Academic journal article ARIEL

The Performance of Madness as Resistance in Nuruddin Farah's Close Sesame

Academic journal article ARIEL

The Performance of Madness as Resistance in Nuruddin Farah's Close Sesame

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article explores the representation of madness in Nuruddin Farah's Close Sesame (1983) as a performance of resistance against the Somali dictatorship of Mohammed Siyad Barre. I argue that Farah presents madness as a performance rather than a manifestation of mental illness in order to protect those who speak and act out against tyranny as well as their associates and families. The novel's presentation of these counter-hegemonic performances has implications for the study of narrative representations of dictatorship in Africa as well as for understanding the linkage between the colonial and neocolonial disciplinary attitudes toward resistance fighters in East Africa. In particular, I consider the "Mad Mullah" and J. C. Carothers in light of their contributions to colonial discourse about madness and resistance. Farah's novel explicitly makes connections between colonial history and Barres dictatorial regime, yet the place of madness within that history and the function of madness in Close Sesame have not been adequately explored. In focusing on resistance in Farah's text, this article also provides a broader reading of resistance and repression in colonial states and neocolonial dictatorships.

Keywords: dictator, madness, Nuruddin Farah, Somalia, neocolonial, East Africa

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In "Why I Write," Nuruddin Farah uses theatrical terms to describe his inspiration for the trilogy he calls Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship: "Somalia was a badly written play ... and Siyad Barre was its author. To our chagrin, he was also the play's main actor, its centre and theme; as an actor-producer, he played all the available roles. He did not think anyone was as good as he, so he was its stage-designer and light technician, as well as the audience" (10). The trilogy explores different ways in which members of the Group of 10 struggle against and suffer because of Mohamed Siyad Barres dictatorship in Somalia. In Close Sesame (1983), the last novel in the trilogy, the protagonist, an older man named Deeriye, explores the connections between the colonial era and the current regime and argues with his son, Mursal, about the nature of justice and law. Mursal is a member of the Group of 10 and one of the characters who attempts to assassinate Barre. Ultimately Deeriye finds himself carrying a gun to a meeting with the dictator. Near the end of Close Sesame, Deeriye characterizes Barres dictatorship in similarly theatrical terms to those used by Farah but with an additional emphasis on other possible actors--actors of resistance. His description is not only an apt figuration of this particular dictatorship but of many regimes of this type, both in Africa and throughout the world. Deeriye remarks that "Somalia has become a stage where the Grandest Actor performs in front of an applauding audience that should be booing him. Anyone who wishes to share the spotlight either goes mad or in the end is imprisoned. Otherwise, everyone is made to join the crowd and applaud with it" (Farah, Close 214). His description of the political theater of dictatorship renders the political sphere a site for performance, both by the hegemonic regime and its willing and unwilling fans as well as those who seek to "share the spotlight" and perform resistance. In the dictatorship depicted in Farah's novel, those who want to perform resistance are left with a pair of unappealing options: go mad or end up in prison.

I read Deeriye's statement against its more apparent connotations, which consider literal madness as a consequence of the trauma that ensues from resisting the regime, a result of the fear of capture and punishment, or a result of actual capture, punishment, torture, and/ or detention. My reading of the novel, however, argues for an alternative reading of Deeriye's formulation in which madness can be a performance strategy rather than merely the result of a performance. Farah's novel presents the performance of madness as both a strategy for resisting hegemonic power and a protective strategy for the individual actor. …

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