Inhabiting the exotic: Paul Bowles and Morocco

Benlemlih, Bouchra (2009) Inhabiting the exotic: Paul Bowles and Morocco. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Abstract

The American writer Paul Bowles lived in Morocco from 1947 until his death in 1999, apart from visits to North Africa, Europe, Ceylon, India and the United States during this period. Bowles’ expatriation and subsequent itineraries are quite well known, but this thesis explores his interest in – indeed, preoccupation with – mediations and a state of being ‘in-between’ in a selection of his texts: the translations, his autobiography and his fiction.

Only a few commentators on Bowles’ work have noted a meta-fictional dimension in his texts, possibly because the facts of his life are so intriguing and even startling. Though not explicitly meta-fictional, in the manner of somewhat later writers, Bowles does not tell us directly how he understands the various in-betweens that may be identified in his work, and their relationship to the individual and social crises about which he writes. His work unravels the effects of crises as not directly redeemable but as mediated and over-determined in complex and subtle forms. There are no explicit postmodern textual strategies; rather, Bowles draws on the basic resources of fiction to locate, temporally and spatially, the in-between: plot, character, description and background are intertwined in order, at once, to give a work its unity and to reveal, sometimes quite incidentally, a supplementary quality that threatens to undermine that unity. Bowles’ experimentation with different genres and forms may be understood as part of this problematic, even as a form of textual travelling that leaves no single genre or form as a summation of his achievement.

Using close, even – at times – deconstructive readings of a selection of texts across different genres, the thesis supplements the dominant approach to Paul Bowles’ relationship with Morocco, namely a life-and-work approach. It develops what might be called a postcolonial approach to Bowles, but, again, through close reading and an in situ use of theory that is appropriate to the texts in question, rather than through a heavy-handed theoretical approach. For instance, liminality as an encounter with the ambivalent process of hybridity is useful across Bowles’ work. Further, narrative ambivalence is helpful in the chapter on the translations, while Derrida’s exploration of a general versus a restricted economy informs my discussion of Let it Come Down. Bowles is, of course, vulnerable to a postcolonial critique that focuses on the exotic, and I share some of these concerns, as will be apparent in the following chapters. Chapter 2, for instance, deals with translation and argues that Bowles’ role moves between simple translator and facilitator to initiator and creator of the text in complex and often creative ways, especially in relation to Larbi Layachi and Mohamed Mrabet’s stories. In Chapter 3, the fictional treatment of the transitional stages in Bowles’ journey are analysed to show how Bowles enacts liminality as a non-unitary mode of understanding. The thesis concludes by arguing that there is always a pattern in Morocco. It suggests that Bowles is more subtle and more ambivalent than some of the simple oppositions might suggest. This subtlety is conveyed in the first part of my title, ‘Inhabiting the exotic’.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Supervisors:Tallack, D.G.
Murray, D.J.
Faculties/Schools:UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of American and Canadian Studies
ID Code:900
Deposited By:Dr Bouchra Benlemlih
Deposited On:05 Feb 2010 11:14
Last Modified:05 Feb 2010 11:14

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