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Space, Identity, and Exile in Seventeenth-Century Morocco: The Case of Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan al-Yūsī

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This article begins with the question of Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan al-Yūsī’s (1631-1691) relationship to a Moroccan national literature, opening onto an interpretation of two of his most famous texts written in exile. Al-Yūsī’s al-Risālah al-kubrā ilā Mawlāy Ismāʿīl and al-Muḥāḍarāt fī al-adab wa-l-lughah are interpreted as paradigmatic examples of seventeenth-century Moroccan literature and ideal vehicles to understand al-Yūsī’s relationship to place. Al-Risālah, a dialogue at a remove from its addressee, mixes invective and appeal for aid with subtle shifts in focalization between the misdeeds of the second-person addressee (Ismāʿīl) and al-Yūsī’s own suffering. In this text, the spaces for which the author longs encompass both his actual place of birth and the larger category of place it represents. Al-Yūsī identifies exclusively with an idealized vision of the countryside set in the distant past, complicating the possibility of his return. In al-Muḥāḍarāt, al-Yūsī adopts the medium of poetry, creating a poetic persona distinct from the authorial voice of his epistle. Here his spatial identity is more inclusive, extending to cover most of the territories of early modern Morocco. Through these two exilic texts, I examine the complex relationship al-Yūsī had with the country’s urban centers and rural landscapes and how this could, under certain circumstances, begin to reflect something that resembles a Moroccan national consciousness.

Affiliations: 1: Yale-NUS College


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