My book

Two Questers in Twentieth-century North Africa: Paul Bowles and Ibrahim Alkoni breaks new ground in its comparative exploration of the work of American expatriate author Paul Bowles and exiled Libyan author Ibrahim Alkoni: it is, to my knowledge, the first full-length comparative treatment of these two authors. The book makes a powerful rebuttal of Wmy book coverestern notions of the ‘empty’ desert, populating it with heterogeneous communities, storytelling traditions, histories, ontologies and epistemologies. The writer uses a postcolonial theoretical methodology, most successfully at the interface of postcolonial and magical realist paradigms. She further specifies the mythic elements of Alkoni’s work with reference to ethnography, particularly on Berber culture, and to material also published in Arabic, which she translates herself. She makes some very useful critical points in the book, for example challenging simplistic Western/North African and coloniser/colonised binaries by arguing that Bowles – an American – orients himself against French colonialism and that Alkoni sees non-Berber influences in the region, over a long historical span, as colonising. The final section specifies numerous resonances between these cosmopolitan, polyglot authors, who both focus on modernity’s contamination of authentic spaces; emphasise quests towards solitude and often through violence; pit nature against culture; collect, preserve and transmit oral narratives and myths; generate hybrid forms with strong oral and mythical elements; resist linearity and teleology in their narrative forms; and present the desert as a site of wisdom and sublime aesthetics. The fact that the writer is multilingual facilitates her distinctive comparison of these writers. The manuscript constitutes a distinctive contribution to knowledge commensurate with the award of doctorate in comparative literature.

3 thoughts on “My book

  1. Chapter two
    The Eternal Return of North African Myths

    This part of the present study examines how Alkoni’s fiction is expressive of his main interest in the North African desert, and scrutinizes the important questions of Alkoni’s hybrid narrative as a mirror to the role of space in redefining the literary genre, the reconstruction of identity, and the representation of the desert of the twentieth century Maghreb.
    In one of his interviews, Alkoni tells a journalist that his protagonists are different faces that constitute and construct the identity of the desert people. Alkonis’ life quest in North African space and literature brings into prominence the theme of the encounter and fusion with the native culture. When he was young, he experienced the place in its authentic state then, from his Western habitat he tries to reconstruct it in his texts. From the beginning, Alkoni recreates the tradition from a mythical perspective and by doing so, he introduces the debate novel and epic as we referred to in previous pages. In his fiction, one explores the Maghreb from the perspective of the ancient and timeless elements.
    Living in or crossing the desert is a “new” theme in Arabic fiction that implies a rereading of the genre itself by highlighting the identity of desert people. In Alkoni’s novels, there is a recurring theme, an initiatory journey that takes place in the act of crossing the desert. The role of nature in exercising sufferance on the traveller is increased to amplify the role of the journey in spiritual nurture that stimulates resistance and initiates the reborn protagonist for his ultimate ordeal. Therefore, nature and characters seem to work together and depend on one another to achieve perfect harmony. Nature, here the desert, has a motherly role in giving birth to the child through violence, pain and suffering.
    This relationship with nature can sometimes become intimate, more physical and metaphorical, as in Ukhayyad’s communion with Ablaq, which in the crossing, has a sensual experience to report in a skinless embrace with a long journey that ends in a well, a symbolic mother womb. This aspect of symbiosis with nature becomes transcendence. The writer glorifies nature in its minute elements. The “arid space” is peopled by known and unknown natural and supernatural elements. The desert becomes thus the creator of the protagonist (Ukhayyad, Anubi and Assouf) and his story by haunting his psychic tuning with nature and inhabiting his perception of life.
    The relationship of man to the native desert is the crucial and vital link of the novels. The path the characters take, during their lives, usually ends with their death and return to the earth’s womb. There is always a physical return to the earth. If this concept of initiation and suffering is important, it is however complemented by the original stage, which also strengthens the link to the homeland. The homeland is desert, void, harsh and dry. In fact, in Alkoni’s texts, a contention takes place between desert and water, as oasis, mirage, vision, flood, and mother womb. It is the metaphor of the origin back to nature and to the first being.
    Water stands for life, fertility and prosperity. In the desert, water is the dream to survive the long walk through the wilderness. Water element and in particular its absence, thirst, and floods are kernel motifs in Alkoni’s novels, linked to the idea of rebirth in the natural womb of the desert. Beyond this myth of origin, Alkoni’s novels propose another representation of the origin associated with a much more positive form of rebirth. For instance, the idea of bathing, drinking and coming back to life is seen in Ukhayyad’s “bottomless well” experience before which he starts losing his senses,
    He stumbled, stupefied, trying to locate the Mahri’s neck, then head. He wanted to tell the camel something before he plunged into the bottomless well. At that peculiar moment, he thought about what Sheikh Musa said about death: it was closer than your jugular vein and yet farther than the ends of the earth. He wanted to tell the piebald this. He wanted to tell him what to do as he plunged into the abyss. The piebald lavished the young man with attention, covering him with his lips and licking his face. Ukhayyad was unable to see the other’s eyes and unable to utter a word. He had lost the ability to speak. First, he had lost his voice. He raised his right hand and patted the Mahri’s head […].i
    Before plunging into a bath and healing, Ukhayyad enacts the gradual loss of his senses as a way of approaching death or a near-death experience, essential for initiation and rebirth. Drawing from the notion of initiation from the abyss, this ritual represents amniotic diving combining origin and the amniotic environment as a symbolic return to the origins of the world. Thus, in Gold Dust, this ritual is associated with a particular experience that belongs to primordial times.
    A taster.

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