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The Perspectives Tunisiennes movement was intimately linked to youth throughout its history. Founded in 1963 by Tunisian university students in Paris, it presented itself in opposition to the gerontocratic regime of the Parti Destourien Socialiste of Habib Bourguiba. In turn, it espoused the concerns of the country’s youth, which came to represent an open future […]
Perspectives Tunisiennes / al-‘āmil al-tūnsī
Translating the Revolution, Imagining Independence in Tunisia: Perspectives Tunisiennes and al-‘āmil al-tūnsī (1963-1974)
Tunisia’s post-French colonial era was dominated by the political and social imagination of the one, President Habib Bourguiba, and his vision for a bourgeois colonial modernity. The most resilient voice of opposition (political and cultural) came from university campuses, and a nebulous leftist organization, Perspectives Tunisiennes or Amel ettounsi in colloquial Arabic, which the regime blamed for “corrupting the minds of youth with foreign ideas”. Their eponymous publication was widely read on campus, and survived government repression in 1968 and 1973. The journal shifted from a Paris-inspired Maoist tone in French in the 1960s, to a pro-Palestine guerilla and pro-workers leaning in Arabic in the 1970s, as the Paris-trained founding generations passed the torch to a homegrown, more provincial generation. As it is currently remembered and celebrated, this journal allowed young Tunisians to broaden their horizon from the restricted nationalist frame of analysis and envisage the terms of a Tunisian revolution.
This paper considers how this publication shaped the Tunisian post-independence generation of leftists and their horizon of thought through the medium of language and ‘translation’. We will consider it as a multidimensional process: first, the linguistic operation that exposed Tunisian student audiences to leftist debates taking place in Paris and Beirut; second, by theorizing the Tunisian reality in terms of class struggle against the national bourgeoisie; third, we will ask about the impact of multilingual publishing from French, to classical Arabic to darija (spoken Tunisian), and how it was accompanied by a conceptual evolution of the journal’s message. Underneath these changes stood a constant effort to free Tunisia from a the colonial horizon of progress and come up with an alternative and appropriated language. As such, this abstract speaks to the material history of this periodical (area 1) and its modes of cultural resistance (area 3).
This case offers an opportunity to witness the conceptual and semantic evolution across languages in an underexplored country. This paper will first evoke the thematic components of the shift from French to Arabic, namely the topics of economic and social critique levelled against the regime on agrarian reform and the role of the petty nationalist bourgeoisie, to a focus on direct action, the Palestinian guerilla and the cost of everyday life. It will then revisit these issues with examples that highlight the overall “untheorization” of the journal’s prose. Finally, it carries out a diachronic conceptual analysis of “revolution” throughout the journal’s two phases, as we assess how it expanded Tunisian imagination of independence.
Idriss Jebari is an Assistant Professor in Middle East Studies at Trinity College Dublin who researches North African cultural history and Arab thought.