Short Takes

Animal Shelter 1 Semiotext(e), 2008

On the second page of Animal Shelter, a new biannual magazine based in Los Angeles, Paul Gellman asks his coeditor Hedi El Kholti what their little experiment is all about in the first place. After all, they had intended to produce a simple gay journal. They ended up with something altogether different, in the form of a quirky space that is part intellectual roaming ground, part DIY zine, 100 percent smart and irreverent. Taking the underground-press sex culture of the 1970s as its inspiration, Animal Shelter boasts contemporary art and photography (ranging from collages by L.A.-artist Alice Konitz to the personal photos of Paul Bowles), personal and critical essays, and even some poetry. In this debut issue, Abdellah Taïa contributes a melancholy story about visiting Jean Genet’s tomb in Larache with his cool older cousin (whom he never sees again). Paul Gellman recounts his relationships with “strays,” or straight men gone temporarily gay. There’s a story about an abandoned letter, and another about the end of a relationship. All this, plus discussions of Georges Bataille, William S. Burroughs, and more Genet (who manages to pop up in almost every piece, like the intelligent, gay-zine version of Nabokov in The Emigrants). The tone ends up being pleasantly surprising, pleasantly relevant. Not to say that it’s all so serious. Artist-curator Rebekah Rutkoff talks about art, photography, film, and Alicia Silverstone’s bad skin. There’s a poem called “Dinosaurs in My Vagina.” As Hedi says in their introductory chat, “We both love sincerity.” And Paul answers, “We both still need to find good psychiatrists.”

Issue 12/13

The current issue of Chimurenga, the journal of Pan-Africanish writing published out of South Africa, is split in two, each part titled Dr. Satan’s Echo Chamber. There’s a reason for the title, which would be impossible to explain here (because it involves diaspora and Deleuze and pages and pages of tiny words) but which speaks to the content of the issue — in which many diverse pieces appear almost as echoes. An article on South African jazz is followed by green, foggy, and very, very pulpy stills from a “sci-fi horror comedy soft-porn take” on postcolonialism, set in Cameroon in 2025. A Congolese photographer, Baudouin Mouanda, contributes fluorescently lit photos of dancing men in electrically bright suits. Eyal Weizman contributes an essay on the Israeli “architecture of occupation.” The echo chamber is huge, and its other half is equally extensive. Made up of mostly fiction, the other issue features an excellent story that assumes the shape of an email exchange. A widow wants to donate her late husband’s fortune to needy orphans, and a Samson Batsotso is just the man for the job. Soon everything gets so weird that it becomes difficult to tell who exactly is scamming whom. The stories then just keep coming, without much room to breathe in between. Young stick-fighters battle it out in the down-and-out flats of Cape Town. A young American meets and sits down with Farouq, a Morroccan; the bulk of the story is their slow conversation over Chimay and cigarettes. This last piece is a welcome break from all the other noise and text in the magazine. Two men, just sitting, listening to each other.

In Tangier
By Mohamed Choukri
Telegram, 2008

In a 1998 interview, Paul Bowles complained about the famed Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri’s accusations — in a German newspaper article entitled “Paul Bowles Is an Exploiter” and elsewhere — that he was “a CIA spy, a neocolonialist, a racist, a dangerous criminal who should be thrown out of Morocco, a robber who had stolen royalties from Moroccan writers, and a hater of the religion and the government, among other things.” These defamatory remarks had come at the tail end of a three-decade relationship, during which the American writer had translated Choukri’s work, attained for him a publisher and an advance for his first book — an unsparing memoir of the author’s hardscrabble adolescence in Tangier called Le Pain Nu (For Bread Alone) — and acted as his advocate and friend. He had also, according to Choukri, mythologized Tangier for the benefit of the Western reader and taken most of the money earned by the phenomenal success of Choukri’s memoir.

In Tangier collects Choukri’s accounts of three literary relationships — with Bowles, Tennessee Williams, and Jean Genet — in the cosmopolitan Moroccan capital in the 1960s and 70s. Williams he knew only briefly, and though he developed a real rapport with Genet, trading epistles that discussed Egyptian letters and Stendhal, it was Bowles, a longtime Tangier resident, who was his companion and occasional agonist through the decades. In these accounts, Choukri conveys the range of feeling, from exhilaration to despair, gratitude to jealousy, experienced by a perpetually sodden man who sought out the company of foreign writers but ultimately couldn’t join them. It was illegal in Morocco until the mid-90s to read his memoir of petty crime, drugs, sex, and blasphemy; he achieved international renown thanks to these other writers’ appreciation of his work. On the streets of Tangier, he recounts with bittersweet relish, he was known as “Monsieur Le Pain Nu.”

Issue 15

Farafina, the literary magazine based in Lagos, invited Moroccan writer Laila Lalami to guest-edit its latest issue. In her editorial note, Lalami, whose latest book is the novel Secret Son, remarks that hers is an endeavor to “reclaim North Africa for Africa,” to bridge the gap — at times imposed by others, at times suggested and perpetuated by Africans themselves — between the lands on either side of the Sahara. Lalami and her contributors are keen to point out the ways in which geographic and racial lines have been drawn to delineate southerners and northerners, blacks and Arabs: the African wing of the museum and the Islamic wing, the sounds of Fela and the sounds of the Casbah. If nothing else, the preponderance of Africans now “are united by the suffering and painful marginalization in the age of globalization,” Anouar Majid points out in an essay called “Remapping Africanness.”

But is that such a change? Does the knowledge that your poverty as a Nigerian can be traced to the same global forces as the poverty of Algerians qualify as a shared identity? The reading of Africa’s recent history and presentday politics presented by Lalami is at times tendentious, occasionally quixotic, but generally pointed and provocative. From a critique of “the mental and ideological distance that some discourses have managed to place between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa,” to a note regretting the lackluster Nigerian performance in the Beijing Olympics, to an essay on Chinese investment in Africa and its political impact, this issue of Farafina pieces together ideas that concern and affect people from Cape Town to Tangier and all points in between.