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 THE EYE AND THE NIGHT (extract)

by Abdellatif Laabi

 

[MQB present here a translation of the opening pages of Abdellatif La‚biís LíOeil et La Nuit, first published in Morocco in 1969 and then in France in 1977. La‚bi, better known for his subsequent poetry, offers up here a work of poetic prose that emanates from his deep involvement in the Souffles group and in the political upheavals of the time. The Souffles group was perceived as dangerous and subversive by the Moroccan authorities and La‚bi was arrested for Ďcrimes of opinioní and imprisoned for eight years before having to flee the country for France in 1985.

The selection that follows is taken from the first section of the novel entitled ĎBody Memoryí [Memoire-Corps] and as this brief exert shows, his writing is not of the narrative kind but is a dense weaving of affects, impressions, satirical insubordinations and steadfast stoicism. This weave receives further poetic impetus from its pre-eminent montage effect in which the reader seems to be brought into the action in a way that mirrors that of the bemused, resigned and yet combative participants: Whatís going on? Where are we?]

 

 

I heard the click. Indistinct weapons. Galloping. Rutting violence. When I was hit. Multiple projectiles. Bullets? Marbles? Blades? Darts? In my body. My brain. And without the least numbness. As expected. In broad daylight. Publicly. In cold blood. Point blank. In dreams of occult memories. Beneath the eye of dead gods, inculpated, at rest, dragged to the bonfire on the guerillaís plazas. Galloping everywhere. And without dizziness.

      I turn round. A continent. I see it in its totality and beyond. Ravaged, empty. Petrified birds. No trace, life. Like in the beginning.  

      But it isnít indistinct night. Thereís already a light without there being a star or artificial projectors. A flowing hertzian cascade which waters the earth, without refraction, zones of shadow, which penetrates, comes through the walls during the galloping.

      And without flinching, staggering, I try to get up, to stand upright. Without kicks, squirts of blood from the anonymous bodies. Without a vice on the retina. Without saliva foam nets, without sirens nor calls, without the sound of upside-down magnetic tape, reports, sketches of the earth, sockets, extraction of bullets.

      Upright. Riddled. With my projectiles. My cancerous islets. Facing crime. Terror. IíM ALIVE

       

***

 

      Hospital. But Iím not laid low by illness. New dials have replaced temporal divisions. Light, fire, asphyxia of colours. Night: hooting. Itching. Anonymity of shale. 

      A click to fix the winding of the camera-dolly. 

      Dizzy-ringing. Nothing more than the eye. An excrescence hanging on the forehead.

      Itís a seahorse. A rat. A man perhaps. His crawling like a fang in the heart. He enables me. Pours his spit into my ear. I can no longer hear his yawning. The stairs have retaken him. Other masses slide towards me.

      Whiteís tentacles make ugly the blistered fag-end of the rescuers. From the other side, a glabrous light grinds my bones. Concrete trapezoids. Cyclones of nausea.

       They are there. Dressed for waiting. A spittoon sold at auction. To the clientís head. But it doesnít hurt me. A threshold spreads out all its problems. A backwards question runs up against a hinge. I have hands galore left.

       Viscous this ear chewed by mice. Next, these eyes content to meet my disarray gut me. 

      By chance I get back to the benches. Theyíve followed me. 

      I too am thirsty. But I donít like to ask. I swallow slowly clots of saliva. I smoke and it doesnít hurt. I would have liked the white to disappear from the ceiling, disappear from these butchersí aprons. Why this mourning colour? 

      I suggest blue, green. 

      Once over the threshold, a lack of air assaults my nostrils. The chloroform and other exhalations freeze my eyelids. Me too, like them, Iíve crossed the border. The bodyís border in the disruption brought about by pain.  

      To coexist would have needed a stronger jerk. No. Itís space which atrophies and expels a brain. 

      Them, they speak. Itís their way of not waiting. Collective bragging. 

      ďTwo months stuck in bed. Very serious, said the quack. Iím young, says one. There is the future. Lessons Iím missing. The future for me, itís everything. There are too many unemployed in my family.  

      Zero passes now, jokes the other. Iíve got number 4, you number 6. But the Nazarenes donít make you wait for nothing.  

      Mental ages. A gallery. If at least they would make up their minds to spit simultaneously. I could estimate their age, their ethnic origin.  

      I can no longer smoke. The cigarette itself is impregnated with their flesh, between life and death. 

      The organ which doesnít suffer must be amputated. There is no other function but that established by atavism.  

      This one, veiled like a city girl, but stinking of cloves. She sums it all up. I don't like to say "drama" anymore. There's too much of it. It sounds false. It sums up something that is beyond comprehension. One of those human situations where there are no commas, no exclamation marks. It's all there and it makes you want to slap the nothingness, to piss on the books. 

      The bench no longer surprises me because the stretcher pushes it back into the category of an instrument of comfort. Nothing alerts me. There was, and I don't feel it anymore, this galloping in the skull that has become strident, the counterpoint of a vertigo that doesn't go beyond the convolutions. 

            The body is the strongest, above and below the guts. Atrociously. The others. Hanging on the door latches, on the numbers written on tiny pieces of paper that they knead in their palms. 

            Space tumbles, carried along by zones of terror and infernos quickly mowed down by chloroform. 

            I do not situate myself. I do not analyse myself. Nor do I observe those around me. Back-to-back, pressured by the same expectation. We sometimes bump into each other without batting an eyelid, without asking for forgiveness, without touching each other, without any human word redoubling our strangeness. 

            Yet the eye has not become infected with darkness. It remains like a shore suspended between our masses absorbed in waiting. 

       

      I would have died and not been surprised once I was in the pit. For me, there has never been a segregation between two states so brutally indistinguishable. Pulsation. Force of inertia. The cemeteries were my playground, the safe places where the mating of the beasts made me discover each time my organs and their attributions. 

            So, there was sun, laughter, walking and crying-pain. And sometimes weddings when the flute-drenched walls activated the cycle of hatching. The dream excluded. The dung hardened like jujubes. Hopscotch. Ramadan when all the deceptions blasted sleep. The vigils where the marvellous pierced me. 

       

      He moves. The son, it must be his son, picks him up, sniffs him like a dog, whispers something to him. He lifts him up. Folds down the sides of his jellaba. Fixes his turban and his cap. He looks at him. A tear on each eye. And everything falls apart. The concrete cracks me up. Slates of wind prostrate themselves like weathervanes flanking the arch of the apocalypse. 

            A ray slips away, a spider's web abruptly slashed by an imaginary dagger. 

            Number one. 

            Someone yelled that twaddle. It sounds like a woman's voice to me. I can just imagine her, that trollop. Rouged with freckles. The eyes of a naja. High heels and sharp buttocks. She emerges between two doors, two corridors. Passes through. Leaves a fart of perfume in the lounge. 

            Number. You. Quickly. See you next time. Blood-flask. Radio. A slip of paper [fiche]. Infallible diagnosis. A very curious case. Very characteristic. For the first time... What do you think? It merits a message to the... 

            Bastard. A charlatan's head. After all, I prefer those of Jema‚ Lafna. They have the delicacy of the verb. Exorcism. 

            Here. Number. We'll classify these cattle for you. The whole lot for who knows where. Admitted. The cell... 

       

[Translated by Alan Dent and Howard Slater. Taken from LíOeil et La Nuit, Minos: la Difference, 2003, pp.9-16. A further translation from this work appears in MQB No.19, 2023.] 

 

 

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