"Al Maghrib" Monthly Review -- third year, June 1934

Dear Ibn Abbad[1]

Lord! How right you were for your decision to use a pickax as the demolition tool to destroy the old rooted views of life. Views submerged in profound lethargy while pretending to govern our thoughts and tastes for literature and which reduce life's wide expanse to a cramped horizon's evanescent circle.

The method for critical review which you unveiled and intend to call forth to argue your case, is the only means to ensure a (good) future for our literary pursuits in the real sense of the term. It will inject some vigor for action into the veins of our intellectual journey (allowing us) to remain youthful and to appreciate the beauty of what is both profound and yet simple.

I am of the impression that those who participate in the literary scene today are like cadavers who sleepwalk when they move without being aware of their existence and who do not aim for much higher goals than where they are now. There is no doubt that your conception of critical review, the first of its kind for our intellectual pursuits, will deliver a hard blow to all who strive to conceal themselves under the folds of these old and out-of-date views and (hence) to avoid recourse to violence or use of force to which life may take us to the extent where we desire to express its trends and evolution.

Until recently, these trends were trickling down and about to disappear, but nowadays they have regained energy and experienced an unprecedented surge due to our youth's vitality and mobilization to battle against those aspects of our lifestyle which refuse to be in tune with modern times and which blaze with reactionary forces.

Our writers have stalled at a moment when life has taken a giant leap forward. Little by little this stall has turned into stagnation or rather a lethargy and ruin of the soul. It is in their interest to engage their minds on a new course to better appreciate the life we wish to lead today and to be its reflection of the hope towards reaching some supreme end. I hope they understand that in our profession of literary faith, we are not for modern trends (just) because they are modern anymore than we are against older concepts because they are old. Our only concern is that our lives should be represented by means of the best possible endeavors by our writers and that we all cherish this hope.

Hence I can guarantee you, my dear friend, there will no longer be quarrels or disputes, even though our literary pursuits and their maturation have all to gain if such controversy endures and intensifies between two opposite camps who take on each other up to the brink of their principles and free opinions. Intellectual integrity must incite them to not pour out enduring defamation and personal attacks which serve no purpose for literary pursuit other than to bring it harm by leaving a distorted view with the least tie to literature's prestige and its sacred beauty.

Now let me ask you a question. Is it your intention to do a critical review of the poetic inspiration of a poet in an overall manner or are you going to limit yourself to criticism of one of his poems? From reading your two articles, it appears to me that you are satisfied with addressing one poem (at a time) which you highlight to the reader as a sample with all that it contains in common. And so here you are already at the conclusion of your critical review without asking the poet to display all his poems. The latter would have (only) led to a hasty conclusion and, in any case. it would not be compatible with critical reviews in the larger sense. This is because it is not at all necessary that a poet excel in all his poetry.

If you journey through Arabic poetry from its pre-Islamic period to today, you will not find one poet who achieved perfection in all his composed verses and who reached the peak of glory in each of his poems. This exhaustive perfection is not the expression sine qua non of the genius of a poet, nor the determining factor for reviewers to acknowledge the overflowing talent of his poetry. For us to render a judgment on a writer, we must have under our eyes all his work to assess a valid overview. Only in this manner can the writer claim his true place amongst the ranks of poets.

Amongst the criteria for critique which were considered in the past, there were those that consisted of the recognition of the talent given to a poet based on one or two poems in which he excelled and where he continued to be ranked amongst the top gifted poets. By demanding a poet to excel in each poem he composes, we suggest that he sees life with the mindset of one who can give and expects nothing in return and as one who sees in life a permanent provocation of feelings and one who is always awake for poetic inspiration without having to remain calm, silent or impassive to either extreme when faced with the darkness and bad omens of adversity.

This of course is in the realm of the impossible. If we blank out what life presents to the poet as colors and images, which either excite feelings and sensitivity and sometimes whips them with full force and if we seek to understand the Moroccan community of recent years and to analyze how it sees life and the interest it bears on the mind's thinking, we will observe that all it undertakes runs counter to emotions and sensitivity, and is inconsistent with any elevation of consciousness and feelings.

Our community has experienced a sort of reactionary crisis. It can not take a step forward without falling ten steps backward. Everything unfolds like clockwork under its eyes leaving no trace of its movement. Neither its progress nor its course show any sensitivity. We have noticed a nonchalance and carelessness as if life's pursuits are limited to nourishment with a piece of bread. Anything else that does not meet this vital need is to be feared and deemed an intrusion into the intimacy of private life.

If the young move away from this fearful mindset and turn to the past and, with an astonishing accessibility, to be able to ask their ancestors who bequeathed them a (strong) legacy, whether the past's Moroccan way of life was similar to the current lifestyle of his parents, i.e. between that of a dying soul or a proactive body. They will surely not find in the folds of the past what they uncover in these beings declining towards death and nothingness or in the frozen images of life inhibited by lack of mobility. In their country's past they will find a vivacity with respect to thought and literary work which is completely lacking in our era where all is corrupt and appears moribund.

If I was to to paint this contemporary period with a detached eye and if I were to be a gadfly, then that is how I would think of it; i.e. like an era where a poet hardly exceeds the talent of imitation and (copy) of word schemes.We must not forget this point if we are to critique our poets and to analyze their poetic nature given the environment which has a major influence on creative inspiration.

Just as the golden age exerts a positive influence on the literary and cultural scene, the age of decadence like ours, bears a negative impact. Hence it is difficult at best for our poets, living in this period's current conditions, to accept being judged on one poem amongst their many and in which (only) the Lord knows under what circumstances and settings that it was composed. Therefore why should they subject themselves to discussion or to engage in polemics when they know in advance that it ends in the harshest of verdicts by a literary critique?

Fairness or rather a frank critique requires us to accompany them in their poetic journey in order to monitor their multifaceted talent and to better appreciate the fortuitous inspiration they had in an instant of creative enthusiasm snatched from a passing moment.

It seems to me that this is the reason why you distanced yourself from a path of a prolific critique choosing to form an opinion of a poet's talent based on one or two poems. This period in which we live is not a golden age where talented poets vied with each other to the point where one poem was sufficient to provide a clear and precise idea of the poet's mettle and the relationships between his ego and feelings with which life provides for a variety of reactions to scenes of beauty.

The word "critique" as defined based on its linguistic origins and as interpreted by the new contemporary school has a totally different meaning than that given to it by our community. They see it as only highlighting anything that is likely to bear prejudice on others.

The etymological meaning of the term and that currently given to it by the school of modern critique oblige a literary reviewer to analyze a poet's work as a whole, to study the positive and negative aspects it contains and to interpret the outside influences on the poet, be he talented or lacking. Influences which led to the composition of the poems he furnished. It behooves us to understand the prevailing mindset of his times and to assess the impact of events and upheavals of this period on poetic endeavors.

Hence, this is how modern critique must be understood by our eminent men of letters. We must strive to make it so and to demolish the thrones of prestige built on vain and idle fancy. Our view must win and get rapid adherence across the country. Our community should not fear adopting what is new and be ready to rid itself of the heavy burden imposed by the era of decadence.

Dear friend Ibn Abbad,

Continue on the fruitful path you have mapped for our intellectual pursuits, whatever the knocks you receive in return. Do not mind that the Moroccan community begrudge your "innocent and very agreeable bites." Go to the forefront and pay no attention to what happens behind you. The future is ours.

[1] Mohammed Ben Al Abbas Al Kabbaj, author of "La littérature arabe au Maroc", (Arabic Litterature in Morocco), published in 1929.