Olena Kobchinska


The article offers the analysis of several ‘memorial’ aspects in the novel “This Blinding Absence of
Light” by a contemporary French writer, Goncourt Prize winner, Tahar Ben Jelloun, that appeared in 2001
and the English translation of which won Impact Dublin Literary Award being fully and justly estimated
by the jury as a story “that absolutely must be told”. In his text the francophone author born in Maghreb
brings to light a painful period in the Moroccan postcolonial history characterized by his contemporaries
and currently known as ‘the lead years’ embracing the rule of Hassan II. In particular, the story introduces
one of the numerous mournful episodes that took place during tough repressions imposed upon political
opponents to Hassan’s II reign. In 1970s, Moroccan offi cers suspected at coup d’état aimed at the forceful
seizure of the king’s authority were imprisoned in the secret underground jail named Tazmamart where they
spent almost twenty years in unhuman conditions being released only in 1991. Considering the problematics
of the writing, (it initially incorporates narrating traumatic experiences combined with the problematics of
collective and individual memory), the author chooses to ground the study on the methodology and conceptual
apparatus available in trauma and memory studies. In particular, the paper recurs to theories proposed by
French philosophers and anthropologists Maurice Halbwachs (the scientist’s refl ections on collective memory
as prior to individual one and essential for grounding particular culture of remembering are considered) and 

Pierre Nora, the author of the theory known as “places of memory” (“lieux de mémoire”), who assumes that
collective and historical identities cannot be set up by means of objective history or memory itself as they
are a priori selective; instead, such identities are framed by specially designed places of memory intended to
crystalize, shelter, and commemorate history and represented by a wide range of artifacts, such as archives,
monuments, objects of art, etc. The explicated theoretical assumptions in reference to Ben Jelloun’s case,
appear to indicate that his text recurs to refl ecting, grounding, and achieving collective memory by means of
distinctive strategies which encompass verbalizing seemingly unspeakable trauma, introducing meta-narrative
imagery and characters-storytellers (one of them appears as the actual protagonist, Salim, who entertains
and inspires his jailed colleagues by telling them stories from One Thousand and One Nights that belong to
the cultural legacy of the Arabic world and mankind in general). The paper also reveals that the text is rich
in signifi cant autofi ctional signs, whereas polyphonic voices and mythological intertext incorporated to the
writing make it appear not only as an actual documentary-based memoire of one of the former prisoners and
consequent survivors (namely, Aziz Binebine) of the lead 1960–80-s in Morocco, but also as a timeless parable
on human suffering in a repressed victimized world. Finally, the fi ndings fi ll a gap in our understanding that
in Ben Jelloun’s text the synthesis of individual and collective memory appears as an opened palimpsest:
they both hurt and partially tend to remain unrevealed or silenced by badly traumatized survivors, and still
must be told, i.e. represented, by the means of fi ction, as a place of memory that, consequently, prevails
stories and histories from oblivion.
Keywords: autofi ctional mode of writing, collective memory, historical trauma, individual memory,
“lieux de mémoire”, “lead years”, memoirs, Morocco, mythological discourse, political repressions,
Tazmamart, testimonial novel.

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