Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun, winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Prix Goncourt among many others, and short-listed for the Nobel Prize in Literature, talks to Georgia de Chamberet about writing in French, immigration, exile, language, and fighting injustice.
An extract from the interview is reproduced below; the full interview was published in Banipal magazine No. 35 in 2009 and is available at banipal.co.uk
Banipal magazine is an independent literary magazine. It was begun in 1998 by two individuals who loved Arab literature and believed in promoting dialogue between different cultures by bringing this literature with the world through translation into English.
The Banipal Trust / Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation prize administered by the Translators Association 2018 judging panel is Pete Ayrton, Georgia de Chamberet, Fadia Faqir, Sophia Vasalou.
How many hours a day do you write? I write in the morning, on average for three hours, although I sometimes stay at my desk all that time and just write one phrase, it depends. The principle is that it’s a discipline and whatever happens I must stay in front of the page, or computer, and not give up. It’s a practice I have followed for 30 years.
An article about sparring with Hemingway and the stamina required to be a writer fell out of Gael Elton Mayo’s copy of Robert Ruark’s Something of Value while rearranging the overfilled bookshelves in the hallway this morning. Gael wrote about 1950s Spain in the 1950s in her memoir The Mad Mosaic.
The American writer Robert Ruark was a friend of hers: “He wrote not (yet) bestsellers, but sports columns, that were syndicated and appeared in twenty newspapers at once all over America. We went to see him with Dennis, in his villa near Palamos. The atmosphere was very different from our village. Friends of the Ruarks had houses with floodlit lawns, beach houses, booze and boredom. But Ruark was as hospitable as Dennis, having people to stay, offering meals, drinks, leaving all his guests for a few hours then returning, rubbing his hands together, to announce he had just had someone killed off. He was referring to the novel that he was working on, about the Mau Mau, Something of Value. He had many Tahitian primitive paintings and played Hawaiian music. He drank mainly rum with Coca Cola, and much ice and lemon. He had two boxer dogs who went swimming with him, and a wife called Ginny who looked as if it had all got beyond her long ago.”
To box with Hemingway when he was in his prime was a rather unusual experience for a reporter who had been sent to interview him. I went to cover the arrival of the Pan-American Airways Clipper across the Pacific via Manila to find Hemingway buoyant with the success of his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. He had just sold the film rights to Paramount for a record sum. Some months before the balloon went up at Pearl Harbour he had been sent to China to cover the Sino-Japanese war for Marshall Field’s now defunct paper, PM.
In the northwest of Spain, Brittany, the west of England and Ireland, you find people with the same surnames. They are all Celts. When Breton and Cornish sailors meet at sea they understand each other’s dialects.
One remembers the saying that Brittany was originally joined on to Cornwall, but how Galicia fits into this is more mysterious, even though if you look at the map it isn’t so far – relatively speaking – from the south coast of Brittany to the north-west coast of Spain.
The extreme good looks and elegance of the Royal Family bestow a festive air on the good works which they promote. Princess Ashraf, the Shah’s twin sister, is passionately involved in the question of women’s emancipation which is still a very revolutionary measure. Princess Shams, as passionately, leans more toward promoting the arts, and is herself a fine musician. Her husband, Dr. Pahleboud, as Director of Fine Arts, exercise a galvanic influence on every aspect of cultural development, while the entire Royal Family is passionate in its love of animals and determination to obtain better conditions for them everywhere, in happy contrast to so much of the East, where the animals lot is usually terrible.
When Roloff Beny photographed the Imperial couple and their children, I asked his majesty that the sitting, which was to be entirely informal, should not be in the Summer Palace, nor in the fabled frame of the Golestan, nor even in their private palace in Teheran, but in the Diamond Room of the Marble Palace, generally used for more stately occasions. Here eyneh-khari decoration reaches its apogee, and it was like placing them in the very heart of the diamond kingdom. But not formally. The little Crown Prince Reza, feting his fourth birthday, and his sister, the baby Princess Farahnaz, saw to that.Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 2 (1965)
Iran — the land of the Aryans — the Persia of legend, stands at the crossroads of the world, where the winds blowing across the wastes still carry echoes of Darius the Great and Tamerlane. Here all is extreme, fiery, icy, brilliant, obscure, sumptuous, dilapidated . . .
From greatness to decay, by lassitude and violence, the pendulum of Persian history has swung through three thousand years. But now, led by one man, it swings forward — the Emperor, Mohammed Reza, Shahanshah of Iran, is that man. Beside him stands the young Empress, the Shabanou, Farah, a fitting queen for this land which has always spelled beauty to the rest of the world and now sounds another more urgent note.
Women’s enfranchisement, agrarian reforms, dam-building, find new hospitals — that of Shiraz is held to outstanding in the Middle East — the pioneer work of the Shah’s own Illiteracy Corps, child welfare centres and veterinary clinics, too, are all, like supermarkets, drive-in cinemas, Coca-Cola signs, or double-decker London buses, a part of the new spirit of Iran. Yet, its legendary past, its abiding loveliness, are still its strongest lure; and we marvel more at a minaret than at a television tower.Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 1 (1965)
Everywhere in Arab lands from Jordan to the Saudi-Arabian ports along the Red Sea and the lavish Gulf Emirates, food is very highly spiced — but it is a quite different gamut of spices to those of India — or so it has always seemed to me. In each town, or village souk, the spice booths are fascinating and magnetic — my first port of call. Mysterious powdered substances overflow big sacks and are scooped out by the pound, unlike the midget-stoppered jars of this and that to which we are accustomed. Nor do these great open landslides of spices, dusty brown, violet, yellow, green or orange, seem to lose their potency, thus exposed. In Oman, along the enchanting waterfront of Muscat, the lacy white-fretted balconies of the old houses and all the alleyways swim in heady odours wafted from the nearby spice bazaar. In the blue bay, sheltered by a sharp-cragged coastline, amongst all the turmoil of a modern port there are still some of those curiously formed high-pooped wooden craft such as the baghala or gangha, age-old pride of the Omani shipbuilders at Sohar. Such craft will have returned from Zanzibar — the spice island o f legend — with an entire cargo of cloves. Such is the demand, hereabouts.Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Arabian Aromas (1989)
Elton Mayo’s pioneering research at a Western Electric Company manufacturing plant near Chicago between 1924 and 1933 represents one of the most important historical events in the development of Industrial Organization psychology. This body of research, collectively referred to as the Hawthorne Studies (named from the plant in which they took place), was influential in the development of the human relations movement and triggered research and debate into what it is that drives human behaviour at work.
We need, especially, to solve the problem of working together. There is no problem of greater importance at the present time. Every nation of the civilized world is facing one of the most serious economic and social crises in its history. And in every national group, though perhaps in varying degrees, there is difficulty in achieving effective co-operation, both within the group and internationally with other groups. One frequently hears the assertion that the present emergency is remarkable by reason of the lack of effective leadership. What is meant by this, more often than not, is that in this large-scale modern world we have failed to make special studies of the conditions that make for effective human co-operation.
Jean Anouilh’s (1910-87) work ranges from high drama to absurdist farce. He is best known for his 1943 play Antigone, an adaptation of Sophocles’ classical drama; and a thinly veiled attack on Marshal Pétain’s Vichy government. His complete works are available in Gallimard’s La Pleiade series and La Table Ronde’s paperback imprint La Petite Vermillon.
Anouilh is from Andorra. In the small village of Cerisols where his father is a tailor, all fifty inhabitants are named Anouilh. Andorra is a separate-apart place — and Anouilh is a separate-apart person.
He is well known as the great contemporary playwright in London, New York, Paris, Spain . . . and he is completely unknown as a personality and takes great care to remain so.
The scathing wit of his plays then, which is so famous translated, adapted, from whom does it come? What is Anouilh? Does anyone know if he is thirty or seventy? Has anyone seen him? Does he never eat in restaurants, go to public places? At opening nights of his plays, while sophisticated revelations of the decadence of society flash across the stage alternately with visions of a certain fleur bleue lost purity — drawing peals of laughter from the audience one minute and gasps of shock the next, even sometimes tears — there is a slight man seated high among the public in the cheapest seats, incognito. He is hidden like a mole from the lights. His face is gentle. There is apparently no connection between him and the biting power on the stage . . . unless it is in the intensity of the small eyes behind the steel-rimmed spectacles.Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Jean Anouilh interviewed by Gael Elton Mayo | Queen Magazine, 1956
Madrid is a small town, yet it is not provincial; a clever achievement, “There goes so-and-so in his Jaguar, or X on his Vespa,” contributes to a really Main Street atmosphere – yet there are no provincial qualities of narrow mindedness or hypocrisy. On the contrary, we have rarely been anywhere more open in its general views about eccentricities of the human character. The small family is warm – the freedom is still great.
And at night this capital sounds like the country. From our apartment (which is in the middle, of the city) we hear donkeys braying, turkeys and cocks crowing . . . these last live in a barnyard next door to the British Embassy but are apparently not for English breakfast eggs, they just belong to a neighbour with space.
The edge of the town is a real edge. There are none of our dreary suburbs tailing off indefinitely and submerging your entrance or exit to the city in gloom. Abruptly the city stops. You feel the edge distinctly as you actually stand on it (on a parapet about the Palacio, or on the road to the university) and look out from its finality onto the land beyond. The city, the country. No half measure.
Certain ideas expressed in speeches made half a century ago by my grandfather, the psychologist and organizational theorist, George Elton Mayo (1880-1949), are disturbingly relevant to the world today.
He is an inveterate optimist who is not sobered by a comparison of our own time with the high expectations of a century ago. Bernard Cracroft, writing in 1867, expressed the general attitude of the early years of the nineteenth century. “The mercantile fever, the ardent faith in progress” was based upon belief in “the boundless development of human energy striving like fire ever upwards.” “Unforeseen but probable discoveries” were expected at any moment to “throw additional millions into the lap of human comfort.” By such means it was expected that man would raise himself above the possibilities of privation and strife.
This belief expressed certainty of immense future advance in scientific discovery, mechanical invention, the development of economic knowledge and industrial organization. And this belief has nowhere proved vain: the actual advance in the last century of scientific discovery, mechanical invention, economic knowledge and organization has surpassed by far anything that Cracroft and his contemporaries could possibly have anticipated. To cross the continent from coast to coast in a few hours of the night by air has become a commonplace. Men talk to each other across three thousand miles of sea without wires or any tangible connection. In no area of activity have nineteenth-century expectations been disappointed: the fulfilment has by far outdone the hope.Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Elton Mayo, The Descent into Chaos | Speech, New England Conference on National Defense, April 1941