Academic journal article ARIEL

Without Telling

Academic journal article ARIEL

Without Telling

Article excerpt

 
Is all this really so? 
Or is it the web spun by [the] ... spider 
 
And if it is true, what can be done? 
And if it is not true, what can be done? 
 
Tell me. Tell me. 
Faiz Ahmed Faiz, In Your Eyes and Mine, 108. 
 
For Hala Marrouchi 

In the perpetual present of our global media-addled culture, the remembrance of things past is a growth industry. A peephole on the dream life of the late twentieth century provides ample evidence that history is the rarest commodity in an age of historical amnesia and market-driven neophilia. Of course, as heirs of the Enlightenment, we view not only history but also time and space as veritable shrines to a period before Microsoft and Nike, when things, from everyday objects to human emotions, had more heft; seemed somehow more grounded. Today, we believe that to produce space we need already to be standing in space, and, along the same line of thinking, that a new conception of time (perhaps even history) must have emerged in order to facilitate new understanding of each. In this context, reading the past serves something of the same purpose as any meditation on the soul-destroying paradoxes of the modern experience as told by the descendants of those displaced by the violence of the last century. They came of age to find the world they expected to inherit rent apart, turned nearly unrecognizable. For some, like Paul Bowles, to move forward has required allowing that ruptured, destroyed world to recede. For others, like Tayeb Salih, it has been a matter of survival to reenter the past and search its remains for the means to create a redemptive history through patterns of words, moods, and textures.

As a consequence, we see the events such artists as Salih and Bowles paint not only as elements on a vast, extravagant canvas, but also as incidents that haunt individual lives. Aware of the contradictions of history and character, they wield them to deft and often moving effect. While they ingeniously navigate their characters' complex dilemmas, it is they who are the most prescient about the fate of a collision of ignorance between the East and the West. To avoid that entrapment, they appeal to the notion of construction, overcoming the constrictive, arbitrary polarities that once doomed the world to being a merely reactive enterprise. This they do by fixing difference and universality as the root of representation. They also ask how we are to avoid fetishizing difference while simultaneously avoiding the snare of a globalism that is unconcerned with difference. When you are able to see everything, they seem to ask, can hidden meanings exist any longer? Or, is there a way, in this new century, as we become more and more jaded, that storytelling could regain its power? For Salih and Bowles, there is an evident contradiction between space and time. After all, they are hybrid outsiders who speak from the cultural margins of their adopted societies. Their constant references to space underscore the fact that, while they are displaced, they are simultaneously well-placed to write on the cultures they have embraced: Salih--who is originally from the Sudan--chose England, while Bowles--from the US--lived most of his adult life in Morocco. Their stories ring true and reveal not just another simulacrum, but the realities of pleasant times as well as brutal run-ins that occur between people of different cultures. On this view, their pronouncements may be said to stand among the richest and most serene contributions to understanding Islam and/or the Occident. Their subject matter centers on the strange, disconcerting collisions, the calm outrages that might occur in a dream; the tragic, even fatal mistakes that Westerners and Easterners so commonly make in their encounters with one another. Given the new imperial burden of the global, one can hardly imagine a timelier subject.

Yet, strangely, neither Salih nor Bowles appears on any of those rosters of writers mentioned in the aftermath of 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq. …

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