The writer José María Lizundia returns to the bookstores this pandemic summer with Tangier and Melilla confronted, other symbolic and literary biases

De lecturas, lectores y escritores en el norte de África

PHOTO - Tangier and Melilla confronted, other symbolic and literary biases. Saharan Essays Collection, 2020

Spain, like dozens of other countries, was not spared from the coronavirus pandemic, nor did it escape the emerging "culture of cancellation" that drives censorship and promotes nonsense dressed up as progressivism. It is in this context that José María Lizundia, an author who is known for breaking the mold of political correctness, reappears. Of Basque origin, liberal, cosmopolitan, resides 40 years ago in an island, frontal and politically incorrect, José María returns to the bookstores this summer pandemic with Tangier and Melilla confronted, other symbolic and literary biases.

José María Lizundia, Málaga, septiembre, 2019

Lizundia is not addicted to harangues or causes. Dispossessed of that Moroccan animosity that sometimes seems to be rooted in Spanish/Spanish DNA, he entered Morocco from the south, but he didn't stay there. Although he shuns exoticism and formalities, he has circumstantially found himself immersed in both scenarios, avoiding them with humour. Known through his critical essays in relation to Spanish activism sympathetic to the Polisario Front and the totalitarian structure of that separatist movement, he did not settle in the issue of the territorial dispute. José María disarmed the story of that unviable, failed and extemporaneous project. And, with his usual cheekiness, he concluded that he is not interested in proposing solutions. He then left the Sahara. Bordering the Atlantic, he crossed Morocco, immersing himself in its history, its diversity and its enormous cultural and literary wealth, in its most notable writers.

Tangier and Melilla confronted, other symbolic and literary biases is the ninth book of the Saharan Essays Collection edited by Lizundia. This interdisciplinary collection, entirely dedicated to Morocco, includes Ibero-American and Moroccan authors. José María chose two of his friends, located on different shores of the Atlantic, as the first readers of his latest creation: a Moroccan writer and literary critic and a Colombian political scientist, analyst and reader. The reader's impressions will probably also be on different shores, according to the circumstances of each reader and the way in which a reader situates himself and interacts with a text and its author.

Notes from a Colombian reader

The reading moved me to Morocco, but this time in a different way. And it also took me to Borges. To Morocco, as a country of writers, not of readers. I didn't know anywhere else but that Maghreb country so many people almost obsessed with being recognised as writers. Even the fact that I wasn't, in a way, seemed to detract intellectually from me sometimes in front of more than one interlocutor. Moving on to Borges, the immortal writer - cosmopolitan for some and universal for others - considered that greatness should be measured in what one reads rather than in what one writes: "One becomes great by what one reads and not by what one writes". "Let others boast of the pages they have written; I am proud of those I have read. The great poet from Buenos Aires who came to set foot on Moroccan soil is not without reason, it seems, twice, first in Tetuan, capital of the Spanish protectorate, in 1936 and, almost 50 years later, in Marrakech, in 1984. The fact is that a writer is, first and foremost, a reader. Some will ask: How do these comments relate to José María and his work?

 José María Lizundia, diciembre, 2019

Tangier and Melilla confronted, other symbolic and literary biases may well be inscribed in the sub-genre of travel literature, but it is much more than the chronicle of a few trips to Tangier, Ceuta and Melilla. It is literary criticism and analysis, an introspective journey of the author as he travels through some areas of North Africa and recovers some of his authors and intellectual references, but it is also and especially the viewpoint of a reader who interacts, debates, dialogues, questions and criticises the authors read, authors who travelled and wrote under the influence of their experiences framed in a specific spatial-temporal dimension.

In this literary journey undertaken by the reader and writer José María Lizundia, the influence of Mohamed Chukri, Moroccan writer and reader, can be appreciated. I now recall a conversation with Ibrahim El Khatib, who, by the way, translated Borges and many others into Arabic, about that Chukri reader who is discovered in Time of Errors and in Faces, Loves, Curses, the second and third books of the autobiographical trilogy begun with The Bread Alone. The Khatib corroborated my inferences. Indeed, Chukri was a great reader and may even have been the best Moroccan reader who remembers El Khatib. And this great reader is the same one who discusses Paul Bowles (see Paul Bowles, the prisoner from Tangier). Chukri confronts that Tangier in some artificial and inauthentic way extolled by foreigners who despised the real and Moroccan Tangier. 

In Lizundia, there is a sharp and biting criticism of this Spanishising trend of an idealised Tangier, narrated by outsiders, which still has its mourners and nostalgics. The author recovers, instead, the real Tangier, in its Moroccan element (not without it), with the Moroccan culture. The fact is that not all the Spaniards who have written and who write about Morocco and, in particular, about Tangiers and/or from Tangiers are Antonio Lozano (1956-2019). Lozano was recently discovered by Lizundia and apparently was pleasantly surprised by the quality of his work. Antonio Lozano was a magnificent writer from Tangier, whom I read a few years ago and subsequently contacted to invite him to a literary activity in southern Morocco, he would have attended if his health had not prevented him from doing so. Antonio told me that he was born and lived in Morocco for 27 years. He said about Morocco, in a warm and friendly way: "It is, in equal parts with Spain (although unfortunately I do not speak the language), my country". This is the enormous distance between Lozano and some of the Spanish authors that Lizundia deals with in her critical reading.

Interculturality and dialogue of civilizations

José María Lizundia is sometimes perceived as distant and it will not be him who is known as a lover of Morocco, but there must be something of that in order for him to act as a patron and dedicate a diverse and plural collection to that country in the interest of bringing together different aspects that are not usually dealt with in Spain or that are unknown to a large part of the Spanish-speaking world. The Colección Ensayos Saharianos is much more than a series of publications in Spanish. There was, on the part of the editor, a conscious decision to include Moroccan voices. José María is not one of those characters given to grandiloquent speeches that wave flags and encourage hugs for photographs in the name of interculturality. But in his cultural commitment he proposes and materializes the exchange, he invites discovery and raises the disposition to dialogue, knowledge and recognition. Note here the re-signification and authentic dialogue of civilizations, an expression that was gradually emptying of meaning in the mouths of its promoters: Erdogan, who became a Turkish autocrat, and Zapatero, who became an international defender of the Venezuelan dictatorship.

José María Lizundia, Málaga, septiembre, 2019

Finally, Lizundia raises the limits of interculturality and here I allow myself to introduce a nuance: Of interculturality we spoke two of her friends, readers and authors of her collection, we did, at that time from the same bank of the Atlantic, following Amin Maalouf. We observe interculturality as the next stage of multiculturalism, which has more than shown its limits. Interculturality must not compromise on the lack of common sense, if not the nonsense, condescension and political correctness of multiculturalism. In fact, it is called upon to replace it. We saw interculturality in relation to the integration of immigrants in their host countries, but it would be worthwhile to return here to the central question of the approach we took, which is aimed at seeking a balance so that the immigrant, on the one hand, maintains the elements proper to his or her culture (language, gastronomy, art, etc.) and, on the other hand, adheres - without exceptions based on ethnic, cultural or religious reasons - to the constitution and to compliance with the constitutional order in his or her host country. I summarize it in one sentence: Recognition of otherness in modern societies. What does this mean? Different cultures can coexist in a territory as cultures in movement, dynamic and with a vocation of transformation to adopt and adapt to the values of modernity and the civic and democratic principles of the host country. In this sense, different cultures and immigrant communities assume that individual freedoms and the universality of human rights are non-negotiable and not in dispute (Riveros, 2019, p. 36-37). I share to a large extent the final concerns and worries outlined by José María, perhaps with some differences in form and/or concepts, but in the substance and content of his critical remarks and manifest reservations I do not maintain unfathomable distances from the author. In times of confinement, pandemic and closed borders, let us travel with Lizundia to North Africa, to the Maghreb. Good reading.

Clara Riveros, political analyst and director of CPLATAM - Political Analysis in Latin America - ©