translated from the French by Pierre Joris
Habib Tengour is a writer and an ethnologist. Born in Mostaganem (Algeria) in 1947, he lives and works between Constantine and Paris (where he teaches sociology and ethnology at the Université d'Evry val d'Essonne). Considered as one of the Maghreb's most forceful and visionary poetic voices of the post-colonial era, Tengour, who authored a "Manifesto of Maghrebian Surrealism" in 1981, explores the Algerian cultural space in all its ramifications : the oral and hagiographic traditions, the popular imagination and the founding myths, collective memory, raï music and the lived experiences of exile – all this in writing formally so profoundly hybridized that the critics have forged a term to define this phenomenon, namely "soufialism" (Hédi Abdel-Jaouad). The subjects that are closest to his heart are the Algerian cultural identity and memory as they are being mestizoed and woven between Orient and Occident, especially under the impact of the experiences of exile and migration. See for example L'Epreuve de l'Arc (1990), his "maqamât-novel," Gens de Mosta (1997), his novel composed of short stories, Ce Tatar-là (1999), his poem set in the working class suburbs, or Retraite (2004), a collection inspired by the rundown hotels of Belsunce quarter in Marseille, where the photographic image (Olivier de Sépibus) and the poetic word converge to say the difficulty of aging in exile. Here, as elsewhere, the double vision of poet and ethnologist achieves surprising symbioses, for Tengour, the cynical observer of his society, proposes through his narratives a fragmented chronical of post-colonial Algeria under the dismal light of History or of myth: emigration in Tapapakitaques (1976), the decline of socialism in Sultan Galièv ou La rupture des stocks (1981/85), the rise of fundamentalism in Le Vieux de la Montagne (1983). Le Poisson de Moïse (2001), his latest novel, tries to understand what makes young Algerians eager to join the Taliban.
Pierre Joris has moved between the US, Great Britain, North Africa, France & Luxembourg for close to half a century. He has published over 40 books of poetry, essays and translations, most recently Canto Diurno #4: The Tang Extending from the Blade, an Ahadada ebook. 2010. In 2007 & 2008 he published Aljibar and Aljibar II (poems, a bilingual edition with French translation by Eric Sarner, Editions PHI, Luxembourg). Justifying the Margins: Essays 1990-2006 came out in 2009 from SALT in the UK. His 2007 publications are the CD Routes, not Roots (with Munir Beken, oud; Mike Bisio, bass; Ben Chadabe, percussion; & Mitch Elrod, guitar) issued by Ta'wil Productions and Meditations on the Stations of Mansour Al-Hallaj 1-21(Anchorite Press, Albany). Other translations include Paul Celan: Selections (University of California Press) and 4x1: Work by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey & Habib Tengour translated by Pierre Joris from Inconundrum Press. With Jerome Rothenberg he edited Poems for the Millennium, vol. 1 & 2: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry. Green Integer published 3 volumes of his Paul Celan translations: Breathturn, Threadsuns and Light-duress (which received the 2005 PEN Poetry Translation Award). He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife, the performance artist Nicole Peyrafitte & teaches poetry & poetics at the State University of New York, Albany.