November 18, 2016
“Our journey has only just begun. We have not yet come up against the cyclical butchery of values, against the impasses that lead certain civilizations towards apathy or absolute skepticism. We are at the stage of reconsolidation, of rediscovery. We are on the threshold of speech that has not lost its meaning for us.”
-- Excerpt from “Read The Little Moroccan”, Souffles issue 2, by Abdellatif Laâbi
These words were written in 1966 by a young Laâbi, at the outset of a journey that would lead him through the years of impassioned, collective energy that produced Souffles-Anfas up until it was squelched by the deadly censorship of the Moroccan state. Written half a century ago, Laâbi’s description of the journal’s intentions evokes the power of language without distinguishing between poetry, culture and politics. As one of the night's readers stressed, Souffles-Anfas documents a period of intense creativity situated in a specific historical moment, amidst struggles for post-colonial self-definition as well as remarkable international solidarity. Another participant suggested that this reality is hard for normal Anglo-imperialist thought to grasp.
Despite the great distances between there then and here now, the evening’s readings were contextualized with a helpful overview of the journal’s history, projections of its original printed material, and an open discussion afterwards. During this discussion, as participants offered their stories and interpretations, it became clear that what was being shared was not so much the end result of academic research but rather a moment of reflecting on years of personal efforts and experiences. One reader described how, twenty years ago, when he began to digitize old issues of Souffles-Anfas to put them up on the internet, even Laâbi had only one or two copies left at that time. Another reader expressed how grateful he was to have been able to access this internet archive while growing up in Morocco, where the journal was all but wiped from collective memory. Several people spoke to their experiences at last year’s Souffles-Anfas 50th anniversary gathering, where they were able to meet with some of the journal’s surviving members. The presenters who took part in creating the new Souffles-Anfas anthology also emphasized the personal rewards of such a worthwhile, collective endeavor. In between stories, audience members posed further questions about the choices involved in the anthology’s creation and about the various histories at play.
Before this conversation took place, of course, there were the readings themselves. With seven selections from the new anthology, read in both the French/ Arabic original and in English translation, these readings gave the audience an idea of the breadth of the journal as a whole. Ranging from poetry to essay to stream-of-consciousness narrative, they defied easy categorization. The readers seemed intimately familiar with the texts, as they gave dynamic readings well suited to each one. While many of the pieces had a quieting effect, the last two left the audience laughing out loud. Overall, the readers’ energies helped to convey at least a bit of the incredible spirit of Souffles-Anfas that is still apparent in its remaining digital forms and now, thankfully, also in print in English translation.