Al Thaqafa Al Maghribia (Moroccan Cultural Review) - No.13, July 21, 1938

Ahmed Bennani wrote this essay anonymously to address two piques he had with his friends and hosts, Said and his eldest brother, Abderrahman.. First he wanted to exact a sweet revenge upon the eldest, a poet and a fervent admirer of many Middle Eastern traditional poets especially those who addressed Arabic writing from a linguistic angle with regards to grammar and syntax. In this essay Ahmed refers to Abderrahman as the literary man and poet from Sale as well as Abou Zayd aka, Mohamed Ben Yazid, an extraordinary linguist from Yemen's Azd region born in 210 AH. His main peeve with Abderrahman was his fastidious linguistic nitpicking during the Board reviews. In his words "His lectures and corrections have prevented him from pursuing his poetic compositions. Under these circumstances I found the appropriate opportunity to get back at him for the misery he made us endure with his brash, scrupulous and exacting corrections.....and so I pretended in this essay that his guardian angel had left him, and wanted to help find it so he can go back to his poetry!" Secondly, Ahmed felt a need to defend the Moroccan youth whom Said had labelled as "heedless" and refute as baseless his arguments. After all he fit all the criteria Said laid out with irony for the "so-called developed youth" because he had benefited from both Arabic and French schooling. In this satirical essay he includes his rebuttal and latter expounds on it in his final volley, "Who is this Heedless Youth?"

It was a hot summer evening. I could not sleep. I opened my bedroom's windows and to relax I sat on a long bench between my bookcases. I read or rather I flipped through a magazine under the dim light to pass the time while I waited for the late night's cool breeze. At last I fell into a state of quasi-sleep, my eyelids now and then drooping with light inertia.

I wandered into a pleasant dreamworld. While immersed in this deep calm, I heard a rustling of paper. I thought it just was a mouse who had come to visit my library and paid no more attention to it.

But suddenly, the incident grew to more troubling proportions. The shelves began to shake, books tumbled to the floor, hopping about, fluttering their pages and colliding with each other. I was scared out of my wits and seized with fright. I almost fainted when I heard voices emanating from open books.

"My friend ... yes ... my friend is better than yours ... Rafii ... Al Akkad..."

If it wasn't for the magic of these musical voices and the nonthreatening dialogue, a mouse might have leaped out and I would have yelled "Help!" But I gathered my courage and after listening attentively, I realized that the arguing voices were carrying on a literary debate as voiced by books by Al Akkad and Rafii as well as those of the latest editions of the magazine "Arrisala" (The Letter) which contained several articles by their respective followers and detractors.

This commotion gathered steam and a fracas threatened to erupt. An enormous head sprung out from the book, "The Pre-Islamic Literature" declaring in a loud voice: "It is possible that Rafii is better than Al Akkad or vice versa. However neither might be better than the other and we can question if Al Akkad truly exists and if Rafii likewise is real. We have the right to know if all the books attributed to these two can be confirmed to be authentic by some seal of guaranteed inviolability or if they are like the pre-Islamic poems that are falsely attributed to someone other than their true authors."

Then more heads leaned out from other books, protesting, defending and battling to exhibit and compare their inclinations. The work titled "Artistic Prose" jostled past a row of books to the front. The author's head emerged and arrogantly cut off everyone, "Remain in disagreement as long as you like. Al Akkad can never be better than Rafii or Rafii better than Al Akkad as long as I have not dedicated a book to one of them like the one I published on Chérif Arradi."

I said to myself, "There is no doubt that these beings are in touch with the poets' guardian angels and this is the perfect opportunity for me to inquire about Salé's missing guardian angel of letters"[2].

I leaned toward a book which was settling down after an exhausting controversy he was involved with. I addressed and readdressed him using overly courteous honorifics like "Mr." and "Master." The book was besides itself and lashed out, "Spare me this empty mosaic of polite civilities that are part of human social conventions."

I replied, "Excuse me if I have been inconsiderate. I do not know how to address you. I am ill, may Allah spare you from the malady I suffer."

"We of the guardian angel world don't understand this type of excuse, sickness only attacks physical beings." He jumped to knock down a book alongside him that had badmouthed him. Then he edged closer to me again.

I said, "My illness, may Allah spare you from it, has not affected my body, otherwise I would have consulted a physician to seek its remedy."

His retort was immediate, "It's your brain that has been affected."

"No, not likely," I said. "Because if my brain was affected I would find myself at this very instant in the Sidi Benacher asylum. I am, may Allah protect you, a heedless youth; here is my diploma and my license certifying this shame and ignominy."

He snatched my certificates from my hand, tore them up and said, "I have little regard for diplomas either. Who told you that you are heedless?"

"Al Thaqafa", I replied,

"Al Thaqafa?" he asked, "Culture? May it always be glorified! For us guardian angels it is sacred. We're its soldiers. We defend its poetry and literature. We strive only for it; we exist only to be at its service. It is front and center on the stage we find ourselves presently. Should it be eclipsed, then we vanish. It is us and we are it. We planted it long ago in Greece where its leaves have blossomed, we waited for it in the Middle East and its branches bore fruit, and so here we are!"

"Please excuse me, it is not that "Al Thaqafa" to which I was alluding," I told him. "I was referring to a publication so named by its editor."

He laughed, the walls shook with his outburst and then said, "You humans, I am surprised that you suffer from such delusions. Listen, I don't have time for absurdities. We, guardian angels of the Arabic Literature, are presently engaged in an all out battle. We have formed two clans; one supports Al Akkad, the second lines itself beside Rafii. Each night, we immerse ourselves in the books of one or the other in whatever library we chance upon. Then we set up fierce debates about them."

"Oh how happy I am to have met you!", I told him. "Would it be possible for you to give me news from the guardian angel of Salé's man of letters? All the town's heedless youth seek him."

"Which man of letters do you speak of?"

"Abou Zayd."

"Who is this Abou Zayd?"

"The one (AKA Mohammed ben Yazid) who lives in Salé."

"Cute" he retorted, "What you said has strangely enough reminded me of a verse of an ancient poet:"

Yon land, still with life's asset? asked I
Which one? was their quick reply
No doubt ben Yazid lives in their midst
Ergo anon grasp thee but mist

"What about this Salé? Where is it? If you were among the readers of 'Al Thaqafa' you would have learned what a certain heedless youth wrote about it. Furthermore you would know that it is a pretty little city along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean where Sidi Benacher's mausoleum is located. Did you not know that men of the sciences are adversaries of spirits and so we guardian spirits we can mingle only with writers, poets and artists? Your literary figure from Salé of which I now speak pretends to be a poet, but... " and then he continued, "But what? .... Ever since he had the misfortune to meet with the "heedless youth" as part of his duties he claims that his guardian spirit has left him. We are encouraged to search for it in view of our concern to be at the service of literature and of our loyalty to the arts."

"This poet at the very least is a bit odd," he went on and started to repeat to himself, "Abou Zayd .. Salé .. Abou Zayd ... Salé, ..."

Then a guardian angel who was listening emerged from a book and said, "Yes, ... Yes, I know a literary man from Salé." Then after a moment of reflection he continued, " Ah...I have just learned more about him, let's pay him a visit."

He held on to my hand and we flew towards a quiet and secluded neighborhood of Salé. We landed on the edge of a ruined outer wall which we took to be a vestige of some old house. We entered and found an earthen open courtyard. In the center sat a heavyset man with a dark complexion, white hair and wearing reading glasses. In his open hands he held on one side the collection of poems by Cherif Arradi and by Safyi Eddine Al Heely and on the other a pile of poems by Thami Lamdaghri and others that were inspired by the local dialect.

I spoke out, "This is not the man of letters whose guardian angel we seek."

To which our guardian angel replied, "Then, let's not disturb our sage. We owe his appreciation for his efforts to preserve on old parchment your country's most popular and best works written in the local dialect. In addition, our sheik belongs to a branch of a highly respected family tree and so it is our duty to behave with the utmost deference he deserves."

"I would not have thought" I said, "this sheik would the object of so much respect on your part."

I continued, "How unfortunate for you! Do you believe that our poetry is but this rhythmic language where modern poets seek the rhymes from linguistic manuals such as the handbooks "Al Sihah" or "Al Misbah" ? By so doing, they do little but follow the rhymes and metric form of the verse without expressing their feelings. We have a (traditional) style of poetry we call "Al Malhoun" which even though it is not written on the best quality paper nor illustrated with pretty scenery nor highlighted by misleading titles, is no less inspired by the genius of guardian angels. Sadly its adherents are becoming more and more rare. You have disavowed and abandoned it to a blind man for which it has become a means to earn his bread; to an abysmal sort to use to beg with and, yes, a weak soul who belches it out with an abominable voice."

As we left the sheik's premises, he asked, "Where is the home of your literary man?"

"Not too far" I replied. "It is an elegant residence, embellished with a personal library filled with books on linguistics, on studies of literature, and on anthologies of poetry and their analyses."

He then countered, "Then it is your misfortune. If you had mentioned this at the beginning it would have been much more clear for me. Now I know why our angel abandoned him. It has nothing to do with heedless youth. Rather it is because being the guardian angels that we are, it is hard for us to coexist with books on linguistics. We are sworn enemies of criteria and metrics. We love those who adhere spontaneously to our inspirations. These come from deep inside our gut. It would be painful to see them imprisoned between the tight grinding wheels of grammar and linguistics."

While we were absorbed in discussion, a huge building grew before us as we approached it. It was newly built with lots of windows.

"What is this building?" the spirit asked.

"It is a school" I told him and thought to myself, it's a factory that produces heedless youth. Then I continued by saying, "Is there among you, a guardian angel who understands heedless youth? Or are you in fact of the opinion of the editor of "Al Thaqafa" who contends that heedless youth can not relate to the world of literature and poetry?"

"No feelings for them? God forbid!" he replied. "Youth, heedless or else, are our children. They soldier amongst us and we cherish them very much. We have sent them abroad to become insurgents against the established order, to revolt, attack and demolish it. If they fulfill their role then we can offer them the reward of poetry, literature, art and philosophy. For their efforts they deserve all these treasures that we have gathered for them. But for now, it is a time for destruction. We do not have the luxury to listen to a bard's lute. We have only time for the ringing blows of a hammer."

Our discussion continued as early dawn pleasantly lit the sky, a mind bending silence surrounded us. Suddenly sounds of footsteps interrupted us. We became quiet and held our breath trying to look over the outer walls to see who was this early morning passerby. It was (none other than) the editor of "Al Thaqafa". "Did you see who just passed by at this early hour?" I asked the spirit. "It was the editor of the cultural magazine."

I asked him if he could tell me if the editor had a spirit among the guardian angels. He replied that his spirit belonged not to the spirit world but to that of human beings. "But so you are forewarned, know that human minds are more oppressive and violent than guardian angels. Woe to anyone surrounded by both guardian angels and human minds!"

He shared this secret then pulled me closer to say, "We must leave, pretty soon the sun will peak over the horizon. It is time for me to hide. We are adverse to sunlight, only darkness becomes us."

In a blink of an eye, I was back lying on my bench.

He said. "Goodbye."

I asked him if he could reveal to me the name of the literary figure for which he was the guardian angel.

He replied sarcastically, "Do you think you can mess with a guardian angel? Poor child! No wonder he had qualified you as an heedless youth."

From right to left: Mohammed El Fassi, President of the North African Student Association, Paris Chapter, Said Hajji and Ahmed Bennani, author of the controversial discourse with Said. Photo taken in 1937.

From right to left: Mohammed El Fassi, President of the North African Student Association, Paris Chapter, Said Hajji and Ahmed Bennani, author of the controversial discourse with Said. Photo taken in 1937.

Salé's poet, Abderrahman Hajji. Referenced by our writer of this satirical tract, Ahmed Bennani. Photo taken at Vichy, France in 1954.

Salé's poet, Abderrahman Hajji. Referenced by our writer of this satirical tract, Ahmed Bennani. Photo taken at Vichy, France in 1954.

[2] The poet and literary figure, Abderrahman Hajji, eldest brother of Said Hajji.