Writing Queer Desire in the Language of the “other”: Abdellah Taïa and Rachid O.

Gibson Ncube, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


Since the attainment of independence by Maghrebian nations (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia), there has been animated discussion of the use of either Arabic or French as the language of expression. A liminal linguistic spectacle has emerged between the two languages in such a way that there is a dialogic intertwining and resonance occurring between them. This paper focuses on how in spite of the “cultural recognition of a wide array of sexual practices and roles spelled out meticulously in the linguistic variants attributed to them” (Al-Samman272), the terms “homosexual” and “homosexuality” (in the Western sense of the words) do not exist in dialectal Arabic. This paper thus explores the stakes surrounding the use of French in explicitly broaching “marginal” sexuality in the novels of two openly gay Moroccan writers, Rachid O. and Abdellah Taïa. It is herein posited that the “transliteration” of experiences encountered in Arab-Muslim milieu through the use of the French language allows for an opening up of a discursive domain that had hitherto remained shrouded in silence and regarded as taboo and unutterable.


An intricate and complex relationship exists between sexuality and language. In the introduction of their book Language and Sexuality, Deborah Cameron and Don Kulick pertinently observe that “our ideas about sex are bound up with the language we use to define and talk about it” (ix). Language is a central concern in the novels of two Moroccan writers, Abdellah Taïa and Rachid O.,whose texts grapple with the question of queer sexuality in Arab-Muslim North Africa.

In this paper, I draw on the theoretical postulations formulated by LiseGauvin who reflects on the situation of certain francophone writers who are compelled to perpetually think about language. She posits that such writers have a linguistic over-consciousness which affects the manner in which they use and relate to language (7). According to Gauvin, these writers are displaced into the world of the relative where each act of writing represents a conquest, a renegotiation of a foreign language. The foreign language or the language of the “other” ceases to be simply a distinct language in itself but rather coalesces with the other languages known and used by the writer. Ultimately, the language of expression and writing that is chosen by the writer becomes a reinvented personal language, a point of encounter where the binary relationship of the symptomatic dominant/dominated matrix dissolves into a new bond which triggers off a multiplicity of interpretative paradigms. Such a theoretical underpinning is valid given that Abdellah Taïa and Rachid O. instead of using Arabic opt to use the French language to describe the queer1 identity and experiences of their protagonists. Such a use of French is particularly relevant given that dialectal Arabic does not possess any terms to describe in a positive manner queer sexuality. Terms that do exist in Arabic denigrate non-normative sexuality and paint it in pejorative terms2. In using French to broach queer sexuality and identity, Taïa and O. subvert the logic of silence that surrounds this phenomenon in Arab-Muslim societies of Morocco. By referring to these brief theoretical remarks, this paper will show that the novels of Taïa and O. are exceptional illustrations of the role of language in the construction of a queer sexual identity. I contend herein that the novels of the two writers frame themselves within a linguistic fault-line created between French and dialectal Arabic. Although French is the language of writing and expression, Arabic logic and thought processes continue to inform their intimate writing. Within this linguistic “third space”, to borrow Homi Bhabha’s terminology, these Moroccan writers are involved in a perpetual dialogic exchange between Arabic and French. Their literary works reveal a fascinating linguistic and cultural intermingling which is important in the construction of the queer identity of the protagonist-narrators. The question of the choice of language is decisive because the most profound elements of individual and collective character are expressed and constructed through language. In the literary space of the novels of the two Moroccan writers, a subtle tension between Arabic and French is highlighted by the manner in which these languages intertwine, refer to each other and give way to the emergence of an innovative literary expression…Access Full Text of the Article

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