preface
A
bdelfattah Kilito, a Moroccan fiction writer and classical Arabic litera-
ture specialist, tells the story of a Bedouin who strayed at night and got
lost in the desert.∞ To find his way, the Bedouin began to imitate a dog
barking, hoping to induce scavenger dogs around nearby camps to bark
back so that he could follow their echoes to human habitation. The night-
time itinerant is caught in a dire situation: he must mimic a dog to become
human again, but mimicry can have a steep price. Imagine if you will,
ponders Kilito, that our mustanbih—‘‘he who provokes the barking of dogs
by imitating them’’—returns to civilization and begins to bark in earnest
because he has lost his human language. How would his tribe react if he
barked in response to their questions? What should his tribe do if he actually
adopted canine habits and started chasing cats and gnawing bones? What if
his kinfolk accept him, as strange as he might be, but then he begins
yapping and groaning during community meetings where serious matters
are discussed, or during sacred ceremonies where dogs’ barking is most
improper?
Kilito presented this parable at a conference on bilingualism in Morocco
in 1981 as an allegory for the alleged alienation of North African intellectuals
who write in French. The central question at hand, then, was whether writ-
ing in the language of the colonial other disfigures one’s identity and the
perception of one’s own culture and society. Contrary to what one might
expect from a writer who draws insight for his tale from al-Jahidh, an
almighty literary figure in ninth-century Baghdad, Kilito does not advocate
cultural or linguistic uniformity in the name of an authentic language or
literary tradition. He is thoroughly bilingual and bicultural and embraces his
dual position completely. Yet Kilito takes us into a playful and engrossing
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