Sunday, April 16, 2006

Juan Goytisolo and Orhan Pamuk

By FERNANDA EBERSTADT Published: April 16, 2006 Homepage
He sees "seeds of modernity" in the Arab world and even dares to hope that radical Islamist parties may be tempered and matured by partaking in national governments. This optimism perhaps accounts for why Goytisolo's work appears to have found a whole new generation eager to embrace his "Babelization" of language and cultures, his plea for ethnic, religious and sexual pluralism, his defense of the outsider. "What was appealing to me when I first came across Juan Goytisolo's books in the 1980's," the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk told me recently, "was that here was an experimental European novelist who had renounced the flat realism of the 19th-century novel and who was paying attention to my part of the world with an extraordinary humility, searching in his life and prose to create a different style enriched by what he's found in this culture."
The Café France, where Goytisolo goes every day, overlooks Jemaa el Fna, the centerpiece of Marrakesh's old quarter, a square where the open-air storytellers, snake charmers and witch doctors that enchanted writers like Bowles and Elias Canetti still ply their trade. Much of Goytisolo's organizational energies in the last years have gone into a campaign to preserve Jemaa el Fna from the Moroccan government's periodic efforts to sanitize it. At one point, there were plans to turn the medieval square into a parking lot. Thanks largely to Goytisolo's zeal, however, Jemaa el Fna has been classed by Unesco as a site preserving "the oral heritage of humanity."
"People ask, 'Why do you live in Marrakesh?' " Goytisolo told me with a chuckle. "I ask them, 'Have you seen it?' " In Jemaa el Fna, Goytisolo explained, he finds all the heterogeneity that is in danger of disappearing from Western cities. "In the 70's, when I was very poor, I was offered a permanent teaching post at Edmonton. I realized I would rather starve in Marrakesh than be a millionaire in Alberta."

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