The Germanic Mosaic: Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Society

By Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay | Go to book overview

22
Narrative Strategies as Cultural Vehicles: On Rafik Schami's Novel Erzähler der Nacht

IMAN O. KHALIL

In his book Orientalism, Edward Said analyzes the image of the Orient in Middle Eastern and Oriental studies, and states that it reflects the perspective of Western investigators rather than that of the people who are the object of their studies. According to Said, Orientalism has created an Orient of "its own making." 1 The consequence is an inaccurate image of the Orient and of Orientals generated by preformed patterns of European provenance 2 Edward Said objects that specialists of Middle Eastern and Oriental studies base their opinions on vague concepts of collective entities rather than on the individual. 3

In his novel Erzähler der Nacht ["Narrator for a Night"], published in 1989, the Syrian author Rafik Schami, who has lived in Germany since 1971 and who writes in German, provides the reader with a different and subtly diversified image of the Orient. This is not necessarily because he is Oriental, but because he unfolds before us an Oriental world containing diversity and depth from the perspective of individuals. Through those individuals, used as focalizers, he attempts unobtrusively to present the quintessence of life in an Arab cultural setting. The novel offers lively portraits of individual people, which counteract the current inadequate en bloc analyses of the so-called Arab mind, whether they be conveyed by means of Oriental studies or the mass media. 4 Thus Schami's novel constitutes a representation of Oriental individuality that achieves considerably greater validity. For example, individual differences are depicted in a humorous manner, in the way Arabs express negation: "The most diligent Arabs say 'no,' the more idle Arabs raise their heads and click their tongues. The most indolent of all Damascenes just raise their eyebrows in silent negation." It is said that "Only the Damascenes are capable of this exceptional laziness of saying no without moving their heads." 5

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