The Faded Bond: Calligraphesis and Kinship in Abdelwahab Meddeb's Talismano
If you really wish your country to avoid regression, or at best halts and uncertainties, a rapid step must be taken from national consciousness to political and social consciousness.”1 At the height of nationalist struggles for decolonization in 1961, Frantz Fanon wrote this warning against too great an attachment to the rhetoric, images, and energy of what he calls national consciousness. Twenty years later in his novel Talismano, the Tunisian author Abdelwahab Meddeb directly confronts the issues raised by Fanon’s prescription for a genuinely postcolonial cultural imagination.2 In this novel, however, the “rapid step” finds its rejoinder in the itinerant arabesques of the narrator’s path through the postcolonial cityscape. Attempting to reconstruct a personal history, the narrator revisits the sites of his childhood by traveling the map of Tunis; in so doing, the wandering narrative composes a portrait of a heterogeneous city over and against the totalizing modernist claims of a postcolonial national consciousness. Circulating through the spaces held captive by the idée fixe of the modern state, the text capitalizes on the itinerant step to imagine an alternative species of writing—what the novel calls allography—that could mark difference in the public spaces of identity.
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Many thanks to Emily Apter, John Culbert, Sharon Holland, Elizabeth Povinelli, David Wills, and the editorial committee of Public Culture, all of whom contributed their suggestions for this version.
- Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1991), 203.
- Abdelwahab Meddeb, Talismano (Paris: Éditions Sindbad,  1987). Hereafter cited as T.