Colloque à Tanger: Francophones Cut Up the Town

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Tangier, since last Thursday, has been the haunt of people haunted by the spirits of The Beats, in particular Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, artists and writers who made Tangier their temporary home in the 1950s, fleeing an America – especially true for Burroughs – that was definitely not quite ready for their iconoclastic lifestyle.


TALIM Brion Gysin

Moussem à Sidi Ali Harazem, Brion Gysin, 1968, Tangier American Legation museum (loaned to the Galerie Delacroix Brion Gysin expo through 4 May 2013)

Organized by the Marseille Centre International de Poésie (CIPM), the colloque brought together poets, translators, scholars, and performance artists.  The latter included Americans Patti Smith and Anne Waldman, both connected with Beat artists and writers.  Anne Waldman makes a career of it at Naropa University's "Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics." 

Obviously, these are people whose idea of the written, spoken, or sung word is not bound by things like punctuation – Kerouac's famous scroll manuscript for On The Road was written without such frills as "chapters" or even "pages."  Several of the sessions were devoted to the "Cut up" school of poetry of Brion Gysin fame, and it was fun to hear (though the Académie Française would cringe) such Frenchifications as the infinitive "cutupiser" – perhaps découpage is too American, too artsy-craftsy ("how to decoupage," for example).  Cut up appears to be to poetry – a random collage of words – what monkeys-with-darts is to investing in Wall Street.

Speaking of On the Road, Walter Salles' film was shown with the Cinémathèque's new Sony 4K digital cinema projector – wow.  The timing – on the eve of the Colloque – helped us learn a bit more about Beat lore, and especially William Burroughs' back story: Viggo Mortensen's enigmatic portrayal of the oddball character who represents Burroughs gives an eerie premonition of WB's "William Tell" shooting of his wife Joan.  Then again, as Burroughs tells it, had he not shot his wife, he wouldn't have started writing, and thanks to his writing, we now have the term Interzone, not only the title of a book but the best one-word summary of how to describe Tangier in its wild years as the International Zone bolt-hole for Beats.

Organizers felt it necessary to bring forth, for the nth time, Tangier Beats/Bowles perennial Mohamed Mrabet, whose stories were told in translation, with the storyteller referring to himself in the third person – "Mrabet then said…".  Putting it kindly, it is not clear whether his meaning is lost in translation, or whether there is no there, there.  Like Chauncey Gardener in Being There, as Roger Ebert put it: "simplicity is mistaken for profundity." Mrabet continues to tell the same "stories" to polite applause, even though much of the audience – including those who share Mrabet's native Moroccan Arabic – is left utterly puzzled as to what he has just utteredTALIM Brion Gysin photo Ira Cohen.

But I digress.  The Colloque à Tanger was a worthy effort by people who wanted to recreate what Burroughs and Gysin did in their 1975 Colloque de Tanger, which was actually held in Geneva.  Books were published, concerts were held (we were happy to "discover" Patti Smith, a dynamo performer with a poet's sensibility), and works were read.

The Colloque provided us an impetus to mount a Gysin – Burroughs exhibit of art works and photos that we already had, scattered around TALIM's museum and library.  And like the little – just published for the ColloqueKhbar Bladna book of Gysin works, photos, and memorabilia, we leave you with Ira Cohen's photo of the artist in a mask, reproduced for the book from a photo at TALIM's museum.

Colloque Facebook page.

Gerald Loftus

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