Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from K-O


moroccan morocco khatibi’s french

In addition to having served as a professor at Muhammad V University in Rabat, Morocco, Abdel Kebir Khatibi is a published poet, novelist, sociologist, playwright, and literary critic. He studied sociology at the Sorbonne where, in 1968, he defended his thesis “Le roman magh-rébin” (The Maghrebi novel), which was the first thesis on the subject. In this thesis, he studied the novel from 1945 to 1962. The French publication of his thesis (Maspéro) was followed by a Moroccan edition published in 1979 by the Société Marocain des Editeurs Réunis in Rabat. In 1971 he published his first novel, La mémoire tatouée: autobiographie d’un décolonisé (Tattooed Memory/Memoir: Autobiography of a Decolonized Subject), which was, among other things, a tribute to his hometown by the sea. He remains one of the most well-known and widely read critics of art, literature, and politics in Morocco.


Khatibi was born in 1938 in El Jadida, Morocco. He studied in a Qur’anic school as a child, but after the death of his theologian father, began schooling at the Collège Sidi Mohamed in Marrakesh. For one year he attended the French Lyautey High School in Casablanca and went on to enter the Sorbonne in Paris where he studied from 1958 until 1964. Following the publication of his doctoral thesis on the Maghrebi (North African) novel he went on to publish 20 works and 150 articles between 1968 and 1996. Since 1996, he has continued to be a prolific writer and critic. His works have been translated into many different languages including Spanish, German, Japanese, English, and Arabic. Khatibi writes almost exclusively in French.


Khatibi’s first novel marks a major contribution to Moroccan and Maghrebi literature: La mémoire tatouée (Denoël, Lettres Nouvelles). Khatibi’s influence continued with his novel Amour bilingue (Montpellier: Fata Morgana, 1983; Love in Two Languages), which is a love story where the main dynamic of love, both erotic and sentimental, is found in the tension created by language itself. The novel is preoccupied, as is much of Khatibi’s writing, with the bilingualism of the francophone Arab writer, where even if one writes in French, the calligraphic, maternal, and oral quality of the Arabic language is circulating close beneath the surface. The novel deals with how desire ignites amid the attraction between the sensuality and license of the French and the colonized, and always desiring Arabic.

One of his publications on Islamic art, L’Art calli-graphique arabe (Paris: Chêne, 1976, coauthored with Mohammed Sijelmassi) was translated and re-edited in an English version, The Splendor of Islamic Art (1976, 1977, 1995, and 2001). This text traces the art of calligraphy from the early days to the present detailing the various types of calligraphy ( kufic, maghrebi, thuluth ) as well as its uses on Islamic manuscripts, architecture, and paintings.

An example of his political analysis is well represented by his text L’alternance et les partis politiques au maroc (Eddif), where the author analyzes the conditions that permitted the rise of the socialist prime minister Abderrah-man Youssoufi and argues that his emergence marks a relative turning point in Moroccan internal politics.


Name: Abdel Kebir Khatibi

Birth: 1938, El Jadida, Morocco

Nationality: Moroccan

Education: Ph.D. (sociology), Sorbonne (Paris, France), 1965


  • 1970: Retires from teaching
  • 1996: Wins Chevalier (Fariss) de l’ordre du Trône
  • 1997: Wins Chevalier de l’ordre français des Arts et Lettres; wins Lauréat du Grand Prix Atlas, Rabat

His two plays are La mort des artistes (Death of the artists), 1964, and Le prophète voilé (The veiled prophet), written in 1979. The latter is set in eighth-century Iran and looks at the phenomenon of false prophets, of which there were many in the early days of Islam. The false prophet here is Hakim ibn Hisham, who wore the veil, and the text interrogates the notion of truth versus falsity of prophets.

In Le corps oriental (2002; The oriental body), Khatibi traces the many ways in which the body, in the Islamic world, both in the Western part of the Arab world (the Maghreb) and Eastern part (the Mashriq) name, represent, and symbolize the body. Both through cultural and religious practices, the body is regarded by the author as an anthropological object. He shows that from the religious imitation of the prophet, to the movements, gestures, and ornaments of everyday life, to the ritual dressing and adornment of the body during circumcision, pilgrimage, and marriage, the treatment of the body codifies and conditions how the individual functions socially. He also writes about the way the body moves through the space of the orient: the labyrinth, the city, the patio for women, and the arabesque for men.


Khatibi’s dozens of literary works have been studied in texts of literary criticism and doctoral dissertations on both sides of the Atlantic. In France, Khatibi’s influence has been noted by such well-known critics as Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes. Barthes, in his essay Ce que je dois à Khatibi (What I Owe Khatibi) shows how Khatibi’s work de-centers the Western ego and how he, Barthes, has learned to think relatively about the Universal self that European philosophical and semiotic thought has assumed. Barthes writes: “Khatibi and I are interested in the same things: images, signs, traces, letters, marks. And at the same time, because he displaces these forms, such as I see them, because he leads me far from myself, in his own territory, and somehow to the end of myself, Khatibi teaches me something new, shakes up my knowledge.” Khatibi has also been taken up by Derrida in his Monolinguism de l’autre (1996; Monolinguism of the Other , 1998). Here Derrida discusses Khatibi’s linguistic différence in his writing between the French and Arabic languages. How Khatibi has at once lost, been lost to, and yet is always possessed by the mother, Arabic tongue. Although Khatibi writes in French, there is only one mother language: Arabic, writes Derrida. One reads in Derrida’s text how the Arabic language is constantly and invisibly working to transform Khatibi’s French language.


How to describe the unnameable element in killer charm? What eternal seduction could bring time to a halt? Yes, they had to seduce each other from day to day. To whom was she offering her body? To what unreality of life and death incarnate—between the two of them? And seduction is all-powerful energy, a hallucination which comes from the beauty of the void. Metamorphosis whose flash and effect cannot be predicted, whose sparkle comes and goes, losing itself in the other one, giving itself away in what will have existed only for the moment, an ecstasy of enchantment.

He didn’t forget that in his own lexicon, the word for seduction ( fitna ) is a homograph for both the word for war and for the word seduction itself, for that knightly passion celebrated by those who go off alone in the desert, a passion for the unknown beloved.

In this respect, seduction carried them to a dual stage, delighting in language’s sensuousness. What could they know? What was she looking for in him? Some child’s notion of an oriental paradise? A forgotten desire? How to determine from the smallest word, the least deed the order of mortal law—or its disorder? Death: and to find a way to live in this word, it was necessary to go over all the bi-langue ‘s power of destruction. In his mother tongue, death is a child’s idea of heaven, a celestial hereafter. It was his duty to reseed himself not with this charming reminder but rather with the illusion of invisible angels, thereby glorifying, celebrating every loving encounter.


In addition to Khatibi’s influence in the literary and literary critical world, his work as a sociologist may have even wider implications for North African and Arab fields of sociology. Khatibi has been described as one of the main agents of reinventing sociology and the social sciences in Moroccan, North African and perhaps Middle Eastern postcolonial thinking. Khatibi is a major figure of the Moroccan social sciences during the postcolonial era, being one of the first Moroccan sociologists to interpret and rethink Moroccan society in light of colonial sociology that had been applied to Morocco since the late nineteenth century. Khatibi was the intellectual inheritor of colonial sociology where the study of Morocco by social scientists remained completely detached from the Moroccan readership. Morocco was an object of study, principally through the categories of hagiography (the study of saints, zawiyas , marabouts [two types of Islamic mystical lodges], and the like), and the study of dialects. The establishment in 1925 of the Institut des Hautes Études Marocaines, which came out of the French Mission scientifique in Morocco, regarded its object of study through the disciplinary lens of Muslim sociology. This field of French social science studies Morocco as a foreign and exotic object, and there were no native intellectuals involved in the production of this academic and scientific discourse.

After independence in 1956, the process of nationalization that swept the country did not fail to affect the social sciences and Khatibi was a major figure in this process of rethinking them in Morocco: a process that required the decolonization of the Moroccan thought about himself. He engaged in a process of reinventing the social sciences as a method that would be critical of the colonial sociology and that would be free both of state and private interests. Khatibi took a leading role in voicing the objectives of Moroccan, and indeed, Arab intellectual reinvention of scientific discourse. He was one of the first to articulate such notions as the decolonization of the mind and double critique, whose relevance and usefulness remain strong until today for many thinkers in Morocco and across North Africa. He wrote:

La tâche essentielle de la sociologie du monde arabe consiste à mener un double travail critique a) une déconstruction des concepts issus du savoir et des discours sociologiques qui ont parléà la place du monde arabe, et qui sont marqués par une prédominance occidentale et une idéologie ethnocentriste, b) et en même temps une critique du savoir et des discours élaborés par les différentes sociétés du monde arabe pour elles-mêmes. [The essential task of sociology of the Arab world is to lead a double critique: (a) the deconstruction of the concepts that came from sociological discourse and knowledge which spoke on behalf of the Arab world, and which are marked by a Western dominated tendency and an ethnocentric ideology, (b) and at the same time a critique of the knowledge and discourses elaborated by the various societies of the Arab world for themselves.] ( Sociologie du monde arabe . Positions, BESM 126, no. 1: 13-26)


Khatibi’s role as an active theoretician of Moroccan and Arab postcolonial thinking translated into roles of leadership within the institutions of the field. Khatibi was the director of the first Moroccan institute of social sciences, the Institut de sociologie (Institute of Sociology) founded in 1960 and dissolved by the state in 1970. The Marxist, activist, and leftist leanings of the institute caused both its closing and the suspension of the discipline of social science throughout the university system. He later became the director of the Institut universitaire de la Recherche Scientifique (University Institute of Scientific Research) whose mission was again, clearly envisioned and articulated by Khatibi.


User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or