The Silent Revolution of Mohammed Dib's Qui se souvient de la mer
Date of this Version
Sean Singh Matharoo, "The Silent Revolution of Mohammed Dib's Qui se souvient de la mer," 20th & 21st Century French and Francophone Studies International Colloquium, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, March 26-28, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/ffsc2020/
A video recording of my presentation for the "Parler la terre" Colloquium.
This multimodal paper is about aesthetics, speculative philosophy, and the energy humanities. In it, I contemplate Algerian author Mohammed Dib’s visionary novel Qui se souvient de la mer (1962), emphasizing that our guide through the text is a nameless and wandering theorist who eventually goes underground. We encounter in the text an unnamed city—or, rather, cities within cities, and, indeed, cities beneath cities—besieged by fantastic forces and surrounded by a once-rejuvenating sea that recedes—an outré world that exists in its own spacetime. We find in this world minotaurs carrying flamethrowers; resuscitated mummies lying in ambush; an underground mole whose thunderous footsteps leave behind trails of blood; winged “iriace” that devour olives and spit out their pits, which rain down on the city like cinders; winged “spyrovirs” whose deafening shrieks blind and desiccate the city’s inhabitants; slithering walls that imprison and spit them out elsewhere; vomit of stones; holey skulls full of weeds; impossible songs and aromas; explosions without sources; hazy meteors and electric wind; a disintegrating star (the sun?), and so on. We encounter a world, then, where the fantastic is ubiquitous, a weird world that doesn’t belong. I therefore assert that Dib’s novel, which is ostensibly about the Algerian revolution, is a prototype for a new literary genre, le fantastique outré. I elaborate this assertion by closely reading passages from the original French text in apposition to the writings of Tzvetan Todorov, Mark Fisher, Louis Tremaine, Reza Negarestani, Frantz Fanon, David Benatar, Eugene Thacker, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Louis Althusser, and Stefano Harney and Fred Moten. Along the way, I argue that Dib’s novel at once renders obsolete capitalist-nationalist epistemologies founded on colonial-racial violence and gifts us a generously infinite energy source in the speculative thought of oil, the absolute of the sea, a nomad space, desert of water. Such is the silent revolution of Dib’s Qui se souvient de la mer.