Eye For Eye? A Reading in the Travel accounts of P. Bowles and A.


This paper aims at drawing a brief contrast between two travel books by two different writers: Their Heads Are Green by the American Paul Bowles and Tangier’s Eyes on America by the Moroccan Abdellatif Akbib.

This juxtaposition is justified, in my opinion, by at least one important reason.

Regardless of their respective close personal relations to Tangier,ii these two writers can, to a large extent, be regarded as representing two opposite trends in the field of cultural studies and discourse. For while Bowles was undeniably one of the most conspicuous American Orientalists, whose diverse literary texts place him squarely at the centre of what is known as hegemonic colonial discourse, Akbib is certainly one of the emerging post-colonial voices or figures that have just started to ‘write back’ to the metropolitan Centre. The difference between these trends can be well illustrated by the way each of the two writers ‘appropriates’, so to speak, the city of Tangier to articulate symbolic meanings that are inextricably associated with the cross-cultural relation between the Western metropolis and its peripheries. In Bowles’ case, Tangier was for a long time the object of his Orientalist gaze and the site of his representations of cultural Otherness. Not only did it serve as the indispensable source of inspiration without which he could not become a creative writer, as he himself once confessed, it was also itself deployed as a rich material for many of his discursive products like his famous novel Let It Come Down. In addition to this, Tangier also served him, metaphorically speaking, as a private Panopticon or look-out from which he as systematically observed and represented Morocco as well as the rest of North Africa and the Moslem world. Conversely, while Tangier is for Akbib also an important source of literary inspiration, iii his travel book has unequivocally declared and advocated for this strategic city the active role of a subject rather than merely an object of representation. The book’s title itself, as it will be soon clarified, endows Tangier with eyesight and, by implication, with insight and agency by means of which it has started to resist and subvert the West’s hegemonic constructions.


To support the argument that Akbib’s discourse in Tangier’s Eyes on America is antithetical and oppositional to Bowles’ discourse in Their Heads Are Green, it must be first shown how the latter book is in effect part and parcel of the Western Orientalist tradition. But as a way of broaching this crucial subject, it may be very expedient to start with a brief look at an interesting short story by Bowles, significantly entitled ‘The Eye’ and set in Tangier. This story is about a ‘Nazarene’ (i.e., Christian) young man called Duncan Marsh, who has been living in Tangier for a dozen of years but gets finally poisoned by Meriam, one of his Moroccan servants. The problem starts with Meriam’s superstitious belief that this Nazarene has cast his evil eye on her little daughter after deliberately scowling at her so that she might be less noisy. So in an attempt to remove the spell from her child, the mother is induced by the local ‘fqihs’ to dose that man some strange concoctions, which inadvertently lead to his death. The scene of Marsh’s innocuous intimidation of the child is described in the following words: One day he went quietly around the outside of the house and down to the patio. He got on all fours, put his face close to the little girl’s face, and frowned at her so fiercely that she began to scream (…). The little girl continued to scream and wail in a corner of the kitchen, until Meriam took her home. That night, still sobbing, she came down with a high fever. For several weeks she hovered between life and death, and when she was finally out of danger she could no longer walk. Meriam, who was earning relatively high wages, consulted one fqih after another. They agreed that ‘the eye’ had been put on the child; it was equally clear that the Nazarene for whom she worked had done it. What they told her she must do (…) was to administer certain substances to Marsh which eventually would make it possible to counteract the spell. This was absolutely necessary…iv


If the Nazarene’s ‘Eye’ —with its presumed harmful effect on the innocent native child—is taken symbolically as a metaphor for what has come to be known as the imperial/Western gaze,v the above passage can certainly yield a number of insightful remarks that are deeply pertinent to the topic under discussion. In the first place, this quotation suggests that the colonizer’s/Orientalist’s eye or gaze on the native people and landscapes is far from being neutral or innocent. This is because this gaze is usually a sign of bad omen for the colonized people, given that it is often the real source of their cultural subordination and ultimate deterritorialization. Indeed, such “gaze”, as David Spurr has rightly pointed out, “is never innocent or pure, never free of mediation by motives which may be judged noble or otherwise. The writer’s eye is always in some sense colonizing the landscape, mastering and portioning, fixing zones and poles, arranging and deepening the scene as the object of desire.”vi. For in the context of colonial relationships, the power to gaze and survey is always hardly separable from the power to appropriate and to exercise hegemonic mastery over the cultural Other. In the second place, because this Other is systematically positioned as a victim and as the object of the Westerner’s surveillance, he frequently finds himself compelled to react against that act of subjugation, no matter how powerless he might be. This reaction often comes in the form of either an open resistance or a rather covert subversion of the authority inherent in the Westerner’s ethnocentric practices. In the case of Meriam, for instance, one can say that her secret manipulation of the Nazarene is symbolically counter-hegemonic in the sense that she has been actively looking for an antidote to the accursed plight that has been imposed on her by this Western ‘master’. Finally, the third important idea that is suggested by Bowles’ above passage has to do with the ideological question of Othering, or what Edward Said calls: ‘Orientalizing’ the Orientals. This point is of course related to the first one, but much more emphasis is laid now on Bowles’ own discursive practice —construed here as part of an Orientalizing process that reveals this author’s deep affiliation to the Western hegemonic ideology. In this respect, the above passage itself (and the whole story, as a matter of fact) provides a good example of how Bowles’ own eyes are keen on capturing the signs of the Moroccans’ Otherness in an attempt to amuse his Western audience. Indeed, by emphasizing Meriam’s ignorance and the fqihs’ queer and fatal prescription, the author is clearly aiming at foregrounding the


exoticism and the sense of radical difference that characterize the Moroccan universe. But in the process of such discursive representation Moroccans are ideologically othered and constructed negatively as being culturally backward, if not fact helplessly primitive. The idea of primitiveness is indeed what the ending of this short story seems to stress, as the narrator closes his account by commenting that the mysterious death of Marsh has been unwittingly perpetrated by “a mother moving in the darkness of ancient ignorance.”vii This “darkness of ancient ignorance’, which Bowles has certainly meant to stand as a strong sign or marker of cultural difference between the Orient and the Occident, is in effect what Bowles’ eyes often sought to capture and to represent in many of his fictional and non-fictional narratives. In his travel account ‘The Rif, To Music’, for instance, he elaborates on the Oriental phenomenon of poisoning, or what he frequently refers to as ‘tseuheur’, by confirming that in Morocco: The poisons are provided by professionals; Larache is said to be a good place to go if you are interested in working magic on somebody. You are certain to come back with something efficacious. Every Moroccan male has a horror of tseuheur. Many of them, like Mohammed Larbi, will not eat any food to which a Moslem woman has had access beforehand, unless it be his mother or sister, or, if he really trusts her, his wife. But too often it is the wife of whom he must be the most careful. She uses tseuheur to make him malleable and suggestible (109). His case in point is Mohammed Larbi himself, his travel companion who resides in Tangier and who has been once exposed to such devilish manipulation by his father’s fourth wife. In what resembles a marvelous and fantastic tale from The Arabian Nights, Bowles recounts how Mohammed has been served a tajine with a morsel of meat within which he discovers a sewn pocket full of diverse powders and drugs such as: “powdered finger-nails and finely cut hair—pubic hair (…) along with bits of excrement from various small creatures (…) like bats, mice, lizards, owls…”(109). That is why Mohammed has grown suspicious of any food


made by a Moslem woman, and that is why he does not trust even his wife, whom he rather beats up regularly lest she should think of manipulating him: “She’ll never try to give me tseuheur, he boasts. I’d kill her before she had it half made”(110). By thus foregrounding the signifiers of strangeness, incivility and social disharmony, which he apparently regards as being typical of Moroccan society, Bowles is actually Orientalizing his objects of representation and emphasizing their state of cultural difference and irretrievable backwardness. His concern is not so much with any accurate or objective portrayal of this society and its culture as in fact with the sense of exoticism and mystery that he wishes to communicate to his Western readers.viii For he knows very well what these readers expect of him, and he is only too pleased to cater for their desires, regardless of any generalization, exaggeration or distortion which he might make in the process of his cultural representation. In ‘Africa Minor’, Bowles asserts that when he asks the Americans who visit North Africa about what they have expected to find in it, their answer is unanimously: “a sense of mystery”(68-9). And in effect, as he explains, they usually find it, among other things, in: the unexpected turnings and tunnels of the narrow streets, in the women whose features still go hidden beneath the litham, in the secretiveness of the architecture, which is such that even if the front door of a house is open, it is impossible to see inside (69). What must be first noted here is that Bowles’ inquiry about the preconceived expectations of his compatriots is itself expressive of his great attentiveness to the tastes and the preferences of his Western audience. But the unanimous answer he gets is equally revealing of how much this interest in the ‘mysterious’ Orient is in reality a mere “mediated desire.”ix Which means that even before reaching their destinations these visitors are already mentally conditioned by what they have read or heard about the Orient so that their experience of this region seems to be performed at second hand and their emotional response is often predictable and pre-established. For it is quite true, as Heather Henderson


has confirmed, that there are travelers who go just “to reread an already written landscape”, and whose “imaginations are so fired by what they have read that their entire journey attempts to follow in the footsteps of another traveler, real or fictional.”x And while it is beyond question that Bowles usually sought to ‘fire’ his readers’ imaginations by means of his strange Oriental accounts, he himself was in effect a traveler whose desire for the East was hugely mediated by the discourses of his Orientalist predecessors. As a matter of fact, despite the apparent uniqueness of his exilic experience in Morocco, his whole outlook and discursive practice have been, in a way or another, strongly influenced by the examples of these former Orientalists. Indeed, even the notable association of his name with the city of Tangier is far from being an incontestable proof of the exceptionality and originality of his Oriental experience. This is because more than forty years before Bowles saw the light in 1910, his compatriot Mark Twain had already expressed the view that: “Tangier is the spot we have been looking for all the time… We wanted something thoroughly and uncompromisingly foreign… and lo! In Tangier we have found it.” xi And since this significant statement is an outright expression of the Orientalist desire of not only M. Twain but also of several Western visitors—especially the artists, as the pronoun ‘we’ tacitly hints at—Bowles’ adherence or affiliation to the Western tradition of Orientalism is a question that seems hardly debatable. In a memorable description of his favourite city, Bowles has written: If I said that Tangier struck me as a dream city, I should mean it in the strict sense. Its topography was rich in prototypal dream scenes: covered streets like corridors with doors opening into rooms on each side, hidden terraces high above the sea, streets consisting only of steps, dark impasses, small squares built on sloping terrain (…) with alleys leading off in several directions; as well as the classical dream equipment of tunnels, ramparts, ruins, dungeons, and cliffs.xii Apart from its obviously intentional emphasis on the dreamlike topographical make-up of Tangier, this statement is striking in its echoing of the previously-


quoted passage that cites the elements which make Morocco and North Africa mysteriously appealing to Bowles’ fellow Americans. In both statements indeed one can see clear indications that there is something enigmatic about this region of the globe and that the visitor’s ‘Western eyes’ are sorely desirous to penetrate this secret of the East, but in vain. All such matters as “the unexpected turnings and tunnels”, the female faces ‘hidden beneath the litham”, the open but inaccessible homes, the “covered streets”, the “hidden terraces” and the “dark impasses” combine to constitute the chief sites of desire which ignite the Westerner’s curiosity and fill him with an overwhelming sense of wonder and exotic mystery. And, in fact, any Westerner who cherishes such a desire vis-à-vis the Orient—whether he is Bowles himself or any other American of European outsider—can well be stigmatized as an Orientalist since both his ‘vision’ and discourse construe this region in terms of its cultural Otherness and radical opposition to the Occident.xiii In the above description of Tangier, Bowles has used the ‘past’ rather than the ‘present’ tense as he wants to focus on how this city first impressed him during his earliest visit there in 1931. According to him, the glorious and romantic aspect of that early colonial period has started to lose much of its lustre ever since the independence of Morocco on account of the growing tide of nationalistic change and Westernizing modernism. For him, this natural sociohistorical evolution of Tangier and Morocco as whole is a regrettable and undesirable thing because, from his biased and nostalgic Orientalist perspective, any change is detrimental to that ‘virgin’ and ideal state that has originally enthralled him. Even if this change might mean progress and prosperity for both Morocco and the Moroccans, it remains quite damnable, in his opinion, because, as he himself confessed in the introduction of his travel book: “the visitor to a place whose charm is a result of its backwardness is inclined to hope it will remain that way regardless of how those who live in it may feel” (7). Needless to say, such a view is not only nostalgic and egoistic but utterly ethnocentric and reactionary too. In his appropriative Orientalist approach to Morocco and its culture, Bowles seems ready to sacrifice anything and wishfully freeze the flow of time and stop historical progress so that he could keep intact his visionary image of this country and thus achieve a better and ideal gratification of his romantic self.xiv This attitude is suggestive of how much the self-centredness of the West


renders it imperialistically mindless of the fate and the rights of the marginalized Rest. In spite of what he perceives as a gradual eclipse of that platonic colonial picture of Morocco, Bowles never completely lost his faith in the charm and the exotic richness of this Oriental country. For he was still able to find much wonder and fascination in some residual ‘primitive’ features, not only in Moroccan culture but also in the overall social and topographical context of North Africa. Hence his primitivistic interest, for instance, in the occult practices of such native brotherhoods as “the Derqaoua, the Aissaoua, the Haddaoua, the Hamatcha, the Jilala [and] the Guenaoua”, whose quaint rituals involve “self torture, the inducing of trances, ordeal by fire and the sword, the eating of broken glass and scorpions” (72). In his view, the ‘ cult-worship’ of these groups has its roots in some ancient native religion which the “Arab conquerors” supplanted through what he considers as a regrettable imposition of Islam on the indigenous Berbers. But luckily for him, some vestiges of that primitive religion are still present in those marvelous rituals, which he finds particularly fascinating and inspiring: To me these spectacles are filled with great beauty, because their obvious purpose is to prove the power of the spirit over the flesh. The sight of ten or twenty thousand people actively declaring their faith, demonstrating en masse the power of that faith, can scarcely be anything but inspiring. You lie in the fire, I gash my legs and arms with a knife, he pounds a sharpened bone into his thigh with a rock –then, together, covered with ashes and blood, we sing and dance in joyous praise of the saint and the god who make it possible for us to triumph over pain, and by extension, over death itself (72). One may be surprised at Bowles’ insistence on the ‘great beauty’ and the ‘inspiring’ quality of these paranormal ritualistic sights. More surprising still is his obvious inclination to identify with those native ‘worshippers’, as is implicitly indicated by his rhetorical use of the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’. It is as if the mere


observation of such fantastic scenes plunges him instinctively in a deep and active participation, whose delight and queer exhilaration are akin to those of a mystical experience. Yet Bowles’ case is not so much that of a mystic as that of an Orientalist, who ideologically believes in the possibility of deriving his aesthetic inspiration from a certain contact or identification with the elements of a culture or society which he assumes to be primitive or strongly related with the early stages of human civilization. Such ideology is basically racial and Orientalist since it conceives of the East not only as a mere ‘primitive’ site where the ‘civilized’ Westerner can metaphorically descend to see aspects of his low origins and remote ancestral past but also as a locus of romantic desire where he can egoistically give full vent to his wild and fantastic projections. Doris Lessing has noted that all the Western writers who have—like herself —written on Africa are guilty of using it as a mere peg on which they could hang their egos.xv This observation is aptly applicable to Bowles, who actually made of Morocco and North Africa the main field of his narcissistic desire and romantic self-identification. This pragmatic attitude—besides being deeply Orientalist and Africanist, in the sense that it is predicated on the othering of the sites and the people that are classified ideologically as belonging to the margins or the Rest—is paradoxically symptomatic of the presence of atavistic and primitive forces within the deeper self of the Westerner himself. In other words, when an Orientalist like Bowles is attracted by a ‘primitive’ culture or when he feels an irresistible urge to get identified with his ‘barbarous’ Others (as in the earlier description of the cult practices of the native Berbers), this means that there is a huge correspondence between the presumed wild and savage character of the latter and his own supposedly ‘civilized’ self. The ironic implication of this resides in the notion that primitiveness is not exclusively restricted to the other; it is also a positive force that inheres in the Westerner’s self as well as in his civilization. At times, Bowles’ discourse tends to be less obviously Orientalist and the viewpoint he adopts seems generally objective and ideologically neutral. In ‘Baptism of Solitude’, for instance, he even appears to be portraying North Africa in positive and laudatory terms. Indeed, his evocative description of the charming beauty of the North African Sahara amounts to a frank lyrical idealization of this particular setting, which he equates with something paradisiacal. Despite his tacit recognition of the hardships that are usually associated with the life of the


Sahara, Bowles cannot help vizualizing this latter as the embodiment of what he poetically terms “the absolute”. To his own question about the reason for going to such an alien place, he rhetorically states: The answer is that once you have been under the spell of the vast, luminous, silent country, no other place is quite strong enough, no other surroundings can provide the supremely satisfying sensation of existing in the midst of something that is absolute. The traveler will return, whatever the cost in comfort and money, for the absolute has no price (131). On the one hand, such a capacity for perceiving and savouring the pleasurable sense of ‘the absolute’ in the barren landscape of North Africa might be construed as a clear evidence of Bowles’ authentic infatuation and positive identification with this Oriental region. Yet, on the other hand, this same sensibility is equally suggestive of the rather romantic quality of his Orientalism. This implies that in spite of his unmistakable idealization of this setting, Bowles is still discursively operating—perhaps unwittingly— within the vast framework of the Western Orientalist tradition. In this sense, his idealistic vision of the Sahara as the locus of the absolute is no more than a form of aestheticization that is intrinsically related to the Orientalist ideology of appropriating Otherness. On realizing that the alien and exotic North African Sahara is a potential source of his creative inspiration, Bowles does not hesitate to appropriate it for his proper use and to idealize it as one might idealize a real human lover. But without its exotic Otherness and its association with the naturalness of a primeval landscape, Bowles could never pay any attention to it. In ‘A Man Must Not Be Very Moslem’ Bowles presents another instance of his attempt to appropriate and to Orientalize the Other through his account of his journey to Turkey, accompanied by his Moroccan friend: Abdeslam. From the outset, this illiterate Moslem is portrayed in a rather negative light as he is constructed as a mere puppet in the hands of his Western master. While explaining the reason behind taking Abdeslam to Turkey, Bowles says that he wants him to serve as a guide for him— “a kind of pass-key to the place. He


knows how to deal with Moslems (…). He can lie so well that he convinces himself straitway, and he is a master of bargaining” (48). By contrast, Bowles himself “can read signs, but can’t lie or bargain effectively” (48). From this short piece of characterization one can see the cultural bias implicit in Bowles’ representation of both himself and Abdeslam. While he stands here for an educated Westerner who “can read signs” and who is morally superior as he “can’t lie”, Abdeslam is both illiterate and devoid of scruples, despite his being “very Moslem”. Furthermore, since Abdeslam is presented here as only one typical Moslem, Bowles’ underlying implication is that all the Moslems are corrupt and unscrupulous, and that is why he needs a man of their calibre to function as his ‘key’ to his dealings with them. But in addition to this essentialist generalization about the Moslem morality, Bowles is clearly reproducing the Orientalist ethnocentric myth or assumption that the Moslem world is so mysterious, irrational and dark that it is hard for the ‘civilized’ Westerner to penetrate and comprehend it adequately. To illustrate further how Bowles’ stance is inherently Orientalist, it may be worth adding here that ‘Abdeslam’ is only the pseudonym of Bowles’ actual friend Ahmed Yacoubi, who in effect went with him to Turkey and was really subjected to the scrutiny of Bowles’ masterful gaze. While referring in his autobiography to a similar trip which both made to India, Bowles significantly exposes his Orientalist intention as he states bluntly: “I would drop Ahmed Yacoubi, from the Medina of Fez, into the middle of India and see what happened” (311). Thus in both cases, whether in Turkey or in India, a Moroccan Other is appropriated like a mere object to be “drop[ped]” in an alien environment so that Bowles could “see” this Other’s awkward reactions. This implies that Bowles’ ‘Western eyes’ are, from the very beginning, prepared to capture any sign that might allow him to Orientalize his Moroccan friend, who is thus systematically doomed to stand as no more than a mindless object of Bowles’ cultural representation. All in all, one cannot but conclude that the discourse of Bowles’ travel accounts is in effect basically Orientalist. Though there is evidently some variation in their representational strategies, it is quite clear that in all of them Bowles has assumed the role of a viewer who, from his privileged position of a subject, surveys the objects of his representation with some vested and


appropriative interest. From this commanding position, Bowles has accordingly operated as the monologic enunciator of an ethnocentric discourse that is certainly intended not only to gratify his own romantic ego but also to quench the Western readers’ thirst for the exotic and the quasi-archaic. Bowles’ overall discursive practice thus attests to his profound complicity in the Orientalist ideology and reflects— albeit somehow opaquely and ambivalently—his hegemonic views about the centrality and the superiority of the West as opposed to the marginality and the cultural backwardness of the East and the Rest.xvi * * * * * * *

Unlike Bowles’ Their Heads Are Green, which is composed almost entirely of completely independent accounts, most of which are set distantly from each other in both space and time, Akbib’s Tangier’s Eyes on America lends itself readily to perusal and classification as both a unified travelogue and a collection of independent travel narratives. On the one hand, given the fact that it relates the events of a single and specific travel experience in the States during a period of no more than three months, and given the fact that its accounts are generally ordered in what seems a strict chronological sequence starting with the author’s departure from his homeland and developing to end with his return to it, these seemingly separate accounts are fairly readable as interconnected chapters or episodes in a closely-knit travelogue. On the other hand, since each of the included accounts enjoys a great deal of autonomy and can be thus read quite independently and nearly without any reference to the other ones, the whole book is equally readable in the way a collection of autonomous short stories is read, as Mohamed Laâmiri has noted while stressing the aesthetic distinctiveness of this travelogue.xvii But if Akbib has succeeded in producing a highly competent travel book, one thing is certain: he himself is not a real traveler —at least in the sense in which P. Bowles and classical travel writers have been. According to Bowles’ own definition, Akbib seems to be more a tourist than a traveler. In his famous novel


The Sheltering Sky, Bowles writes the following about his protagonist Port Moresby, who is also a writer: He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain. Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home.xviii What Bowles wants to suggest here is that the traveler seems to be always homeless and constantly on the move through different regions of the world. By comparison the tourist is always attached to his country and can never pass a very long time away from it. This is precisely the case of Akbib, who not only entitles his last account ‘Home Sweet Home’ but also goes on to confess that his three-month absence from home is too much for him and that: “I had never been away from home for so long! (…) And the countdown actually began the moment I left my home that early August morning” (76). Nevertheless, my contention is that if Akbib is not a traveler, he certainly is not a tourist either. What he actually is is a promising post-colonial intellectual, who has self-consciously taken advantage of his academic visit to America, to inaugurate (at a national level) a counter-hegemonic discourse whose main objective is the interrogation of the West’s cultural stereotypes against its ‘marginal’ Others. What the author of Tangier’s Eyes On America has wanted to do is, in other words, to “write back” to the centre so as to contest and even subvert its imperialist and ethnocentric ideology. In fact, the very title of the book bespeaks this subversive intention as Tangier, which stands here for the whole Orient and the rest of the marginal and formerly colonized world, is endowed with agency by dint of which it is forcing the West—symbolized by America—to assume the role of the object of its observation and surveillance. If Tangier (and the world it stands for) has for so long been subjected to the systematic mis-


representation of Western hegemony, now it is its turn to be both a viewer and a representer, just as it is her duty to show that it is quite capable of declaring its revenge if a more balanced and cosmopolitan dialogue is not substituted for the West’s denigrating discourse of power and Otherness. As a matter of fact, the entire book is informed by this counter-hegemonic spirit, and most of its accounts can be read as a series of confrontations that combine to dramatize the author’s conviction that a more rational alternative discourse is much needed. The book seems to be generally structured in such a way as to reflect the author’s growing disillusionment and awareness that it is his duty and that of all post-colonial subjects/intellectuals to engage in an open criticism and challenge of Western ethnocentrism so that a real decolonization could be attained. In the following pages, I discuss very briefly how the author has waged his criticism and how he has attempted to proclaim implicitly the need for overcoming such ideological binaries as Occident/Orient or Centre/margins. In ‘An Early Flight-of Imagination’, the author attempts from the very beginning to create the impression that he is about to cross the threshold of a universe that seems somehow fantastic and incomparably different from the one he is accustomed to. Though he has already visited the States a dozen of years earlier, he is quite sure that a great civilizational transformation has taken place there; his only curiosity now is to see the nature of this metamorphosis and to assess its inevitable great “impact on the American people in terms of attitudes and lifestyle”(11). So it is important to notice here how the author is already positioning himself as an ‘observer’, who is very interested in discovering and broadening his knowledge about America and its people. More important than this is the fact that he is going to look at America with critical eyes, rather than with any sense of amazement or exotic wonder. For this introductory account is really full of significant details which not only help to set the ironical tone of the whole book but also reveal that the author has already started his criticism of America and its civilization. In fact, his allusions to such diverse matters as Nagasaki, Hiroshima, cowboys, and Depleted-Uranium are clearly meant to condemn, from an early stage, the violence—if not in reality the barbarism—inherent in this civilization. Such other references as Hollywood, Dolly, and unnatural


procreation point out, on the other hand, to the shallowness and artificiality that inform the life and culture of Uncle Sam’s dream-like world. So when the author ends this opening account with his tongue-in-cheek statement: “Patience. America was now only a flight away”(11), the reader must construe its implicit irony as a warning that America will not be spared the pungent criticism and the uncompromising post-colonial gaze of its prospective visitor. In his next account, the author describes his transatlantic flight and arrival at the New York airport metaphorically as a crossing of the cultural boundaries that separate the metropolitan West from its under-developed margins. ‘Marocain à New York’, with its displaced French title, is in effect a splendid evocation of the author’s sense of displacement and cultural alienation as soon as he sets foot on the first American airport. For his eye is quick to discover that he and all the other non-natives are ill-treated and discriminated against. While still queuing up to have his passport checked, he cannot help feeling immensely overwhelmed with unease and estrangement as a result of what could observe: I looked about me and realized that though theoretically I was on American soil, practically I was not. This feeling was engendered by the architecture of the place: the sinuous queue was checked by a line of demarcation that no one had the right to cross without permission, and between this line and the immigration services (…) there was a no man’s land, symbolically significant although only about a couple of yards wide(13-4). In this highly symbolic passage, the author depicts in microcosm the great unbridgeable gap—indeed, the absurd “no man’s land”—that seems to have been created intently to demarcate the borderline between the Centre and its peripheries. As an Oriental subject, who has just begun to tread in the New World, the author seems to be faced from the outset with the invisible catchword inscribed on the thick walls of that magical borderline echoing again and again: “Eat is East, West is West” (according to the memorable opening words of Kipling’s poem ‘The Ballad of East and West’).xix Nonetheless, being intent on


letting no such clichés pass unchallenged, he soon starts his series of defying confrontations. The first duel is with the very airport officer who has been fumbling with his passport in a haughty and snobbishly provoking manner. When the officer asks him: “What do you do in your country?” he replies not with a direct answer but with his own question: “Do you speak Arabic?” I asked. “No.” “French?” “Only English.” “Pity. It’s written there. In both Arabic and French” (16). Here, instead of being put on the defensive, the author is tactfully turning the tables on his apparently racist interlocutor, who is significantly obliged to recognize his ignorance of all languages except his own. The author’s last expression of ‘pity’ is thus an eloquent subversive comment that is aptly directed to destabilize the complacent hegemonic stance of that American. When finally released by that officer to have his “share [of] the American dream”, as he sarcastically puts it (17), much of what he finds is, as a matter of fact, something of a ghastly American nightmare. First comes the prehistoric gift —a rotten, inedible meal, offered to him exclusively as ‘a distinguished dinner’ by a shameless stewardess. Not only does he respond by promptly remonstrating with that Havishamian lady; the incident itself is strategically set against a background that is counter-discursively impregnated with the loud ironic echoes of the pompous, ethnocentric phrase: “This is America.” This idiomatic epithet is implicitly subverted in such a way as to mean: “This is only America,” and not a paradise of freedom, justice and equality; so if you meet with any act of racism, discrimination or violence, you have but to accept it as a matter of course, especially if you are a mere ‘trespasser’ from the peripheries. Immediately after this shocking incident, the author finds himself face to face with the nightmare incarnate, during that ‘midnight duel’, when his whole life is put at stake by the careless mistake of a hotel receptionist. As he trespasses innocently on the room of a ‘cow-boyish’ man, the latter mercilessly aims his weapon at him and cries out menacingly: ‘Hands up, son of a bitch.


Move an inch, and I’ll blow up your brains” (28). The author has but to attempt some narrow escape, for no explanations or apologies could avail in a moral jungle where “the survival [is] for the quickest” (30), and where “weapons [are] sold like a gastronomic commodity”(31). The author’s implicit question here is: Does not barbarism, after all, lurk just beneath the polished surface of the ‘civilized’ West? At any rate, if an armed duel is the last thing an academic visitor to the States can conceive of implicating himself in, now in both ‘A Dogtail Party’ and ‘Camels to the university’ the atmosphere is ripe for engaging in open—but fruitful—contests with his fellow intellectuals. In the former account, the author is disconcerted by the request of having to describe to the Americans present in that party what Moroccan people are like. Sensing that the question is not free of racial and ethnocentric implications, he cannot help thinking that the man who has asked it is a “professor of Natural History”, who “wanted to check my description with Darwin’s theory of the origin of species in case there was a new evolution” (41). His temptation at first is to reply that man simply by saying: “You should go and see them yourself!” but he finally faces him with the more tactful answer: “look at me” (42). This defiant reply is highly strategic indeed as its implicit ideological import is equivalent to asking: “Do you really believe that you are better or more human than me and the rest of your cultural Others?” In evoking Darwin’s evolutionary theory the author is in effect aiming at taking issue not only with that man’s stereotypical attitude but also with the Western textual archives that have nurtured the racial assumption that the Westerners occupy a higher (nay, the highest) stage in the scale of humankind’s evolution from lower species, and hence the apex of human civilization. He wants to show precisely that such concepts as progress, culture and civilization are quite relative issues and that human beings are not to be judged collectively in terms of their racial or geographical origins. That is why when the same questioner notes irrelevantly that people in Tunisia eat dogs in their birthdays, the author comments that even if such an allegation is supposed to be true, then it must be only “a matter of taste” (43). For what on earth makes dog-eaters in any marginal country less human or less civilized than their pig- and frog-eater counterparts in the metropolitan West?


In ‘Camels to the University’ the author likewise launches a vehement challenge at the same ethnocentric attitude he has observed in his audience while discussing a video presentation on Morocco. All of them seem to have expected to find in Morocco no more than an exotic field where the semi-primitive residents are engaged in eccentric practices like riding ‘camels to the university’. What seems striking is that even though that audience has been constituted of academics from different Western countries, they all seem to share the same denigrating view of whatever is culturally Other. This has prompted the author to realize that “the ‘camels to the university’ expression was not restricted to American students; it was a universal expression —reflected in, and confirmed by, the universal questions asked after the video show” (46). What is shocking for the author here is the way groundless cultural prejudices can be so unquestioningly elevated to the status of eternal and universal truths. Still more shocking is the amount of those people’s ignorance and misunderstanding of their Others’ culture and social reality in spite of their own academic background. One of the things he discovers, for instance, is that “Everything they knew about Islam was either exaggerated, distorted, or altogether wrong” (46-7). Yet the author does not lay the blame for such distortion and misrepresentation on the Westerners alone; indeed the subaltern intellectuals have the greatest share of responsibility for the Othering ideology that is hegemonically perpetrated against their nations: Of course it is our duty to see to it that the other should receive the correct image of ourselves and ours. Are we doing this? I asked myself. And if we are, are we doing it the way it ought to be done? (47). Such awareness of his role and responsibility later drives the author to engage in a series of polemical duels with those Westerners in an attempt to correct their biased attitudes and to prompt them to adopt a “cosmopolitan outlook” (47). The result seems to be promising, since he succeeds at least


in challenging what they had hitherto considered universal truths. In the course of subsequent meetings, I could descry on their faces signs of internal debates deliberating the ethics of the stereotypes and prejudices they had so far held as sacred and definite (48). After these climactic assertions, in which there is a powerful message to all post-colonial intellectuals, the author’s narrative strategy alters noticeably from a dramatization of duels and polemical contests to the portrayal of some aspects of the American socio-political life and civilizational achievement. These descriptions attempt significantly to capture both positive and negative features. Thus without generalizing on the American character, he shows in such a piece as ‘A Poe-tic Invitation’ how an American can be as vulgarly snobbish and incredibly uncivil as ‘the quarter-muffin lady’, or else as admirably generous and decently ‘poe-tic’ as El. Hartman. In ‘The Speakers’ Corner’ he also shows that Americans can be so consciously committed as to defend such a noble cause as anti-abortion; yet what about their reaction to more urgent and frequent crimes like those related to drug, sex and racism? And what about the imperialistic crimes perpetrated internationally against America’s cultural Others like the notorious case—mentioned in ‘Home Sweet Home—of the Egyptian plane, whose catastrophic crash is patently attributable to political reasons? In ‘The Road to Missoula’, the author holds in high esteem the practicality of the Americans and the efficiency of their ‘team-work’. In ‘Dreamland’, however, he launches a sweeping attack on the racism, injustice and inequality that still bulk large on the face of the presumed civilized American life. Neither the Red Indians nor the black Afro-Americans have yet been treated fairly according to the ideal advocations of “the declaration of Independence, which solemnly declares that all men are created equal!” (72). The author himself cannot conceal his great frustration and disappointment at finding that he is likewise not fully entitled to share, even for a while, the American Dream given that he is a mere intruder from the West’s margins. But his shock does not seem to be unexpected because he knows beforehand that his Otherness may not let him fare quite freely and enjoyably in Uncle Sam’s dream world. Yet in punning on the word ‘dream’, the underlying suggestion is that the ‘American Dream’ is


nothing more than a big lie and a fantastic mirage which no scrutinizing eyes— especially Tangier’s eyes—can fail to detect in that actual dream-world. From the foregoing discussion then, it becomes obvious that A. Akbib has attempted to kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. On the one hand, he has deliberately aimed at levelling a deep criticism of the American society and civilization. This is clear from the way he systematically pokes fun at the American Dream by revealing both implicitly and explicitly how the American’s idealism is profoundly violated by the spread of violence and the reign of injustice and inequality among all the citizens of the United States. More than this, through his depiction of such people as the ‘quarter-muffin lady’, the professor with the swelling “bags under his light green eyes” (42), and the woman who is so helplessly illiterate that she asks: “whereabout is Morocco in the United States?” (37), the author wants to warn that an American as well can be ‘othered’ and subjected to cultural stereotyping. On the other hand, from this latter warning he strategically intends to show to the Westerners that their former victims are quite capable of striking back and resisting or subverting their hegemonic ideology. But instead of lapsing to such policy of tit for tit, Akbib seems to say, let us rather engage in a more fruitful and alternative discourse —an edifying dialogue whose key resides in the adoption of an enlightened cosmopolitan worldview. This is what the author himself has tried to underscore towards the end of his book when he succinctly states in the ‘Afterworld’ that it is a misconception to suppose that only the West is capable of nourishing stereotypes vis à vis the East, we are capable of that, too. But as it is our duty to stem the tide of such negative attitudes, we can’t afford to deal with the other by adopting what we want him to get rid of (85). This suggests, in the last analysis, that Tangier’s Eyes on America is a warning and an invitation at the same time. Its author seems to spell out his message to the Centre in the following words: the borderline between such constructed binaries as Self/Other and Centre/Margins is not difficult to cross or subvert. So if it must be ‘eye for eye’, we are quite capable of it. Yet, is it not better for all of


us to dispense altogether with all discourses of Orientalism and Occidentalism so that we could create and establish a more rational and edifying inter-cultural dialogue? In conclusion, it may be said that this paper as a whole has strategically placed Bowles and Akbib ‘eye to eye’ so as to probe the extent to which the latter author has opted for a post-colonial politics of ‘eye for eye’ vis-à-vis the cultural constructions of Bowles and his likes. In the first section, the argument has been mostly concerned with the delineation of how Bowles’ travel accounts are actually enmeshed in the ideological labyrinth and the discursive structures of Orientalism. The fact that these accounts generally reproduce the Western hegemonic assumptions about the cultural marginality and the radical Otherness of the Orient has logically led to the verdict that Bowles can be justifiably stigmatized as Orientalist. By contrast, the second section has examined the discourse of Akbib’s travel book in such a way as to highlight its underlying counter-Orientalist meanings and strategies. At first sight, one may note that the counter-hegemonic reverberations of this discourse are so strong and vehement that the author could easily be taken for an ‘Occidentalist’. Indeed, he himself has made use, both implicitly and explicitly, of a number of ideological binary oppositions (like self/other, East/West, and periphery/center) in a manner that has enabled him subversively to counteract the hegemonic discourse of Orientalism with what might be justifiably termed Occidentalism. Yet when one reads closely between the lines, one soon realizes that Akbib has not only ‘used’ these discursive categories but he has also ‘abused’ xx them so that he could drive home his message about the urgent need for a more rational and enlightened discourse. His ‘tit for tat’ strategy is therefore only a means to a mutually profitable end: the creation of a cosmopolitan inter-cultural dialogue which is fit to make us all transcend the ethnocentric ideology inherent in such binary categories as Occident/Orient, West/Rest, or Centre/ peripheries.






Paul Bowles, Their Heads Are Green (London: Sphere Books Ltd, 1990); and Abdellatif Akbib, Tangier’s Eyes On America ( Imp. ADO Maroc s.a.r.l, 2001). The references to these source books are indicated by the direct inclusion of their respective page-numbers at the end of the quotations. ii While Akbib is a native of Tangier, Bowles chose this city as his exilic ‘home’, where he lived for more than fifty-two years. iii It is significant to mention here that Akbib found it impossible to write creatively while he was in America. “I was not able to write a word,” he confessed, because “ I was away from my source of inspiration.” ‘ Home Sweet Home’, 78-9. iv Paul Bowles, ‘ The Eye’, Stories (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1988), 275. v ‘Imperial Eyes’ is the main title of Mary Louise Pratt’s famous book: Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation ( London: Routledge, 1992). David Spurr also speaks of the imperial “ ideology of the gaze” and of “the penetrating inspection of the Western eye” in The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration ( Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1993), see pages 15 and 21 respectively. vi D. Spurr, The Rhetoric of Empire, 27. vii P. Bowles, ‘The Eye,’ 276. viii Edward Said has noted, in this connection, that the Orientalists and Africanists usually write “with an exclusively Western audience in mind,” Culture and Imperialism ( New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996),66. ix Heather Henderson, ‘ The Travel Writer and the Text: “My Giant Goes With Me Wherever I go”,’ New Orleans Review, 31. x H. Henderson, 30-1. xi Quoted in ‘Nineteenth Century Tangier: Its American Visitors: Who They Were, Why They Came, What They Wrote,’ Priscilla H. Roberts, Tanger 1800-1956: Contribution à l’histoire récente du Maroc ( Rabat: Les Editions Arabo-Africaines, 1991), 138. xii P. Bowles, Without Stopping: An Autobiography ( New York: The Eco Press, 1985), 128. xiii See Edward Said’s Orientalism, 2-3. xiv Bowles expresses the same idea fictionally in his novel The Spider’s House (London: Sphere Books Ltd,1955) through his protagonist John Stenham, who is obsessed- on the eve of Morocco’ independence– with the fear that if Fez, “the great medieval city,” falls in the hands of the nationalists,“it would cease for all time being what it was.(...). When this city fell, the past would be finished. The thousand-year gap would be bridged in a split second...”(167). Before this impending change, Stenham used to give the French colonizers credit since “ they’ve at least managed to preserve Fez intact” (168). xv See David Ward, Chronicles of Darkness (London: Routledge, 1989), 1. xvi One has to be alert to the misleading ambivalence of Bowles discourse and ideological position. Some might even argue that he is not an Orientalist but rather an antiOrientalist since he even repudiated his Western civilization and fell in love with Morocco, where he became a sort of ‘insider’. He himself once stated that “Each day lived through on this side of the Atlantic was one more day spent outside prison. I was aware of the paranoia in my attitude and that each succeeding month of absence from the United States I was augmenting it,” (Without Stopping: An Autobiography, 165). Yet when asked in a 1990 interview—after more than forty years of residence in Morocco—whether he still felt to be an American, he did not hesitate to confirm: “I am an American,”( See Soledad Alameda, ‘Paul Bowles: Touched by Magic,” Conversations With Paul Bowles, ed. Gena Dagel Caponi (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993), 218). Also when asked about the possibility of his getting integrated in the Moroccan society, he confesses in a way that well exposes his Orientalist vision: “there is no such thing as going backwards, really. You can’t identify with a culture that is several centuries behind what you know (...). If a Westerner encounters an archaic culture with the idea of learning from it, I think he can succeed. He wants to absorb the alien for his own benefit. But to lose oneself in it is not a normal desire. A romantic desire, yes, but actually to try and do it is disastrous,” (See Michael Rogers, ‘Conversations in Morocco: The Rolling Stone

Interview’, Conversations With Paul Bowles, 77). xvii In his introduction to Akbib’s Tangier’s Eyes On America, Mohamed Laàmiri wrote that: “this is not a travel account in the classical sense of the term. [ These] pieces are a collection of impressions and recollections of the author’s three-month visit to America in 1999. The very structure and organization of the pieces remind one of collections of short stories” (1-2). xviii P. Bowles, The Sheltering Sky (London: Flamingo, 1949), 13. xix R. Kipling, ‘The Ballad of East and West’ A Choice of Kipling’s Verse, 111. See also E.M. Forster’s dramatization of the same idea in A Passage To India (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1952), 322. xx I have borrowed here the terms of Linda Hutcheon, who notes that “postmodern culture uses and abuses the conventions of discourse. It knows it cannot escape implication in the economic(...) and ideological(...) dominants of its time. There is no outside. All it can do is question from within. It can only problematize what Barthes has called the ‘given’ or ‘what goes without saying’ in our culture.” A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction ( London: Routledge, 1988), XIII. Regardless of any similarity that may exist between the ‘poetics’ as well as the politics of postmodernism and post-colonialism, it might be said that this quotation is highly suggestive of the problematics which most post-colonial writers are faced with: like the question of writing in a foreign (colonial) language and the use of narrative tools and discursive structures that originally belong to the Western culture. But since there seems to be “no outside” from which they can produce their private discourses, these authors can well “use” and “abuse” the representational conventions of the West to “problematize” the latter’s cultural assumptions and “question from within” those authority and hegemonic ideology by means of which it has traditionally managed to control and denigrate its marginalized cultural Others. (It may be worth adding, in this connection, that J.M. Coetzee’s novel: Foe (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986) provides a good illustration of a text that consciously deploys postmodernist techniques to articulate post-colonial concerns – mainly that of writing back to the metropolitan Centre).

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