Beyond Binaries: The Maghreb after Post-Colonialism

By Brian T. Edwards
Submitted to Session P4842 (Rethinking the Maghreb: Liminality and Transversal Connections, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
This paper considers the frameworks scholars use to consider Maghrebi literary and cultural production since the 1940s. One of the assumptions I make is that it is frequently writers and other producers of avant-garde culture who express new imaginaries or epistemes. The theorists and critics are often catching up, as it were, to ways of thinking that cultural producers have (re)presented, whether consciously or not, in their creative work.

In the wake of Edward Said’s work, the methods that emerged to analyze twentieth-century Maghrebi literary and cultural production were overly invested in binaries (France–Morocco, France–Algeria, France–Tunisia). Certainly, we gained much from Orientalist discourse analysis and postcolonial theory. Many Maghrebi writers and cultural producers could be profitably interpreted through these critical lenses, particularly those working in French. But just as Khatibi called for the recognition of a Maghreb pluriel, the cultural and political imaginaries of Maghrebi writers, filmmakers, and intellectuals were more often plural or multivalent than binary, whether they were looking east, south, north, or west (or in multiple directions at once) for inspiration.

Moroccan writers and intellectuals in the twentieth-century often had their own “uses” for United States cultural production and political history (e.g., as a third term in relation to the French), but just as American travelers to the Maghreb experienced the Maghreb both as an Arab and Berber space and as a European colonial space, Maghrebi cultural producers were deeply conversant with multiple “foreign” cultural forms. The binary was always a fiction, based too heavily on stable poles.

In the past quarter century, as Maghrebi cultural producers and intellectuals looked in multiple directions—both for inspiration and to resist the new cultural hegemony of the US—post-colonialism, understood as Manichean or binaristic struggle, is a mode which has passed. With the rise of new technologies, digital media (including satellite television, the Internet, and social media), and in the context of transnational capital flows and migration, the cultural aspects of globalization must be accounted for in the interpretation of Maghrebi cultural production since the 1970s. This encompasses grappling with US “cultural imperialism” and neo-liberalism, but also more generative engagements with global cultural forms—including American—among a new generation of Maghrebi cultural producers.