Hisham Aidi is a scholar-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, working on a project titled “W.E.B Du Bois and the Afro-Arab World.” He is also the author of the forthcoming book Tangier: Orientalism, Nostalgia and the Road to Oppression. (December 2019)
“Paul Bowles? He’s the worst,” said Edward Said, making a brushing gesture. When I tried to continue, Said raised his hand: “Stop, why are you defending him? Just stop.” For many years after Bowles died, I decided that the best way for me not to feed the “myth of Tangier” was by not writing more about him. As for Bowles’s work, I had come to realize that it reflected poorly on Morocco and America—and why the constant spotlight on the thought and experiences of expats in Morocco? Yet the Bowles myth lives on; and this year’s commemorations have made it hard to avoid: the twentieth anniversary of his death and the seventieth of The Sheltering Sky’s publication. Today, a new generation of Moroccan writers—among them secularists, Berber activists, music critics, and pan-Africanists—are claiming him as an ally. And that is why I found myself writing about Paul Bowles once more.