What is the most disturbing children's book
A (post) colonial hope
Jewish, Arabic, French. "I was a kind of 'half-breed' of colonization, I understood everyone because I didn't belong entirely to anyone," wrote the sociologist and writer Albert Memmi in the foreword of the English edition of his best-known work "The Colonizer and the Colonized." Two portraits «, which appeared in 1980 in German.
The son of a Jewish-Arab handicraft family was born on December 15, 1920 on the outskirts of the Jewish quarter of La Hara in Tunis, in what was then the French protectorate of French North Africa. He attended a rabbinical school and was able to attend secondary school thanks to a scholarship. He joined the socialist-Zionist movement Hashomer Hatzair and began writing, first for Tunisian newspapers.
He later studied at the University of Algiers. But with the invasion of the Germans and Italians in 1942, he had to leave them. He was taken to an internment and labor camp in eastern Tunisia, from which he was ultimately able to escape. Over 2,500 Jews were murdered in Tunisia within six months. After the Second World War, Memmi left the land of the colonized for that of the colonizers in 1946. When he began studying philosophy at the Sorbonne University in Paris, it wasn't even clear whether he would be able to take the exams. When asked about it, the president of the jury replied: “It is not a right. (...) It is a hope. (...) Let's say it's a colonial hope. "
Memmi put this hope into words. First in his novel "Die Salzsäule", which he himself later referred to as an "experimental balloon" that helped him to find the direction of his life. And later in his now famous essay, in which Memmi understood the portrait of the colonized as a kind of self-portrait, which, however, went far beyond his own experiences. The French edition was published in 1957 - one year after Tunisia gained independence and in the middle of Algeria's war of independence. In France, for example, although less radical than the theses of Frantz Fanon, it was described by some as the "most disturbing book of the year" - and widely discussed. In the foreword of the English edition he writes: »I was Tunisian, so I was colonized. I discovered that few aspects of my life and personality remained untouched by this fact. "
Albert Memmi's work is particularly valuable now, when some attest postcolonial studies to be incompatible with Jewish studies. He repeatedly refers to his Jewish identity: "The Jewish population identified as much with the colonizer as with the colonized." But this contradicting relationship is not only inherent in his Jewish experience. Rather, he analyzes the colonial power relationship as a whole as one that has a strange bond between colonizers and colonized people from which it is necessary to free oneself. A liberation that revolt does not end. How is it possible to break the relationship between colonized and colonizers and find a completely independent narrative? This question has not yet been answered satisfactorily.
His reflection on the colonial power relationship also gave rise to a fundamental definition of racism, which became canonical in the French encyclopedia »Encyclopædia Universalis«: Racism is the »generalized and absolutized evaluation of actual or fictitious biological differences for the benefit of the accuser and to the detriment of his victim, with which an aggression is to be justified. «Therefore, racism always fulfills a certain function.
Sixty years after decolonization, Memmi's analyzes of the power balance between colonized and colonizers are by no means obsolete. His book “Portrait of the Decolonized” (“Portrait du décolonisé arabo-musulman et de quelques autres”), published in 2004, disappointed many of his fans. His harsh criticism of the decolonized falls behind his own criticism of an ongoing power relationship. But the problems of decolonization already appear in his earlier essay on the colonized.
Albert Memmi would have turned 100 this year. He died on May 22nd in Paris.
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