguished nostalgia that later haunts the pages of both L’écrivain public and Jour de silence à Tanger (1990; Silent Day in Tangier , 1991).

But the book also tells a story of origins, that of the birth of an ordinary, voiceless child by the name of Mohammed Mokhtar against a backdrop of epidemic, death, and political unrest. It is about an experience of voluntary self-effacement and amnesia that leads the narrator, through the medium of the matriarchal and political voice of Lalla Malika, a grandmother and midwife, to free himself from the consciousness of failure, to heed Fez’s history of resistance and insurgence, and to journey southward to Semara, a site of an early twentieth century upheaval against French colonialism, in the company of three other characters in search of political liberation.

An ensuing narration then weaves the legendary story of Ma al-Aynayn (1830–1910), the tribal chief, mystic, warrior, and self-proclaimed imam who organized resistance against French conquest in Southern Morocco. This narration clearly aims at relativizing the four characters’ tribulations, as if their destinies were intimately bound up with the saga of the legendary figure. But one of the narrators’ failure to acknowledge the political and historical limitations of the hagiographical story she is reconstructing foreshadows at the same time the political limits of the group’s pilgrimage. Indeed, like previous ancestral narratives, Yamna’s account does not address the issue of Ma al-Aynayn’s feudal, slave-owning and authoritarian rule.

As Yamna nears death, Lalla Malika’s voice now clearly proceeds from a higher political and philosophical plane. It is she who strategically reminds the reader of still another, more significant historical figure, that of the legendary Abd El Krim. Even more important, Lalla Malika’s “response” to her grandchild’s quandary expounds philosophical concerns central to Ben Jelloun’s system of thought: the dialectic of appearance and illusion, of being and becoming, and his ethics of action and commitment. Lalla Malika evokes the inevitable conflict, the essential fall, the sudden philosophical crisis that will unmask the complacency of any life devoid of risk and engagement.

The Sand Child and The Sacred Night

The diptych of The Sand Child and The Sacred Night constitutes Ben Jelloun’s best-known conflation of storytelling and politics. Together these books address the issue of the dissolution of the self (sexual, social, and psychological) that results from the denial of one’s identity and the usurpation of another, a parable that concomitantly explores, in the relationship between social reality, self, and writing, the disruptive and liberating empowerment of language.


Tahar Ben Jelloun belongs to a constellation of Moroccan academics and creative writers who have made internationally acclaimed contributions to the post-independence literary renaissance of Morocco and to world literature as a whole. A prominent figure in this group is Driss Chraïbi (1926–), the author of Mother Comes of Age (1972 and 1998), and Flutes of Death (1981 and 1997). Another is the famed sociologist and liberal Muslim writer Fatima Mernissi (1940–), the author of Dreams of Trespass (1994) and of The Veil and the Male Elite (1991). The group also includes the prolific poet Abdellatif Laabi (1942–), former political prisoner and the founder in 1966 of the review Anfas/Souffles ; the art critic, literary theoretician, and novelist Abdelkebir Khatibi (1938–), the author of Tattooed Memory (1971) and Love in Two Languages (1987); as well as the poet and fiction writer Mohammed Khair-Eddine (1941–1995), and the painter Ahmed Cherkaoui (1934–1967).

The Sand Child is the story of a young girl, Zahra, forced by her father to assume the identity of a male child called Ahmed. The ever-widening scene of the novel is a rich construct of social consciousness, a playful narrative space, a ritual apprehension of individual dispossession, and above all, an at times quasi-magical verbal experiment. A creative contrivance that makes for tremendous narrative and figurative elaboration, the novel’s unconventionality goes nonetheless hand in hand with the persistent evocation of key sociopolitical issues. The motifs of child exploitation, misogyny, sexual corruption, and violence are inseparable from Ahmed-Zahra’s story, but so are those of colonialism, patriarchy, social corruption, and injustice, forms of political repression that appear time and again in the text. Ben Jelloun depicts a social cauldron where a pattern of repression and repercussive violence spares no one, neither dominator nor dominated. Psychopolitical allusion is subversively stitched into the fabric of an otherwise predominantly fabulous story: individuals labor under the implacable dynamics of domination and revenge, and the novel’s closing chapter explicitly evokes the plight of adolescents whose revolt has been crushed by military repression, remarking in scathing understatement on the futility of death by a stray bullet.

The Sacred Night is a sequel to The Sand Child . As Zahra, “Ahmed” of the preceding novel, now assumes her natural identity, spatial markers clearly punctuate her confessional and initiatory itinerary through a story that evolves symbolically, as if through the opening of successive doors, toward narrative postponement and mystical resolution. Symbolic territories mark Zahra’s itinerary: a public square; her father’s dilapidated house; the cemetery under blinding light; the perfumed garden that shelters a self-sufficient republic of children; the solitary forest paths where Zahra encounters faceless rape; the equivocal shelter of the hammam (Turkish bath); the “one-person street,” both lovers’ lane and sinister space of decay and corruption; a consul’s two-story house “of darkness”; the cosmic contiguity of the terrace’s nocturnal space; the blue warehouse and the subterranean cellar-library in the consul’s dream; the bordello’s mixed space of infernal and ecstatic sexuality; the jail; and, finally, the holy man’s shrine: the novel’s vivid social and symbolic landscape makes for one of the richest modern political parables ever written.


Ben Jelloun now ranks with the most recognizable and popular writers from the Middle East and North Africa. The critical reception of his works has been spectacular.

As early as 1978, he was elected to the Académie Mallarmé in Paris, a membership he did not seek. In subsequent years, he has received several prestigious awards: the Prix Goncourt (France) in November 1987 for The Sacred Night , the Prix des Hémisphères (Guadeloupe) in 1991 for Les yeux baissés (1991; With Downcast Eyes , 1993), the Prix Méditerranée (France) in 1994 for L’homme rompu (1994; Corruption , 1995), and the Grand prix littéraire du Maghreb (Nourredine-Aba Foundation, Algeria) in November 1994 for the totality of his work. In 2004 he won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Cette aveuglante absence de lumière (2001; This Blinding Absence of Light , 2002), the story of the ordeal of a survivor of Tazmamart, the notorious Moroccan hard labor camp for political prisoners under the late King Hassan II.


The book is like a house in which each window is a district, each door a town, each page a street; it is only a sham house, a theatrical set in which the moon and sky are represented by a light bulb and a blue sheet held between two windows.


One cannot imagine writing without a ceaseless reflection on the status, the possibilities and the limits of writing.


It is through the betrayal of appearances, in wringing the neck of evidence that creative artists have not only been able to understand but also to make us understand a parcel of the real.

            ( QUINZAINE LITTÉRAIRE 606 [1-15 AUGUST 1992]: 3.)


Ben Jelloun’s legacy is no less historical and political than literary and aesthetic. During the 1970s, Ben Jelloun became a correspondent with the daily Le Monde soon after his arrival in Paris, a position he has held to this day. He has also written for Il Corriere della Sera of Milan and has become a pugnacious intellectual presence through countless other media contributions on human and political issues for newspapers in Italy ( La Repubblica , Rome; L’Espresso , the Milan weekly), Spain ( El Pais , Madrid; Lavanguardia , Barcelona), and Sweden ( Aftonbladet , Stockholm). His interventions, literary and journalistic, have addressed such issues as the Shoah, the Palestinian condition, the Algerian civil war, political corruption, the Arab world, Islam, immigration, and racism. In 1991 he published a collection of poems titled La remontée des cendres on the anonymous victims of the Gulf War.

Ben Jelloun is a sociopolitical writer whose narratives astutely intertwine the traditions of the Orient and the West, Arabic and French, contemporary politics and popular storytelling, political consciousness and metaphysical mysticism, poetic fables and historical realism. Lesser-known but equally important works also testify to Ben Jelloun’s urgent sense of sociopolitical commitment and broad range of creative temperament. A meditative text by Ben Jelloun, for instance, accompanies Philippe Lafond’s collection of photographs documenting the life of Imazighen in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco ( Haut-Atlas: l’exil de pierres , 1982). His collaboration with the photographer Thierry Ibert resulted in a 1986 collection of black-and-white photographs of barren and destitute life in the devastated La porte d’Aix district in Marseille, which Ben Jelloun’s comments poetically enrich. The photographs were taken as the historic Vieux Quartiers were being demolished, and Ben Jelloun’s text is reprinted in his 1995 Poésie complète: 1966–1995 (Complete poetry: 1966–1995) . He has written texts for several other photography volumes on the Sahara, Fez, and for Medinas: Morocco’s Hidden Cities .

Ben Jelloun’s meditation on Alberto Giacometti’s art ( Alberto Giacometti and Tahar Ben Jelloun , 1991) is a seminal essay that draws a revealing cartography of the esthetic preoccupations and philosophical affiliations that marks all his writing. The affinities with Giacometti and the kinship between flesh and bronze the text describes are easy to perceive. Ben Jelloun observes that such art attempts to convey life “with complex simplicity” and to bring out its singularity. Giacometti’s predilection for places of passage, furthermore, underscores the deep sense of temporariness and ontological loss that lies beneath the itinerant quest of so many of Ben Jelloun’s characters. As for Giacometti’s belief in “the passion and patience of the gaze,” able to see “something unknown emerge, each day, in the same face,” it mirrors Ben Jelloun’s own use of the thematic of looking hyperbolized in The Sacred Night by the figurative transference of the consul’s gaze into tactile visibility. Gazing once at the deeply furrowed and “immensely” sad face of an immigrant worker in the Paris subway, Ben Jelloun goes on to reflect on the state of alienation from reality, on the drama of exile, confrontation, and solitude of which Giacometti’s sculpted beings seem so uncanny a projection. The text on Giacometti is not only crucial as an expression of Ben Jelloun’s poetic art but also for its many philosophical insights. It contains, furthermore, important comments on fellow creators and intellectuals: Giacometti, of course, but also Miguel de Cervantes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Franz Kafka, Antonin Artaud, Rene Char, Samuel Beckett (whom he once encountered on a deserted beach in Tangier), and above all Jean Genet, whose aimless and unmaterialistic existence becomes the benchmark for a simultaneous engagement in metaphysical solitude and presence in the world.

Writing as Commitment

A resolutely postmodern novelist, poet, and critic, Ben Jelloun conceives of writing as a “violent practice […] that does not consider itself as center, origin, exclusive site of knowledge of imagination [but remains] open to all differences” (“De la différence,” 1973), that is to say a disruptive and politically creative form of commitment. The comment underlines the key concerns of a writer who, as a Moroccan and an Arab writing in a language that was once a tool of colonization, strives to displace creativity to the margins of dominant models, deconstructing the processes of domination that often lie hidden in cultural encounters. The novelist thus clearly desires to challenge the very nature and legitimacy of established cultural models but simultaneously to engage fiction in a discursive process of reflection on its very modes of functioning and representation.

Ben Jelloun’s assertion in a 1992 editorial in the French publication La Quinzaine Littéraire that realism per se does not exist also sheds an important light on the poetics and politics of his storytelling. If Ben Jelloun willingly places himself within a creative tradition akin to that of magical realism, the literary figures with whom he finally claims intellectual affinity are a heterogeneous group. In the same editorial, he mentions for instance the names of Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Rulfo, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but also those of James Joyce, Saint-John Perse, Arthur Cafavy, Constantine Seferis, Giorgos Rimbaud, and the mystic Al Hallaj.

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over 5 years ago

je recherche le texte de l'enfant anonyme. pouvez-vous me le procurer ? MERCI