New book from ICPS

A new play translation from the International Centre for Performance Studies (ICPS)
  • By Zoubeir Ben Bouchta
  • Translated from Arabic by Mustapha Hilal Soussi
  • Co-edited by Pamela Balfanz and George F. Roberson

From the introduction

The Red Fire was originally an oral story told by the Moroccan painter and storyteller Ahmed El Yacoubi to Paul Bowles who translated it into English and transformed it from orality to literacy under the title The Night Before Thinking. Zoubeir Ben Bouchta’s textual practice is far from being a straightforward adaptation of the original story, despite the use of Yacoubi as narrator and manifestly as a Joker who controls the flow of narrativity as well as the flow of dramatic representation. The Red Fire is a postcolonial retrieval of The Night Before Thinking; a retrieval that restores the story’s performative agencies that are eclipsed in Bowles’ undertaking.

Thus Ben Bouchta turns The Night Before Thinking into metaphors and ellipses of his proper quest and pursuit; such mutation renders the text habitable. In this context, Michel de Certeau observes:

This mutation makes the text “habitable”, like a rented apartment. It transforms another person’s property into a space borrowed for a moment by a transient. Renters make comparable changes in an apartment they furnish with their acts and memories; as do speakers, in the languages of their native tongue and, through their accent, through their own “turns of phrase”, etc., their own history; as do pedestrians, in the streets they fill with the forests of their desires and goals. (de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, xxi)

From the outset, the storyteller is foregrounded and adapts the form of a legendary bird that is painted right in front of the audience in the prologue: “I am now Ahmed El Yacoubi who met an American writer named Paul Bowles in 1947 in Fez, and travelled with him to Tangier. In this city, I discovered trance in the realm of colors when the American brought me painting materials and said to me: Paint, you are an artist! I told him: How come? I have never been at school; and my education didn’t step beyond the M’ssid period. He told me: Art is inside you… When I was young, I used to go to the open square of Rass lklia that is located right outside the walls of the ancient Medina. I used to stay all day long attending to stories told by experienced storytellers who spent their lives travelling around and telling stories to people… One day, I found myself filled by stories that I passionately desire to tell to people”. In memoriam of Bowles and Yacoubi, Ben Bouchta’s prologue acknowledges both the oral and written sources of the story The Night before Thinking. However, he uses this story as a pretext in order to voice out another story which is no more than the proper story.

In The Red Fire, the legendary bird determines the flow of events and creates a performance space whereby the theatrical event is only achieved through a dialectical oscillation between what is narrated and what is dramatized. The Woman and the Wiseman are the red fire that radiates with theatricality. The woman’s obsession for revenge blinds her to the extent of being ready to supp with the devil. And though she was able to marry her enemy (the Wiseman) and give birth to two deformed creatures, the ability to forgive and to love remains unattainable for both husband and wife. Their self-destructive struggle over a blessedness that emanates from the other world of colors in order to control the general public’s lives dehumanizes them both.

The blending of epic and dramatic lines is one of the characteristic features of Ben Bouchta’s dramaturgy. In The Red Fire, the bird is not only a messenger from the world of colors, he is also a functional agent of dramaturgical intricacies. His appearance punctuates specific instances of shifting from the techniques of telling that inform the story’s narrativity into the technique of showing which throws narrative substance into the abyss of performativity. These instances of shifting create a critical distance in the receiver whose emotional involvement becomes more and more backgrounded despite the fact that her/his eye is still on the finish (unlike Brecht’s V-effect): The Bird: No, I came to tell you: Watch out this enemy’s marriage; its love is a red cinder and its life is a burning fire. The Wiseman: Why is that? The Bird: Why? You won’t know the answer until you live the story as it is told.”

The play was translated into English by Mustapha Hillal Soussi, a passionate admirer of Ben Bouchta’s drama. It is his second translation by the same author after the play Lalla J’mila. I have been present in different phases of this undertaking, and I found Mr. Soussi to be a serious, diligent and an emergent researcher and translator whose persistence will certainly be fruitful.

Khalid Amine
ICPS President

To order books, contact:

Mustapha Hilal Sousi
ICPS Archivist
email: mhsousi (at) yahoo (dot) com