Albert Memmi and The Problem with Postcolonialism

The Franco-Tunisian Jewish writer and social philosopher Albert Memmi died in the spring of 2020, having lived a full century, at least a half of which he devoted to developing an arc of thought with great relevance to some of the most vexing questions now facing the societies of the Middle East, the region where he was born, although he eventually found his intellectual and literal home in the West. We need him now. Memmi was born in 1920 in the Jewish quarter in Tunis, at the time a French protectorate. The eldest son of a poor Italian Tunisian saddlemaker and an illiterate mother of Bedouin Berber heritage, he spoke Judeo-Arabic at home and studied Hebrew in a traditional religious school. Ambitious and studious, he won a scholarship to the most prestigious French high school in Tunisia, and went on to study philosophy at the University of Algiers. Forced to return to Tunisia after Vichy France expelled Jews from public institutions throughout the mainland and the colonies, Memmi was interned briefly in a labor camp after the Nazi occupation of Tunisia in 1942. After liberation from Nazi rule in May 1943, he decided to continue studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he became deeply engaged in Jewish intellectual life and thought and embarked on a life of letters. Returning to Tunisia in 1949, he worked as a high school teacher teaching philosophy and literature, and three years later he helped to found the Centre de Psychopédagogie de Tunis, where he studied the psychological dimensions of colonial oppression. After Tunisian independence in 1956 he returned to France, teaching in a number of universities and eventually being appointed in 1970 a professor of sociology in the University of Paris. Memmi is remembered today chiefly for his research and his novels

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