Each “100 Years in Tangier” will be overseen by an anchor panelist. These invited panelists helped define the contours of their panel.
At the middle of the twentieth century, Tangier was a crossroads for different nationalities, cultures, religions, and languages. On a stroll between Tangier’s most emblematic squares, the Grand Socco and the Petit Socco, a pedestrian might hear conversations in Spanish, Moroccan Arabic, French, Italian, English, Riffian Berber, and the Judeo-Spanish variant known as hakitía. What did those streets sound like? And how did it feel to move through a city that lived in translation, in constant flux between linguistic and cultural codes? To respond to these questions, I will turn to three literary texts that document or imagine mid-twentieth-century Tangier: Alberto España’s collection of reportage and short essays, La pequeña historia de Tánger (1954); Muhammad Shukri’s autobiographical novel al-Khubz al-hafi (c. 1973); and Ángel Vázquez’s novel La vida perra de Juanita Narboni (1976). The authors of these three texts all came of age in Tangier in the first half of the twentieth century, when the city was designated an International Zone under the joint jurisdiction of different European powers. All three authors stage, from different positions of nationality and class, the experience of living in the Tangier International Zone, a space of intimate, and at times uncomfortable, contact between groups that were often segregated in other parts of Morocco and the Mediterranean world. My paper will not only treat the three literary texts as windows on to the rich cultural environment of mid-twentieth-century Tangier, but will also pay particular attention to the techniques that the three texts use to represent life in a multilingual city. By bringing together the texts by España, Shukri, and Vázquez in a single analytic frame, I hope to offer a kaleidoscopic vision of mid-century Tangier, and also to think, more broadly, about how literature has served to give voice to a city that spoke in many tongues.
Tangier in the 1990s
What do the forgotten episodes from the 1990s Tangier tell us about how we understand the present? The decade between the 1990-91 Gulf War and the events of September 11, 2001, offer an opportunity to see nascent formations and foregone possibilities, after which a massive reorganization of both the political-military apparatus in the MENA region and of U.S. Orientalism would take place. The focal point for my essay is the debates that took place in Tangier about the most famous American living in Morocco, Paul Bowles, which, I argue, offer a lens for this epistemic transformation. Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1990 film version of Bowles 1949 novel The Sheltering Sky—filmed largely in Tangier and featuring Bowles as himself—had brought a new wave attention to the octogenarian author. Though Bowles himself had spent the post-colonial period engaged in a less immediately categorizable project of collaboration and translation with Moroccan artists, Bertolucci’s sumptuous and nostalgic film reminded the world of the high colonialist stage of his career. Bowles, who died in 1999 just shy of his 89th birthday, spent the rest of the 1990s engaging with Moroccan readers, critics, and scholars—most notably Moroccan students of literature who, working in the wake of Said’s Orientalism and postcolonial theory, interviewed and engaged Bowles, challenging his representation of the Maghreb. Meanwhile, his former collaborators Mohamed Choukri and Mohammed Mrabet launched public attacks: Choukri in his 1997 memoir Paul Bowles wa ‘uzla Tanja and Mrabet in interviews and conversations as he searched for a new collaborator. How do these debates open up our understanding of the decade and its divergent possibilities? In the parlance of then-emerging critical formations, public discussion of one debate was global, and the other local—that is to say merely national. Now, we may ask how they might be read in the context of “world literature” and questions of transnational circulation. Revisiting these debates now, more than two decades later, offers a window on a transitional period in world and literary history, on the transformation of U.S. relations with Morocco, and the Middle East and North Africa more generally. We may consider the 1990s a key decade, what I call (borrowing a phrase from Joan Didion) a hinge of history.
Tangier, Gender & Memory
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Tangier & Sexual Exceptionalism
In this essay, I examine Tangier as a space of sexual exceptionalism in fiction and memoir. From mentions in Downton Abbey, to Elton John’s interviews, popular culture has often associated Morocco with sexual escape and asylum from Europe. Surveying western visitor accounts, as well as native Moroccan testimony about these visitors, I study how sexual and cultural refugees from the US and Europe sought a sexual liberty and emancipation in Tangier that inevitably came at the expense of their hosts and lovers. The trope of the native’s bitter aftertaste, formed when Tangier was an almost morally lawless playground for Western writers, is one that I look at closely. I track the afterlife of this aftertaste in a subsequent age of immigration to Europe, when many of these spurned hosts and lovers crossed the Mediterranean still nursing scars and resentment. I am interested in the very real and often valid reasons for Western tourism in pursuit of sexual liberty, just as I am in the power imbalances and inevitable injuries caused that make that pursuit seem selfish. What kind of myopias are at play in the prioritization of sexual freedom over respect for the indigenous? What do we miss, in terms of the Western history of sexual oppression, when we hastily condemn Western homosexual exiles to Tangier as mere sex tourists? This essay will seek to answer these questions by combing the works of several male authors, many of whom were direct interlocutors: Tahar Ben Jelloun, Abdellah Taïa, Rachid O., Mohammed Choukri, Mohammed Mrabet, Joe Orton, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, and Paul Bowles, covering a 40-year period. I will bring recent scholarship to bear on the power dynamics at play, applying insights borrowed from Kadji Amin, Marie-Haude Caraës, and Jean Fernandez. In keeping with the themes of the conference and essay collection, I intend to explore how the rise of international tourism and attempts to “restore” the city has a specifically gay dimension that retraces past pilgrimages made by what is now considered the midcentury gay intelligentsia.