Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

World Reading Strategies: Border Reading Bandarshah

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

World Reading Strategies: Border Reading Bandarshah

Article excerpt

This article makes a case for "border reading" as a methodology for reading world literatures. It is grounded in Walter Mignolo's "border gnosis," and aims to undercut co-optative reading strategies that are enmeshed in what Edward Said calls the "grid of research techniques and ethics." This study takes border reading Tayeb Salih's Bandarshah as a case in point to show that existing reading strategies have marginalized Bandarshah and have engendered readings of it--by Wail Hassan and Ziad Elmarsafy, for instance--that have overlooked the mobilization of Sufi epistemology as a countercolonial discourse.


The current study argues that border reading is a necessary critical practice, especially in cases where literary products are steeped in local histories. To illustrate the need for this type of reading and its methodology, this study takes the discrepancy between the receptions of two of Tayeb Salih's novels as a case in point. These novels are the highly acclaimed Season of Migration to the North (1966; translated to English in 1969) and the neglected Bandarshah (1971, 1977; translated to English in 1996). This discrepancy in critical reception is read here as symptomatic of an institutional and embedded difference of values that is translated into exclusionary reading practices. Implicit in this argument is the position that no matter how overdetermined the field of world literature is, it is "not an infinite, ungraspable canon of works but rather a mode of circulation and of reading" (Damrosch 5).

Examining the works of a given writer--in this case, Tayeb Salih who wrote predominantly about Sudanese society--will provide an insight into the discrepancy between the welcoming critical reception of one of his works and the absence of engagement with another. Thus, this article sets out to demonstrate that Season of Migration to the North lends itself to an acclaimed "reversal" and rewriting of colonial tropes, whereas what Thomsen calls "the excess of the local" (44) that is found in Bandarshah is resistant to a simplistic reductionist reading of the postcolonial condition in Sudan. When allowing for an inclusive world literary canon, the process of critical selection needs to be scrutinized, and reading strategies are of utmost importance and significance. Reading strategies must not remain inflected by the epistemological residue of global designs.

Because cultures of scholarship are deeply embedded in global designs, world literature reading strategies cannot be dissociated from the globalization of literary studies. Hence, attention should be given to the construction of difference. These strategies need not be problematic when the works in question are not steeped in local culture; however, they are colonizing when used to explore literature that is deeply influenced by local culture. In the latter situation, a decolonized critical practice is needed. Walter Mignolo's critique of the epistemological subaltemization of local histories by global designs is immensely relevant to the approach adopted in the current study. From this critique, a reading practice grounded in Mignolo's "border gnosis" is proposed here for reading world literature.

Theoretical Foundations of Border Reading

Mignolo's critique of globalization reveals the epistemological foundations of the modernity/coloniality complex propelling global designs. His point is that global designs are always local histories that construct differences based on the hierarchization of knowledge. It is the coloniality of power--"an energy and a machinery"--that "transform[s] [colonial] differences into values" (Mignolo, Local 13). These values are then used to buttress "the legitimacy for the subaltemization of knowledges and the subjugation of people" (16). In literary studies, this means the privileging of Eurocentric forms of knowledge as the locus of epistemological authority. As such, existing cultures of scholarship do not "fulfill the needs of local histories at the receiving end of global designs, be they economic or intellectual, from the right to the left" (Local 305). …

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