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Memmi, Albert


MEMMI, ALBERT (1920– ), French author and sociologist. Memmi, a native of Tunis, fought with the Free French during World War ii. After completing his studies he returned to Tunis, where he became head of a psychological institute. In 1959, he joined the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris, and became a teacher at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes where he was appointed a professor in 1966. He specialized in the social effects of colonization, finding a similarity between the situation of the Jew and that of colonized peoples. Though an advocate of independence for the countries of the Maghreb, he was well aware that one of its consequences would be the mass exodus of North African Jewry. Memmi's first two books were novels, both largely autobiographical. La statue de sel (1953; Pillar of Salt, 1955), is the story of a North African Jew's emergence from a narrow Jewish society through the discovery of French culture, and his eventual disillusionment with an idealized Western humanism. Agar (1955; Strangers, 1958) describes the isolation of a Tunisian Jew, rejected by both Frenchmen and Arabs. Memmi was still dealing with the same problem a decade later in essays such as Portrait d'un Juif (1962; Portrait of a Jew, 1963) and its sequel, La libération du Juif (1966; The Liberation of the Jew, 1966). He portrays the Jew as a "shadow figure," neither wholly assimilated nor anxious to lose his distinctiveness, concluding that "Israel is our only solution, our one trump card, our last historical opportunity." Memmi's sociological studies appeared in various journals and in Le Français et le racisme (1965). He published an Anthologie des écrivains nord-africains (1964) and a Bibliographie de la littérature nord-africaine d'expression française 1945–1962 (1965). He also wrote essays on Jewish subjects for L'Arche, Evidences, and Commentary. His later works include Dictionnaire critique à l'usage des incrédules (2002) and a conversation volume with Catherine Pont-Humbert, L'individu face à ses dépendances (2005).


Sartre, in: Les Temps Modernes, 137–8 (1957), 289–92; Camus, in: A. Memmi, La statue de sel (1953), preface; A. Khatibi, Le Roman Maghrébin (1968); Di-Nour, in: Dispersion et Unité, 8 (1967), 81–92.

[Jacqueline Kahanoff]

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