Albert Memmi (b. 1920)

Reference: Wikipedia
Albert Memmi (b. December 15, 1920)

Albert Memmi (b. December 15, 1920)

Albert Memmi (Arabic: ألبرت ميمي‎; born December 15, 1920) is a French writer and essayist of Tunisian-Jewish origin.


Born in Tunisia under French protectorate, from a Tunisian Jewish mother, Marguerite Sarfati, and a Tunisian-Italian Jewish father, François Memmi, he speaks French and Tunisian-Judeo -Arabic. He claims to be of Berber ancestry. He was educated in French primary schools, and continued on to the Carnot high school in Tunis, the University of Algiers where he studied philosophy, and finally the Sorbonne in Paris. Albert Memmi found himself at the crossroads of three cultures, and based his work on the difficulty of finding a balance between the East and the West.[1]

Parallel with his literary work, he pursued a career as a teacher; first as a teacher at the Carnot high school in Tunis (1953) and later in France where he remained after Tunisian independence at the Practical School of Higher Studies, at HEC and at the University of Nanterre (1970).

Although he supported the independence movement in Tunisia, he was not able to find a place in the new Muslim state[clarification needed].

He published his well-regarded first novel, “La statue de sel” (translated as “The Pillar of Salt”) in 1953 with a preface by Albert Camus. His other novels include “Agar” (translated as “Strangers”), “Le Scorpion” (“The Scorpion”), and “Le Desert” (“The Desert”).

His best-known nonfiction work is “The Colonizer and the Colonized”, about the interdependent relationship of the two groups. It was published in 1957, a time when many national liberation movements were active. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the preface. The work is often read in conjunction with Frantz Fanon’s “Les damnés de la Terre” (“The Wretched of the Earth”) and “Peau noire, masques blancs” (“Black Skin, White Masks”) and Aimé Césaire’s “Discourse on Colonialism.” In October 2006, Memmi’s follow-up to this work, titled “Decolonization and the Decolonized,” was published. In this book, Memmi suggests that in the wake of global decolonization, the suffering of former colonies cannot be attributed to the former colonizers, but to the corrupt leaders and governments that control these states.

Memmi’s related sociological works include “Dominated Man,” “Dependence,” and “Racism.”

Sean P. Hier, in a review of Memmi’s Racism, calls it “well-written and autobiographically informed.” He writes that Memmi’s main claim is that racism is a “‘lived experience’ arising within human situations which only secondarily become ‘social experiences.’ According to Hier, Memmi writes that racism is “endemic to collective human existence.”[2]

Memmi has also written extensively on Judaism, including “Portrait of a Jew,” “Liberation of the Jew” and “Jews and Arabs.”

He is also known for the “Anthology of Maghrebian literature” (written in collaboration) published in 1965 (vol. 1) and 1969 (vol. 2).

Scholar Judith Roumani reviews Memmi’s fictional works, asserting that the Tunisian writer’s work “reveals the same philosophical evolution over time from his original viewpoints to less radical but perhaps more realistic positions.” She concludes that “his latest fiction is certainly more innovative and different than his earlier work.”[3]

In 1995, Memmi writes about his own work: “All of my work has been in sum an inventory of my attachments; all of my work has been, it should be understood, a constant revolt against my attachments; all of my work, for certain, has been an attempt at…reconciliation between the different parts of myself.”