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Lebanon’s luminary of the French language: Amin Maalouf to head the Académie Française

October 2, 2023 at 4:03 pm

Lebanon Flag flying half mast in Lebanon [Adri Salido – Anadolu Agency]

The revered Académie Française, an institution with a rich history that spans nearly four centuries and stands as a staunch protector of the French language, has announced its new head. Amin Maalouf, the Lebanese-born French author renowned for his vast contribution to literature, has been elected as the academy’s perpetual secretary.

For those familiar with the literary world, Maalouf’s appointment doesn’t come as a surprise. The distinguished writer’s history is filled with numerous accolades, most notably the Prix Goncourt in 1993 for his masterful work, The Rock of Tanios. Maalouf’s readers have also been enchanted by other titles such as Leo Africanus, Samarkand and the insightful non-fiction work The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. Since 2011, Maalouf has shown a steadfast commitment to the Académie, making him a natural choice for this esteemed position.

In a world where delineating borders and establishing distinct lines of identity has become the norm for some, the evocative reflections of Amin Maalouf stand as a refreshing counter-narrative. A storyteller of rich experience and a purveyor of sagacious wisdom, Maalouf’s perspectives invite readers into a realm that transcends mere geographical or cultural demarcations. His smart observations shed light on a profound truth: confining oneself within the walls of a single, unyielding identity can hinder the growth of the collective spirit.

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The consequentiality of Maalouf’s musings lies in his adeptness to touch upon modern apprehensions. At a time when polarisation appears to have a stranglehold on public life, the author’s words serve as a reminder that a one-sided perspective, stemming from fear or mere obstinacy, impoverishes life’s vast canvas. While it’s tempting to retreat into familiar territories, Maalouf nudges the consciousness to question, to explore and to weave a tapestry of understanding that embraces the entire spectrum of human existence.

Such an achievement not only illuminates the vast capabilities of Arab literary talents on the international stage, but also brings to light the complexities of cultural recognition within Lebanon’s own borders. While the global literary community celebrates this milestone, a muted response has come from Maalouf’s homeland. The subdued acknowledgment from Lebanese officials regarding his accomplishment prompts essential questions about Lebanon’s contemporary cultural and political landscape. Is there an underlying hesitancy or perhaps an oversight in acknowledging the successes of its diasporic talents? Or does this reflect a broader disconnect between the nation’s political apparatus and its vibrant arts and culture scene? In an era where global recognition can bolster national pride and foster unity, the muted response to such a significant accomplishment as Maalouf’s appointment underscores the complexities and potential disparities in Lebanon’s current state of affairs. As Maalouf steps into his new role, these questions linger, highlighting the ever-present tension between political preoccupations and cultural celebration.

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Historically, literary figures such as Gibran Khalil Gibran, renowned for his poetic wisdom and profound philosophical insights, have been embraced and celebrated more extensively beyond the borders of Lebanon. Gibran, who spent significant years in the United States, is a testament to this, with works like The Prophet gaining global recognition and becoming a touchstone of modern literature. Maalouf, like Gibran before him, stands as a beacon of literary prowess, blending his rich Lebanese heritage with global themes. The accomplishments of these eminent literary figures prompt contemplation. Did they discover a milieu abroad more nurturing for their artistic and intellectual endeavours than within the cultural bounds of their native land? Given this backdrop, the restrained official response to Maalouf’s celebrated role as the head of the Académie Française takes on a deeper significance.

Amin Maalouf’s skill in merging profound philosophies with poetic finesse has etched his place in the records of literary history. Through narratives that sparkle with nuances and characters that resonate with authenticity, he keeps on exploring the shades of global cultural identity and bridging gaps that divide the world.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.