Meddeb, Abdelwahab 1946-

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MEDDEB, Abdelwahab 1946-

PERSONAL: Born 1946, in Tunis, Tunisia; married; children: one. Education: University of Paris IV, B.A., 1969, M.A., 1970; University Aix-Marseilles, Ph.D. (writing and double genealogy), 1991.

ADDRESSES: Home—Paris, France. Offıce—c/o University of Paris X at Nanterre, 100, av de la Ré-publique, 92001 Nanterre Cedex, France.

CAREER: Author, editor, and educator. Sinbad Editions, Paris, France, literary director and advisor, 1974-88; University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland, visiting professor, 1989-90; European University Institute of Florence, Florence, Italy, visiting researcher, 1991; Transcultura Foundation, Milan, Italy, director of research, 1991; SUPELEC, Orsay, France, associated professor, 1991-93; UNESCO, consultant, 1993; Yale University, New Haven, CT, visiting professor, 1993; University of Paris V Rene Descartes, temporary research professor, 1993-94; University of Paris X at Nanterre, Nanterre, France, professor of comparative literature.

AWARDS, HONORS: Prix Max Jacob for poetry, 2002; Prix François Mauriac, 2002, for La maladie de l'Islam.


Talismano (novel), Christian Bourgois (Paris, France), 1979.

Phantasia (novel), Sindbad Editions (Paris, France), 1986.

Tombeau d'Ibn Arabi (poetry), Sillages (Paris, France), 1987.

Les dits de Bistami (poetry), Fayard (Paris, France), 1989.

La gazelle et l'enfant (play), Actes-Sud/Papiers (Arles, France), 1992.

(With Jean Arrouye and Predrag Matvejevitch) Méditerranées, portraits de Lieux avec mémoire, photographs by Fabienne Barre, Contrejour (Paris, France), 1995.

(Editor and contributor, with Manfred Metzner and Hans Thrill) Tunesien 1936-1940: Fotografien, photographs by Ré Soupault, Wunderhorn (Heidelberg, Germany), 1996.

Aya dans les villes, illustrated by Alexandre Hollan, Fata Morgana (Saint-Clément-la-Rivière, France), 1999.

La maladie de l'Islam (essays), Seuil (Paris, France), 2002, translation by Pierre Joris and Ann Reid published as The Malady of Islam, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Face á l'Islam (essays), Textuel (Paris, France), 2004. (Translator and commentator, with Hiromi Tsukui) Saigyô, vers le vide (poetry), by Saigyô, Albin-Michel (Paris, France), 2004.

Author of poems, essays, and translations, including 99 Yale Stations and Matière des Oiseaux (poetry); Blanches traverses de passé (essays); Récit de l'exil occidental de Sohrawardi; and La Mu'allaqa d'Imru'al-Qays (translations with commentaries). Also coauthor, with Albert Memmi, of En Tunisie, photographs by Jellel Gastelli, Eric Koehler (Paris, France). Editor of periodicals, including Intersignes, 1991-94, and Dédale, 1995—.

SIDELIGHTS: Born in Tunis in 1946, writer and educator Abdelwahab Meddeb attended French schools and studied Arab theology. His writings include poetry, novels, essays, scholarly papers, and translations on topics ranging from Islamic mysticism to North African politics, with a particular interest in the relationship between East and West. Meddeb moved to Paris, where he became a professor of comparative literature at the University of Paris X at Nanterre, and has served as editor of the magazine Dédale.

The theme of exile is a major focus in Meddeb's novel Phantasia. In the book, Meddeb examines identity and ideology in relation to the narrator who, like the author, is a Tunisian who has relocated to France. Meddeb uses architecture, language, and structure to highlight the blending of French and Arabic, while showing both sides struggling to maintain their unique identity. Suzanne Gauch, in a review for Mosaic, wrote that "Phantasia formulates an ethics of exile whose aim is to expose the politics of representation found not only in discourses of the nation, but also in art, architecture and language itself." Meddeb's story addresses cultural relations at a time when the Arabs are standing on their own, no longer subject to French colonial rule. Yet the French influences on the Arabic world are firmly entrenched. Gauch wrote that "while the narrator makes frequent reference to Islamic philosophy, theology, and history, the text itself is written in French. . . . Reflecting this linguistic exile in its 'plot,' Phantasia chronicles the solitary peregrinations of its narrator/exile through Paris and Tunisia."

The Malady of Islam, a series of essays on the condition of modern Islam, is a very different type of book, yet it still reflects Meddeb's position as a Tunisian living in France and regarding his former home from an outsider's viewpoint. Douglas McCready, writing for Military Review, observed that "the book's strength is also its weakness: it is written by a Muslim scholar deeply involved in the debate about Islam's direction in the modern world." McCready added that the book "is the product of one conversant in Islamic history and thought but it is also the work of a Muslim whose thought fits better in Paris . . . than in the cities and villages of the Middle East." Meddeb attempts to address what he views as the problems with the Middle East, citing Islamic fundamentalism as a reaction to the world's increasing Americanization. Middle East Quarterly reviewer Daniel Pipes commented that, "on the subject of Islam, Meddeb presents a brave and insightful Muslim voice; on the subject of politics, he is just another group-think French intellectual. Fortunately his thoughts on the first topic have real importance."

Meddeb told CA: "I always read ancient poets and thinkers; I write under the influence of two of them: the Arabic sufi Ibn Arabi (1165-1240), and the Tuscan poet Dante (1265-1319). I try to invent a very new form with consideration of the very antiques.

"At the beginning, the text is composed in my mind, when I am moving, walking in the cities or in countries. For me, travel is the mover of writing, it's why I promulgate transcultural and trans-linguistic aesthetics and poetics, it's the best way to compose the novel or the poem to thought in this time of globalization.

"Of my published books, my favorite is Talismano because it's my first book. When I read it again, I'm surprising by it's audacious freedom."



Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2003, review of The Malady of Islam, p. 848.

Middle East Quarterly, winter, 2004, Daniel Pipes, review of The Malady of Islam, p. 85.

Military Review, May-June, 2004, Douglas McCready, review of The Malady of Islam, p. 77.

Mosaic, June, 1998, Suzanne Gauch, "Phantasmatic Artifacts: Postcolonial Meditations by a Tunisian Exile," review of Phantasia, p. 123.

Public Culture, winter, 2001, Dina Al-Kassim, "Calligraphesis and Kinship in Abdelwahab Meddeb's Talismano."

Sites, fall, 1998, Abdellatif el Alami, review of Talismano, Phantasia, and Tombeau d'Ibn Arabi, pp. 377-387.


Littératures dux Maghreb Online, (September 12, 2004), "Abdelwahab Meddeb."

Masthead Online, (August 30, 2004), "Abdelwahab Meddeb."

Random House UK Web site, (August 30, 2004), "Abdelwahab Meddeb."