Friday, June 08, 2007

The Sand Child: An Interpretation

Dear Tahar Ben Jelloun,

I have continued to think about your book, The Sand Child and am ready to posit an interpretation. Tell me what you think. Of course I am not sure, but my thoughts feel like they are swarming closer to the center of what you are trying to say, and, perhaps, that is something.

My former post, Ben Jelloun Draws Such Strange Words in the Sand, helped me think through my initial ideas.

The father figure in the book is Western Colonial Influence. I, at first, thought this a difficult metaphor, yet it makes sense in relation to the patronizing attitudes of colonialists. Certainly, colonial forces always assume the role of father to the countries they inhabit. There is a line in the book that talks about the father lying with Zahra(F)/Ahmed(M)and the forms coming together. This relationship of father trying to form child in his own image is a fascinating one. It is complemented by all the allusions to Father bringing the child into the world of men and power.

Meanwhile the relationship of Zahra(F)/Ahmed(M) to the Mother figure, a representation of Mother Morocco or Mother Maghreb (Northern Africa, the area West of the Nile and North of the Sahara) is distant and especially so after the death of the father, i.e. the end of colonial rule. The child is left alone and unable to find a definitive path in the current world. Abandoned by all, including the storyteller, the child is first (or primarily) isolated from both the modern world and from tradition, and second (or secondarily) without a sure path forward, exemplified by the surrealist multiple storied ending.

There are oddities in the tale that I am unable to unscramble. The traveling gypsy episode may have some cultural roots and interpretations that escape me. I have heard and read that transvestite entertainers are part of standard issue Arabian fun. That is out of my realm of experience, but may play in here somehow. The rapes that occur in that section could speak to the psychological reality that one lives through rape over and over, hence its placement after what I have identified in my mind as the death of colonialism (i.e. the rape of one culture by another) is showing that the effects of the ravishing of a culture does not cease when the last ship leaves the dock.

The story hasn't ended. The end has not been written for North Africa or for Zahra. Perhaps the presence of Jorges Luis Borges in this book gives a clue to how it should be understood.

"The earth we inhabit is an error, an incompetent parody. Mirrors and paternity are abominable because they multiply and affirm it." — (dogma of a fictional religion in "Hakim, the masked dyer of Merv".) Part of this quote (See paper by Beauvais Lyons) or perhaps another version is attributed to a heresiarch of Uqbar in "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". "Mirrors and copulation are abominable since they multiply and extend a visible universe that was an illusion, or more precisely a sophism."

History and existence are not locked down. Perception of history and culture is what we have. Who is telling the story? The gender, seemingly the most predetermined of the elements of a being is undermined, put in question, made into an incompetent parody. In the case of the Sand Child, the being is Morocco, and it has lost its footing in the sand, lost more than its footing, it has lost its shape, its gender, and must redefine itself. The story will be told, but those who must tell it have yet to find their voices.

OK. That is my attempt at interpreting The Sand Child. Next I'll read The Sacred Night.



TinaDevos said...

You've got it so horribly wrong, I'm afraid. Sorry to be so bold.

cadh 8 said...

You should be sorry to be so concise. This is a blog where we encourage discussion and disagreement, but you have to say more than two sentences in order to have a discussion. Come on, give us more of your thoughts!!

brd said...

I agree, Tina, let's hear your views. According to a web search, Tina is interested in literary Arabic and is a translator, so she should be able to add to our understanding!!!!