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??? COHPAnATIST VISCOUS CIRCLES: ANTECEDENT NARRATIVE STRUCTURES IN BEN JELLOUN'S L'ENFANT DE SABLE Joel Lee Coleman Tahar Ben JeUoun's companion novels L'enfant de sable (The Sand Child, 1985) and La nuit sacrée (The Sacred Night, 1987) have at times been sharply criticized because of what may be termed an orientaüst or exoticist approach to Ufe in the Maghreb. Within such readings of the novels, Western social and/or literary notions of the Islamic world supersede non-Western or postcolonial perceptions of the same subject. However, T7ie Sand Child includes a specific narrative structure which disrupts readings based on such binary oppositions; at work is a more complex mechanism, a narrative circle of amalgamation, incorporation, rupture, and regeneration. The narrative circle is one ofthe key elements in The Sand Child (ofwhich The Sacred Night, the more widely known of the two novels, is a revision and continuation), and it is the vehicle through which Ben JeUoun communicates his story. Although he incorporates both Western and non-Western antecedent structures or models of the narrative circle in his text, Ben JeUoun does not subjugate one to the other; he incorporates the integrated histories and connotations ofthose prior literary and social structures into a whole which raises several significant points. The novel in its final form chaUenges the viscosity, or the resistance to forces of fluidity, expUcit in prior structures found both in Islamic canonical or social contexts and in the social and literary contexts of the Renaissance in the West. In so constructing his text, Ben JeUoun demonstrates the impUcitly destabiUzing thrust of aU narrative circles while extending this effect to every narrative stage in his novel. Narrative circles, more than binary dialogic structures, are Uberating, playful, and dispersive. Moreover, Ben Jelloun's text affords a second look at the antecedent narrative structures themselves; this second look, as it emphasizes a specific narrative form, raises doubts about the larger assumed and accepted issues ofdivision between Western and non-Western systems, the same dichotomy with which some critics have confronted Ben JeUoun. Borges, in "The Fearful Sphere of Pascal," traced the Uneage of Pascal 's definition of Nature: "a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere." Borges undermined center as a static concept, but he also declared that "universal history is the history ofthe different intonations given a handful ofmetaphors" (Labyrinths 192). He addressed the diachronic complexity of Uterary structures and patterns, and he hoped to show the merit in tracing such histories. In the spirit of Borges's inquiry, I have chosen the narrative circle as a metaphorical form. We will look at three structural antecedents to the narrative form Vol 23 (1999): 21 ANTECEDENT NARRATIVE STRUCTURES ofL'Enfant de sable—the recitative form ofthe Qur'an, the social/Uterary circles of medieval Islam, and the brigata of Boccaccio's Decameron. The brigata is a social-spatial circle and narrative device within the boundaries of which a narrator-sovereign oversees the displacement and replacement of successive narrators. Boccaccio's device echoes a narrative structure that can be found in classical Arab humanism, which in turn alters the form associated with the recitation ofthe Qur'an, itself a form substantiaUy different from earUer forms, such as one finds in The Thousand and One Nights or Bhatta's The Ocean ofStory. AU of these narrative structures are subsumed in the L'enfant de sable, whose narrative circle is also based on a Maghrébin social structure. From Sheherazad's first night to Ben JeUoun's predecessor of The Sacred Night, these social, literary, and narrative circles shift and transform to accomodate and reflect changing notions of textual integrity. The sacred text's conceptuaUy perfect circle transforms into disrupted eUipses or amoeboidal forms. The narrative circle, a revision of simpler linear structures, incorporates a central narrator, his or her radiating discourse, and the plural, peripheral audience members who consume and often disseminate or embelUsh various forms of discourse. Narrative circles differ from the simple binary narrative deUneations between speaker and auditor that one encounters in Shiva's tales to Parvati in The Ocean of Story or Sheherazad's nightly tales to Shahryar.1 In contrast to such...


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