Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Representations of the Desert in Silko's Ceremony and Al-Koni's the Bleeding of the Stone

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Representations of the Desert in Silko's Ceremony and Al-Koni's the Bleeding of the Stone

Article excerpt

The "Desert" refers to a complex locus of experience and reflection; it is simultaneously an interior space of the mind; an exterior space where pilgrims, adventurers, and travelers can visit and dwell; and an intertextual space produced by cross-references among cultural creations dwelling with the desert as archetype or icon of the imagination.

--David Jasper, "The Sacred Desert"

World deserts are rich places of natural beauty, biodiversity, and varied cultural formations. Whether it is the Chihuahuan in North America, the Sahara in North Africa, the Arabian in Asia or the Atacama in South America, deserts have always intrigued writers and artists from east and west with their magnificence, spirituality and exoticism. Inhabitants of the desert have long fascinated interested researchers for being reclusive and mysterious, though simultaneously dynamic. It is therefore no wonder that "the desert haunts many literatures" (Jasper 95; italics added). Some of the most prominent desert writers are William Wordsworth, W. H. Auden, Paulo Coelho, Leslie Silko, Abdelrahman Munif, and Ibrahim Al-Koni.

Viewed in general terms, man has always attempted to delineate his dialectical relationship with space in various logical and mythological ways (Lotman 217-18). Since one's worldview stems from experiences and daily interactions with certain cultural identifiers, the perception of the individual (writer) varies from one culture to another depending on the kind of environment s/he interacts with. Physical space also decides the vision and scope of writers and the kind of metaphors they use in their texts (Moftah 78). The connection between "place" and "metaphor" is evident. Paul Ricoeur remarks that "as figure, metaphor constitutes a displacement and an extension of the meaning of words; its explanation is grounded in the theory of substitution" (The Rule of Metaphor 3; italics added). In cognitive psychology, the relationship between man and physical space could be defined through a number of metaphors. In Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson point to the centrality of these types of metaphors to man's life. They further acknowledge the fact that man is imprisoned within the limits of his body and those of the physical environment he lives in; that is why he always attempts to demarcate elements of physical space around him (49). The creative act can therefore be perceived as an attempt to mark out, and even to reconstruct, our vision of the world, and its many places, based on some central metaphors. Some of these metaphors relate to, and are inspired by, world deserts. A number of more recent literary theories like ecocriticism and ecofeminism offer an interdisciplinary perspective into literature of nature, including the desert. Ecocriticism is often linked to earlier movements such as nineteenth-century British Romanticism and American Transcendentalism. It shares roots with these nature-conscious movements, as it also seeks to free nature from the constraints of civilization. It gradually emerged as a growing number of critics became more aware of the cultural value of the environment and of environmental literature. In Nature in Literary, and Cultural Studies, for example, Catrin Gersdorf and Sylvia Mayer present a variety of articles addressing environmental literature in terms of both theory and application. They write in the introduction to their anthology: "We strongly support the further development of ecocriticism as a methodology that re-examines the history of ideologically, aesthetically, and ethically motivated conceptualizations of nature, of the function of its constructions and metaphorisations in literary and other cultural practices" (10).

In other words, ecocriticism does not simply entail an attempt to study literature of nature. The incorporation of cultural, ethical, historical, ideological, or social perspectives is what could save ecocriticism from self-reflexivity. …

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