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A Counterpoint Reading of the Moussem Cities@Tunis Festival

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The presence of predominant tropes such as the “Jasmin Revolution” and the “Tunisian Exception” in the vocabulary of the promotional material of the festival is striking. There was the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, so why not a Jasmine revolution in Tunisia, right? The label, consolidated by Western media, denoting a nonviolent democratization wave, was immediately and collectively rejected by the Tunisian people as a regrettable euphemism, romanticizing the deadly sacrifice central in the—still ongoing and open-ended—struggle for liberty and dignity.  In this light the proposition of literary critic Hamid Dabashi to understand the ongoing historical dynamics as “the end of post-colonialism” can look a bit premature and the special status that the West readily attributes to Tunisia partly relative. Following the “national disenchantment” after “independence” as described by novelist Hele Beji, one can for the time being confirm Dabashi’s insight that “the postcolonial did not overcome the colonial” but  “exacerbated it by negation.”

The Power of the Canon

The theatre piece D-Sisyphus, based on ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ by Albert Camus, introduces us to the nocturnal existential stream of consciousness of Meher Awachri. But let us ask straight away, what does it mean for a young Tunisian director to adapt the writings of a settler, writing for a French audience, whose personal history is inextricably linked to that of the colonization of his own land? A lonely working class hero battles the absurdity of his own fate “armed” with only one wooden pillar, that in the end will become his most loyal companion.  The wooden pillar central to the performance is not only the emblem of his meaningless labor but also of the absurdity of his lust for life and the love for his family, the hypocrisy of society and even his ambivalent faith in Allah. After the wooden pillar accidently nearly kills him, his piece of lumber becomes a trophy he effortlessly lifts over his shoulders as he reaches a sense of fulfillment through his daily struggle for existence.  Confronted with death, Awachri diverts this accidental existential insight into resolute determination.

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