Lotta Poetica

By Howard Slater, 6 November 2013
Image: Youcef Sebti, extract from 'Nothing Poem'

The Arab Spring is well known for the movement of the Squares and the explosion of demands for democracy and an end to corruption in the Middle East. Within and beyond this, argues Howard Slater, it is also the product of a linguistic outer-nationalism in which singular and plural dissidents from the repressive and traumatic norms of capital in crisis elaborate a catalytic language which screams and acts in the face of everyday tyranny

How long is it, this Arab Spring, and how uncertain its days

– Boualem Sansal: Open Letter to Mohamed Bouazizi


This fragmented perspective

This field of unknowing

– Mustafa Nissaboury

Fruit taken. Cart confiscated. Scales charred. A popular uprising channelled through the contested corpse of a simple and modest man. Fruit taken. Cart confiscated. Scales charred.

What can I know of this simple and modest man and his sister who says of his passing: ‘we are like soulless bodies since he left’?

What can I know of Sidi Bouzid? The place. And from that, the region and its history as it extends across the former Ottoman Empire to be known by some as North Africa, the Middle East, the Levant, the Qu’ran belt and by others as the Mediterranean basin, the Maghreb, the Mashriq, Ifrikiya, the Far West, West Asia?

How can I know what this region is coming to be known as?

How can I attest and account or even learn about the infinite seepages of millennia – Sufism, al-Andalus, Berber Wanderers, Hills of Thyme – that cannot but give the lie to the very words: ‘nation’ and ‘region’?

How can I understand what is coming into being?

Through a partial knowledge that only exists as a reifying ruse?

Through an intuition that is still discredited as feminine and spiritual?

Through a politics of hope that lacks scientistic certitude?

How can I know what it is like to be a ‘soulless body’, a displaced person, a citizen tried by a military court, a torture victim or napalmed greenery?

How can I be sure that such experiences, and their overwhelming influx of traumatic perception, wouldn’t upset the very templates of what I could profess to know and how I would speak it?

Wouldn’t learning this, seeing an anonymous boy shot dead in the street, become an internal security threat, a threat to the word ‘learning’?

How to write or speak, then, when the cruelty of everyday tyrants inhabits the silt of nerves and their jealously guarded power inhibits the very possibility of perceiving?

Would I choose a defensive verbosity, a fake erudition, an overly complex knowledge-wrack that would preserve me as self-possessed and self-regarding in what I think I know?

Would I rather choose the ‘language of acts’, a language of unmediated suffering (phôné), a scream of unblocking, that can claim no alphabet and that, as an affective transmission, seems to summon the reticent and the unreachable across regions?

Would this ‘language of acts’, this abreactive poetry, be the voice of the belly, the belly speaking the atelic syntax of Bread Riots that have been and are to come?

Would every day be a ‘Day of Rage’?

How, then, could I trust that the language that I speak – with its clichéd yet latent meanings – could translate into a ‘chthonic speech’ that can be intensively shared between us regardless of the abstract setting of functional ‘sites for learning’?

How can I even speak when what I think I know could individualise me away from the common (species-being) rather than singularise me by means of the common (general intellect)?

Would I need to be the ‘agent of my own ignorance’ and, with knowledge suspended and made suspect, singularise by putting myself into relational communication with something much larger than myself – an entire ‘region’ and its history of which I know nothing – and with something smaller than myself – the unconscious particles of ‘pre-individual reality’ that undermine and constantly interrupt the identifiers of what I know?

Would this, firstly, be a way of tempering the western knowledge that, as conditioned consciousness, is represented through me by means of this writing (the ‘thought known’) and then taunting it by being alert to the polyglot unconscious of any writing (‘unthought known’)?

Could it be that poetry, as a prophetic forebear and pained translator of the ‘language of acts’, is, as a mode of singularisation, what enables me to embark on this mutual de-conditioning and to settle upon forms of affective transmission and distributed vulnerability that palpitates the senses to become, perversely, ‘organs of knowledge’?

Does poetry, in holding the ambivalence of the ‘unknown outcome’, in not rushing towards definitions and hence re-hashing the already known; does poetry see to it that there are continuities of struggle – that the honesties articulated in a present moment of the past reach forward to us with an incisive sureness that politicises the word ‘dignity’.

Does poetry, then, both address and bring into existence a common plane of immanence that is as trans-national as the Arab Spring and post-colonial to the degree that it comes to struggle with a wider ‘endocolonialism’ induced by both the reified meanings of language and the sureties of neoliberal markets?

So, we will proceed in the direction of the Arab Spring by means of a poetry of the recent past. A poetry that offers an intimacy that is not simply in the purview of known individuals but acts, almost in loving anonymity, as a mode of ‘affectivity’ through which we, ignorant of our as yet unbound pre-individuality (‘emotive latency’), can come to singularise

We may never arrive.1


Many people have written... because of this need for creating a place

– Abbas Beydhoun

Hamid Dabashi, author of a book on the Arab Spring, is adamant that one important component of the uprisings that swept the region from 2011 was their trans-nationalism.2 In reading much poetry from the region it is striking, just as with the interweaving spread of musical instruments and the ubiquity of certain sonorous tones, that there seems to be a shared sensibility and much mutual respect across national boundaries. In some ways, when Aimé Césaire spoke of the post-colonial situation as being a potential harbinger of the ‘full breadth of our singularity’3, he may well have been outlining what unites many poets of the region despite their periods of atopic-exile: they are united, across languages, in a struggle for singularity – a ‘lotta poetica’.4


Evidence for this abounds. Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef, whose only book translated into English is called Without an Alphabet, Without a Face, speaks of a life of ‘forced departures’.5 He has variously lived in Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia, Yemen, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, France, Jordan and England. In a poem written in 1974 he calls out from the Mashriq to the Magrheb, to two Moroccan writers, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Abdelatiff Laâbi, who were both associated with a writing that explored the cultural revolutionary travails of post-independence. The same poem carries the following lines that seem to explicitly lend a trans-national and prophetic tone to the struggle for singularity that could be said to be a latent motivating factor of the Arab Spring:

Say: The Berber built our civilization

Say: The Revolution amongst nationality X

will rise from interaction with nationality Y6

Such an accent placed on ‘lotta poetica’ could well inform the presence of a distinct form of surrealism in the region. A surrealism that, in proceeding by affective analogy and existential dissension, seems fitting in a region of many languages by means of which passionate conflicts continually arise: the dialectic of dialects, the word tempting blasphemy. Georges Henein, a Carian surrealist, writing in 1945, spoke of the need for ‘affective jolts’ and the ‘heart’s rebellion’. Thirty years later, in the inflammatory Manifesto of the Arab Surrealist Movement, we can read, at item three:

We spit on the fatherland to drown in it the fumes of death. We combat and ridicule the very idea of the fatherland. To affirm one’s fatherland is to insult the totality of man.7

Often, it seems, amidst the spectre of nationalism (‘our state’ as Anwar Souief calls it) and the ethnic and religious divisions it encourages, there subsists the trans-national, the outernational, the placeless and nameless, through which to imagine a borderless human community (‘totality of man’). The very fact that space is shrinking under either the military occupation of lands, the dictats of nationalised languages or the neoliberal colonisation of public and psychic space, seems to necessitate such anti-national and borderless ‘forms-of-life’ as seem to be proffered, if not by formalised politicos, then by many of the region’s poets: the post-independence experience of banishment, self-exile from hegemonic mindsets, imprisonment, and economic migration all combine to trouble a sense of ‘belonging’. Poetry, then, in its skipping from land to land, in seeking to express an expanse of interlocutors rather than a ‘political subject’, has been a harbinger of singularity as a ‘form-of-life’, a means of affective transmission and psychological resistance that has not only created solidarities between different nationalities but, in its interrogation and intoxication of language, has led to an interrogation of notions of the ‘self’ as well as to the intoxicating paradoxes of the ‘non-self’.8

The intense conflict around language in the Maghreb-Mashriq region is testament to this ongoing poetic struggle to retain a sense of the dignity of intimacy and to encourage its readers in the common art of affective discernment. Poetic writing, then, in its use of the emotive latencies of pre-individual realities, can come to offer a grave threat to those who seek to control and manipulate these latencies. Whether it be the suppression of minor languages (such as the six Berber dialects) in the stead of Arab nationalist homogeneity and state-building, or the contentious Sura XXVI of the Quran that states that those who follow the poets are ‘straying in evil’ , the written and spoken word, its address to the ‘non-self’ of pre-individual affective reality, takes on a highly political importance.9

Algerian writer Habib Tengour who respectfully meditated upon this Sura wrote:

The quest of writing is individual and free. It presupposes defiance of accepted codes of conduct. Mysticism’s undertakings have explored this. The tribe sees in its strange words the gravest danger for its coherence. The tribe is intolerant in that it does not permit the individual to express himself; as far as mysticism is concerned, it only considered the subject better to merge it with the divine, and then with the brotherhood.10

In this piece, tantalisingly entitled ‘In the Valley of the Unfinished’, Tengour expresses the stakes for a ‘lotta poetica’ as both a competitor to divine prophecy and as a singularising defection from those formerly socialistic Arab states that continued to pay lip service to their once anti-imperialist credentials. In both cases ‘accepted codes of conduct’ are undermined by the incoherence of subjectivities-in-transition (which ‘strange words’ express).11 In many ways both these competing elements of the still-extant past are informing the uncertain days of the Arab Spring.

So, the stakes of such a ‘lotta poetica’ can, in this region, be extremely high and the examples of sadistic oppression frighteningly numerous. Algerian poet and journalist, Tahar Dajout, was assassinated on his doorstep in 1993 with the dry explanation that he ‘wielded a fearsome pen that could have an effect on Islamic sectors’. Prior to this, in the early ’70s, poet Abdellatif Laâbi, an editor of the ground-breaking magazine Souffles, who was to write a poem to commemorate Dajout’s death, was tortured and then imprisoned for eight years for ‘crimes against the state’. His colleague on the later editions of the journal, trade unionist Abraham Serfaty, served 17 years for ‘plotting against the state’s security.’ More recently Qatari poet Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami was tortured and jailed for life (commuted to 15 years) for his poem of solidarity with Tunisia (‘Tunisian Jasmine’).12

Experiences such as these are also highly suggestive of a sense of internal exile within the homeland, a sense that striving for singularity, to-become-human, is to be a placeless orphan:

His memory held no birth certificate

No record at all

– Edmond Amram El-Malah13

And yet this exile is, by means of the placeless space of writing, an exile from any concept of identity and an embracing of multiplicities. Samuel Shimon, in speaking of the poet Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine, says ‘he belonged to a Berber family and he was in a triangular conflict of Arab/Moslem/Berber. How could he faithfully belong to all this triangle?’ Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s answer may well have been one that could complicate the triangle with its deliberate self-alienating realism:

I would go even further and claim that the writer does not possess any given language. It possesses him. He really becomes its slave. He must accept this yoke completely, above and beyond nationalities.14

Such a sense of psychical exile (being alienated from language and yet drawn to it) seems to be an apposite preparation to meet with the endocolonial advance of neoliberalism as it colonises the interior space by means of the value-form (an effect of financialisation). The contradictions that were said to exist in an ‘exterior’ of politics are now in combat inside the ‘self’: ‘inside themselves things were railing against each other’.15 This is what makes the poetic writings that come from this time and this region so forcefully contemporary in that, by grappling with the self in light of post-independence disappointments, they often articulate the opening up of existential territories, the placeless poetic territories which seem to be the psychical sites from which singularisation can be produced by means of the antagonism of self-identity and common belonging. But these intra-psychic conflicts, which are deeply informed by the contestation of language to the degree that they pose questions to the functional and homogenising modes of human communication, are themselves propelled as ‘trans-individual’ rather than individualistic. Their sincere articulations of human suffering are drawn from an intense perception of the ‘more than individual’, an exposure to ‘affective life’ and the possibilities for an intimacy-in-common amongst ‘non-selves’:

my face

multiplied in all faces

that cry

– Laâbi16

And so, into a region noted for autocractic states, the placeless of dispersed protest found the Squares: Tahrir, Kasbah, Syntagma... and more lately Taskim. These are places that, spiralling out of the region, became the undisputed focal point for popular uprisings that seemed not to emanate from any one sector, but to be a ‘populous front’. They were places to be occupied to stem the pains of political oppression, austerity and intra-psychic antagonism. Places that, with no need to be written in words, are created by the combined syntactical forces of a ‘language of acts’ which, for me, could constitute the bedrock of a ‘lotta poetica’ by means of which the manifold facets of each participant’s ‘emotive latency’ can be articulated simultaneously and the ‘unknown outcome’ can no longer constitute a threat requiring a pre-emptive ‘full knowledge’.

Image: Whest Is Dhead, Diagram by Howard Slater, 2013. The Arabic words are from Aboul-Qacem Echebbi’s poem ‘To The Tyrants Of The World’ (see Appendix 1). The Arabic motif is the letter(s) Lam-Alif – a double letter, two letters in one glyph


The squares, then, could have been the new places to which many exiles could return and if, as Abbas Beydhoun holds out, people write for a sense of place and renewal, then, the squares, no matter how many times they are flushed out, retain their poetic sense as ‘domains for going astray’, collective assemblages of enunciation that give voice to the strange de-defining words of ‘non-selves’; places where orphans can convene.17 And what, in this mode of togetherness, could have been experienced in the squares? What did the squares makes conceivable? What is it that came to exist beyond the budgetary ruin of national identity? Could it be, as Abdellatif Laâbi once prelusively wrote, that the squares became full of an ‘impassioned atmosphere of proto-human origins.’18

Linguistic Guerillas

Poetry must cease to be a myth. It is neither

before nor after action; it is action

– Youcef Sebti

In a recent article on the continuing struggle in Egypt, Philip Rizk, raises once more the question of language and the political conflicts inherent in it:

The unending performance of words – negotiations, broken promises, deceptive speeches – have not only caused us to lose faith in our representatives but in the medium of speech itself.19

Such languages of the state may well necessitate a ‘language of acts’ rather than delay-inducing rhetorics, but is it possible that Rizk, in the slipstream of his effort to polemicise, underestimates here the full extent of a ‘lotta poetica’ that once opened and still opens out the terrain of political struggle towards enabling many areas of blockage to be addressed: identity and its singularising dispersal, voicelessness and the winning of a means of expression, the micro-political level of the affective transmission of passion, the sharing of debilitating anxieties and the constant re-voicing of the need for dignity as well as bread?

In some senses, Rizk, in maintaining a welcome polemical approach to the political language of the state as well as those of para-state institutions like the IMF, could be treading down that well trodden rhetorical pathway that, in critiquing the languages of the state, becomes over-imbued with its imports and machinations to the detriment of not dialecticising language as a struggle and from that, not giving due credence and exposure to a ‘lotta poetica’ that accompanied and to a degree precipitated the multiple exiles and errancies of the post-independence era that surely feed into the Arab Spring.

Habib Tengour again:

This foothold on exile forces the identity quest to re-interrogate the nationalist tale, to apprehend language in its dimensions of translation of speech and to explore the variety of forms in order to open up to the world.20

This ‘translation of speech’ that Tengour mentions could, in this piece, be aligned to the political dimension of the ‘means of expression’, a poetic struggle that is not just carried out by ‘poets’, but is an ongoing human dynamic of translating the pre-individual realities (emotional latencies) into words as well as into a ‘language of acts’ that changes the forms that language can take.21

In light of this experimental approach to politics as a ‘lotta poetica’, a dimension of singularizing away from accepted values of both literature and politics, we would do well to consider the journal Souffles.22 This journal established by Abdellatif Laâbi in 1966 ran for 22 issues until 1972 when Laâbi, as mentioned above, was arrested and tortured along with other Moroccan intellectuals and writers. The inaugural issue contained an editorial by Laâbi:

Something is afoot in Africa and in other Third-World Countries. Exoticism and folklore are falling by the wayside. No one can predict where this will lead. But the day will come when the real spokespersons of these collectivities really make their voices heard, and it will be like dynamite exploding the rotten Arcana of the old humanisms.23

It is tempting, in the light of the Arab Spring, to see Laâbi’s opening salvo as some kind of ‘prophecy’, but if it is not this, it is certainly an impassioned call-to-arms to reinvent the culture and politics of the region as it entered the post-colonial period.

This reinvention was, to a degree, transnational and revolutionary in its import. It was informed by a scepticism of the post-colonial political situation and early on asked the question: ‘Who Are We After The Impact of Colonialism?’ As Toni Maraini writes in her article ‘Black Sun of Renewal’, this question involved the writers of the journal in looking back

at the roots that had been most depreciated both by colonialism and by the national bourgeoisie, that is, oral traditions, Afro-Berber and popular Arabic poetry, arts and culture.24

Much of this cultural tradition had been homogenised in the post-colonial situation with the imposition of Arab languages as national languages. Hence, in some ways, Laâbi’s incendiary statement, also published in Souffles, saw to it that that there was to be no safe haven for these writers. He and his colleagues, declared Laâbi,

never hesitated to desecrate the untouchable sanctuaries such as language and ... to challenge ... the pretensions of a certain West to dictate to other peoples its values and formulas.’25

Souffles, then, was not an endeavour that sought succour from any establishment. Its writers seem as outlawed in the post-colonial period as they did when under colonial administration. Indeed, any hopes for liberation from the colonial yoke they might have had were short lived as the region became increasingly subject to the neo-colonialism and geopolitical pressures of western capitalism.

These frustrations may well have given rise to a poetry that desecrated language and syntax in the manner of a people seeking to ‘unmake language’26 at the same time as they unmade themselves and sensuously reappropriated their own alienation (a kind of multiple alienation from language, from the colonised self, from the nation state). Maraini also offers reasons for the way that many of these writers seemed to be recasting or inventing from scratch the avant-garde errancies of surrealism in that

paralysed by the language problem (literary French? Classical Arabic? Berber oral tradition?) they had long repressed their anguishes, rages, emotions, and hopes. Now each of them could create their language, use vernacular terms, experiment, ‘scream.’27


Image: Drawing by Howard Slater, 2013


Much of the early poetry of Laâbi, Nissaboury and Khaïr-Eddine (who coined the term ‘linguistic guerrillas’) has a surrealistic effect in that it gives expression and form not just to unconscious affects, but to the way that these inform the component parts of the self, the pre-individual realities, that through the medium of writing poetry, give rein to the expression of more of the competing and anxiety-inducing facets of identity than is usually granted to us by the ‘political’.28

The poetic imagination in the case of Laâbi and Khaïr-Eddine seems very much to be informed by what Ernst Bloch called the ‘can-be of the self-contradicting’ and it is this ‘can-be’, the potential to become, that is infectious and wards off the formation of identities along strict nationalist lines. In this sense the possibilities of the imagination could be said to outstrip what is seen as imperative for revolutionary politics and yet, as Ernst Bloch maintains, the political import of these often enigmatic and inchoate poetic languages (their alloys of contradiction) is one in which ‘undecided material’ brings with it a ‘militant optimism’.29 With this comes ‘the language of acts’ that filled the squares.

Affective Revolt

How to speak of human suffering. The ordinary and so appalling

suffering... here men become reduced to their basic experiences

– Abdelatiff Laâbi

The Arab Spring like any other uprising has deep rooted causes that can’t be adequately explicated here.30 However, across the region there were catalytic acts that brought people out on the streets; ‘contingencies that started the whole movement’, wrote Hazim Kandel.31 In Egypt Khaled Said was beaten to death by police prompting the ‘We Are All Khaled Said’ Facebook campaign. In Syria, poetess Aïcha Arnaout spoke of the arrest and torture of a group of children:

The Syrian revolution was triggered by the Assadist regime’s brutal torture of a group of children. Imitating the Tunisian and Egyptian slogans they saw on unofficial TV channels, they scrawled ‘down with the regime’ on the walls of their school. The children were arrested and their nails pulled out.32

In Tunisia there was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi after he suffered harassment at the hands of a municipal official. In Algeria the entry on Wikipedia speaks of a ‘wave of self-immolations’: Mohamed Aouichia set himself on fire in a protest against inadequate housing, so too did Mohsen Bouteriff. This, it is reported, set off, ‘dozens or so attempted self-immolations’.33

Whilst this is the tip of the iceberg in relation to what follows on from 2011 it must be stressed that the language-defying power of these acts of self-immolation takes us to the outer limits of knowledge. Refused a voice, refused a hearing from the local authorities, these men, burdened by economic hardship, chose to end their own lives and ‘resign from the human race’ or ‘go on life strike’ (Laâbi). That these acts led to local and trans-national protests is the least solace that could be offered. As ‘affective transmission’ rather than as acts of mimesis (in the case of Mohsen Bouteriff the local mayor is reported to have shouted: ‘If you have courage, do like Bouazizi did, set yourself on fire!’), these public suicides carry a maybe intended catalytic power that takes us beyond the functionality of words and knowledge towards a ‘language of acts’ propelled by lives being deemed unworthy and the available means of expression being made totally ineffectual. But, maybe, even beyond this ‘language of acts’, in suffering, long banned from the polis by dysfunctional managerial procedures, there lies another mode of communication that broadcasts it and makes our acknowledgement of it irrepressible: the scream.

Habib Tengour: ‘Few words carry when the tension increases.’

Aïcha Arnaout: ‘I write screams.’

Abdelatiff Laâbi: ‘Scream and blood had become my poetry.’

The language of the scream. A tautology born of linguistic frustration. But also from contingency.

For it is the scream, that utterance which is unformed by words, that cry before words are shaped or that cry or shriek into which meaningless words dissolve when they fall on deaf ears; it is this cry, this screaming that is a call and summons to parts of each self, elements of affect that are buried deep within by the ‘secondary process’ of articulation, that, in the face of state murder and self immolation, proves itself non-oneiric enough to communicate thoroughly across the Levant, across Dar-al Islam. Components of the scream buried deep in a molecular zone as the ‘unthought known’, as the common share of ‘not yet individuated pre-individual reality’ that may be the cause of regression or progression, atavism or becoming.34 The scream leads you where you know not. The scream as the appeal against a loss of dignity, as the harbinger of trust, of trust in contingency – the sudden tonal shrieking of a call to protect more than just the self, to suddenly swerve and be overcome by a message that’s not a dictat, that’s not schooled, that’s not commonsensical. That’s demanding. That marks the ‘resistance of the object’.35 The scream like poetry: a reminder that words are not always, indeed rarely, factual correlates. The scream like poetry: a promise of sincerity, a pact between those unknown to each other.


Disposed to welcome a meaning that escapes me

– Habib Tengour

If sensitization is unteachable then the scream, an expression of anguish that informs the ‘language of acts’, is what propels much of the poetry of this region. Through it we are ‘taught’ to discern affects, to come to an apperception of the very emotive latencies that fuel the singularising impulse of a ‘lotta poetica’. The scream, then, doesn’t teach in the manner we may be used to, in a manner fuelled by the empirical facts of knowledge, quite the contrary: the scream makes knowledge useless, it is the call of the ‘unthought known’, the call of other interlocutors that makes its way into the fibre of our nerves, into the ‘most intimate quick of human beings’.36 In other words, the scream and the poems that attempt to capture it, are forms of affectivity and, after Simonden, this capacity to be affected ‘is what makes the subject confront a share of pre-individual reality within it, which exceeds its capacity’.37 In this way, when our capacity is exceeded, when the drive for knowledge meets with the immovability of ‘object based thinking’ as Bloch refers to it, is it not then that ‘the emotions become an organ of knowledge’?38 To share and respond to the scream (is this not what mobilised, in the first instance, the Arab Spring?) is to share in an intimacy, an intimacy that Abdellatif Laâbi refers to as the ‘real workshop of history, because it recreates for us the most secret combat zone.’39

This ‘secret combat zone’, the placeless psychic space that needs to be articulated, the dialectical site both of an unspeakable suffering and a will to singularisation, is, for a ‘lotta poetica’, the zone from which insurrection can arise. There is a sense, then, of an affective realism to accompany that of a social realism: to discern affects also means to discern how and by what means we have been colonised; the psychological effects of financialised oppression; the deep-rooted sense that the senses themselves have become subject to the value imperative. This may explain why Habib Tengour can write that ‘the political narrative is a discourse that veils the real; the poetical narrative is the real itself’. The ‘real itself’ becomes, in this reading, the ‘real’ of a voiceless affective life that carries all the scars of oppression at the same time as it carries the means of singularisation. The ‘real’, in this poetic sense, as the ‘secret combat zone’, maintains as Ashis Nandy has written, a ‘feel for the immediacy of suffering’ as well as a ‘capacity to bear... the repressed other history which creates the crucial disjunction between past and present’.40 One wonders whether such a disjunction, whether such a stirring up of inner depths, was what we witnessed with the Arab Spring...

but we will need

a vast listening

of eyes, tongues

we will need a nakedness

that even our skin cannot distort 41


July-September 2013

Appendix One

Aboul-Qacem Echebbi

To The Tyrants Of The World

Hey you, the unfair tyrants…
You the lovers of the darkness…
You the enemies of life…
You’ve made fun of innocent people’s wounds; and your palm covered with their blood
You kept walking while you were deforming the charm of existence and growing seeds of sadness in their land
Wait, don’t let the spring, the clearness of the sky and the shine of the morning light fool you…
Because the darkness, the thunder rumble and the blowing of the wind are coming toward you from the horizon
Beware because there is a fire underneath the ash
Who grows thorns will reap wounds
You’ve taken off heads of people and the flowers of hope; and watered the cure of the sand with blood and tears until it was drunk
The blood’s river will sweep you away and you will be burned by the fiery storm



Appendix Two

Mohammed Ibn Al Ajami, Tunisian Jasmine


Tell them

Tell them in a shrouded voice

A voice from the grave

Tell them

That tragedies proceed all hatreds

A warning to the country whose ruler is ignorant

Whose ruler deems

That power comes from the American army

A warning to the country

Whose people starve while the regime boasts of its prosperity

A warning to the country

Whose citizens sleep

One moment you have your rights

The next they’re taken from you

A warning to the system inherited of oppression

How long have all of you been slaves to one man’s selfish predilections?

How long will people remain ignorant of their own strength

While a despot makes decrees and appointments

The will of the people all but forgotten?

Why is it that a ruler’s decisions are carried out?

They’ll come back to haunt him in a country willing to rid itself of coercion

Let him know

He who pleases only himself and does nothing but vex his own people

Let him know that tomorrow someone else will be seated on that throne

Someone who knows the nation’s not his own nor the property of his children

It belongs to the people and its glories are the glories of the people

They gave their reply and their voice was one

And their face too was one

All of us are Tunisian in the face of these oppressors

The Arab regimes and those that rule them are all without exception

Without a single exception shameful thieves

This question that keeps you up at night

Its answer won’t be found on any of the official channels


Why do these regimes import everything from the West

Everything but the rule of law, that is

& everything but freedom


Transcribed from a translation used by The Revolutionary Poets Brigade in their public reading of the poem.


Howard Slater <howard.slater AT> is a volunteer play therapist and writer who lives in East London


1On ‘emotive latency’ see, Muriel Combes, Gilbert Simondon and the Philosophy of the Transindividual, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2012, p.51.

2 Hamid Dabashi, Arab Spring, London: Zed Books, 2012, p.213. Interestingly Dabashi says of the Arab Spring that ‘a novel by Sun’allah Ibrahim, a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, or a film directed by Elia Suleiman are far more potent frames for the emotive universe of these revolutions’ than a reliance upon ‘fixed ideological formations’ such as ‘Islamicism, Nationalism and Socialism’, ibid., p.225.

3 Aimé Césaire: ‘Letter to Thorez’ in Salah M. Hassan. ‘How To Liberate Marx from His Eurocentrism’, Documenta 13, 2012, p.33.

4 Lotta Poetica was a ’70s Italian journal, see

5 Saadi Youssef, Without An Alphabet Without A Face, Graywolf Press, 2003.

6 Ibid., p.55.

7 See The Manifesto is signed by the following: Marion Dib (Syria), Abdul Kadar El Janaby (Iraq), Faroq El Juridy (Lebanon), Fadil Abas Hadi (Iraq), Farid Lariby (Algeria), Ghazi Younis (Lebanon).

8 Habib Tengour and Pierre Joris write that a poem by Tunisian poet Aboul-Qacem Echebbi called ‘To The Tyrants of the World’ was collectively chanted in both Tunisia and in Egypt in 2011. See Habib Tengour & Pierre Joris, Poems For The Millennium, Vol. 4, The University of California Book of North African Literature, University of California Press, 2013, p.283. Echebbi’s poem is included here at Appendix 1. On the ‘non-self’ see Adonis, ‘The Sufi Aesthetic Dimension’ (a chapter of his book on Sufism and Surrealism) at

9 The full verse is as follows: ‘And the poets, — It is those straying in Evil, who follow them: Seest thou not that they wander distracted in every valley? — And that they say what they practice not?’ Cited by Habib Tengour, Exile Is My Trade: A Habib Tengour Reader, Commonwealth Books, 2012, p.275.

10 Ibid., p.277.

11 Mohammed Dib: ‘The words that I bear/ Forth on my tongue/ Are a strange herald’, in Tengour & Joris, ibid, p.298.

12 See Appendix 2 for a translated transcription of this poem. For a recitation of this poem by the Revolutionary Poets Brigade, see

13 See Tengour & Joris, ibid., p.291.

14 Samuel Shimon, ‘And Khaïr-Eddine Shouts: God Bless The Streets of Paris’. Banipal 10/11, Spring Summer 2001, p.23.

15 Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine, ‘Moi l’aigre’. See

16 Abdellatif Laâbi, Rule of Barbarism, Archipelago Books, 2012, p.23.

17 Tengour, ‘Manifesto of Maghrebian Surrealism’, ibid, p.258.

18 Laâbi, ibid., p.127.

19 See

20 Tengour, ibid., p.280.

21 The Arab Spring is rife with examples of how a ‘variety of forms that open up the world’ can come to reinvigorate the forms and means of doing politics. There are the repetitious chants in the squares and on the rooftops (Iran), the tweets, the recitation of poetry, the open microphones, the commentaries made over guerilla footage of state atrocities, the détournement of oppressive phrases, the use of shorthand symbols and stencils that act as condensed rallying points (c.f. the ‘blue bra’ graffiti following the assault of a female Egyptian protestor). On the graffiti struggle at the intersection of Mohammed Mahmoud Street and Tahrir Square see the photographic article by Mona Abezz:

22 ‘Souffles’ translates as ‘breaths’. Writers associated with the early issues of the journal include Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine, Mostapha Nissaboury, Ahmed Bouânani, Driss Chaibri, Albert Memmi, Mostafa Dziri, Hamid el Houadri, Etel Adnan, etc. It was designed by painter Mohamed Melehi. See

23 See Issandr El Amrani, ‘In The Beginning There Was Souffles’,

24 Toni Maraini, ‘Black Sun of Renewal’. See

25 Laâbi cited by Victor Reinking in the introduction to The World’s Embrace, San Francisco: City Lights, 2003, p.xv.

26 Laâbi, Rule of Barbarism, ibid., p.19.

27 Toni Maraini, ibid.

28 Tengour, ibid., p.282.

29 Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope, Vol.1, Massachusetts: MIT Press 1995, p.199.

30 See L.S., ‘Hanging By A Thread: Class, Corruption and Precarity in Tunisia’:

See also Bulent Gokay, ‘The Political Economy of the Arab Spring’:

31 Hazem Kandil, ‘Egypt in Revolt’ at

32 Aïcha Arnaout, ‘A Scream has no Alphabet’ (Interview with Cécile Oumhani):


34 Combes, ibid., p.31.

35 See Fred Moten, In The Break – The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, University of Minnesota Press, 2003, pp.1-24.

36 Laâbi, Rue De Retour, Readers International, 1989, p.39.

37Combes, ibid., p.31.

38 Bloch, ibid., p.72.

39 Laâbi, ibid., p.39.

40 Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy – Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983, p.58.

41 Laâbi, The World’s Embrace, ibid., p.41.



Aesthetic Education Expanded is a series of 12 articles commissioned by Mute and published in collaboration with, Kontrapunkt, Multimedia Institute, and Berliner Gazette. It is funded by the European Commission. A central site with all contributions to the project can be found here: 

The series looks at the contemporary afterlife of the project of ‘aesthetic education’ initiated in the 19th century, from the violent imperatives of training and ‘lifelong learning’ imposed by capitalism in crisis to informal projects of resistance against neoliberal pedagogy and authoritarian repression.

Expanding the scope of the aesthetic in the tradition of Karl Marx to include everything from anti-austerity riots and poetry to alternative and self-instituted knowledge dissemination, the series encompasses artistic, theoretical and empirical investigations into the current state of mankind’s bad education.

Aesthetic Education Expanded attempts to open up an understanding of what is being done within and against capital’s massive assault on thought and action, whether in reading groups or on the streets of a world torn between self-cannibalisation and revolt.