On Relationship Between The Self And The Other In El Tayyib Salih’s Writings

On Relationship Between The Self And The Other In El Tayyib Salih’s Writings


BUKHAREST, ROMANIA (Sudanow) - Following is a presentation by Ambassador Dr. Khalid Mohamed Farah at the Bucharest International Book Fair, Bookfest 2018: Window to the Arab World, Bucharest, Romania, 31st, May, 2018.

Khalid Farah


Dear Moderator, Excellency Ambassador Abdulhafeez, 

Dear Colleagues, Arab Ambassadors accredited in Romania, 

Honorable guests,

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, 

 Due to time constraint, I will absolutely have to do without the introductory remarks, the previous literature on the subject matter and the other theoretical and conceptual issues pertaining to the question of the relationship between the self and the other in the world literature in general, and I will therefore, rather immediately focus on the status of El Tayeb Salih in dealing with this specific issue. 

However, as far as El Tayib Salih is concerned, I would like to emphasize right from the outset, that the relationship between the self and the other as a literary theme, appears with remarkable vigour, lucidity and insight in almost all the works of this famous Sudanese, Arab and African author.  

In actual fact, many a critics believe that Al Tayyib Salih`s Mawssim al-Hijra ila al-Shimal or “Season of Migration to the North“ is by far, the most typical example of those novels which have sought to explore the issue of the shock or the clash caused by the encounter of two different cultures with remarkable depth, subtlety and insight. 

Thus, when the American edition of this novel was published in 2009 in New York by New York Review Books Classic, the New York Times had the following to stress on that occasion and I quote:  

“Season of Migration to the North, is a brilliant miniature of the plight of Arabs and Africans who find themselves no longer sustained by their past and not incorporated into viable future. Swift and astonishing in its prose, this novel is more instructive than any number of academic books.” End of quotation. 

In actual fact, El Tayib Salih had indeed, sought so artistically and symbolically to explore the issue of the dialectical relationship between the self and the other in this particular novel through two tragic incidents represented firstly, by the scene of the protagonist Mustafa Saeed, that young Sudanese who travels to Britain for study, in the 1920s, kills his English wife Jean Morris and gets imprisoned in London for 7 years, and secondly once again, when his own widow, the Sudanese villager, Hossna Bint Mahmoud murders her old second husband Wad Al-Rayys and then kills herself instantly. 

Moreover, it is to be pointed out that, the multifaceted and somewhat confusing identity of Mustafa Saeed as a Sudanese who represents a blend of African, Arab and Islamic components, all of which might well be rather contemptible, detestable and hence inferior in the eyes of the English woman Jean Morris and the culture she represents, has made the protagonist`s duel with the other European, specially complex and multi-dimensional. 

As a matter of fact, Al-Tayeb Saleh intensively handled the dialectical relationship between the self and the other not only in 'Season of Migration to the North' but also in all his other works. 

Tayeb Salih dealt in fact with the dialectical relationship between the selfness and the otherness at several different levels, manifestations and perspectives. Thus, we have remarked that those works have exposed a number of juxtaposing dualities, and sometimes contrasting groups with different identities, such as: females vs males, villagers vs town dwellers, rulers vs ruled, rich vs poor, mysticism vs religious scholarship (fiqh) or official Islamic clergy, and tradition vs modernity etc. 

Thus, in his novel: ‘The wedding of Zain' he presents to us the community of Wad Hamid Village with all its various ethnic and social entities, detailing the distinctive features of each, thus comprising: the indigenous village inhabitants, the nomad Arabs or Bedouins scattered on the line of the River Nile, a group of freed slaves, the female slaves of the oasis, and the gypsies. We have seen all of them in fact, joyfully singing, dancing, drinking local wine and praising the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the wedding of Zein.  They have done all of that at that wedding, where all barriers vanished, and all identities melted in a marvelous scene which suggests a very broad, tolerant and humane view on the part of the author. That view represents indeed, the morale of this novel that the famous Arabic critic Ali Al-Ray described as a long life shrill (zoughrouda) or ululation of joy.  

The approach adopted by Al-Tayeb Saleh in his works for perceiving identity, tells that he was remarkably subtle, broad minded and flexible towards this concept. In a sense, he believed and we do believe with him as well, that identity is not, and should not be a rigid object nor will it remain unchangeable with all its characteristics, attributes and limitations for ever. Indeed, identity is usually an ever changing and blending variable unconsciously at some times, and consciously at some other times, even with those whom we consider to be the others or even the enemies of our identity. 

Thus, in spite of Mustafa Sa'eed's apparent hostility towards the English, we nevertheless notice that while he lives in the heart of the Sudanese countryside, he does not forget to set his private room to their style. For he keeps a proper English fireplace in a land that knows an extremely hot weather almost throughout the year. 

Also, the narrator in 'Season of Migration to the North' presents a realistic, objective and humane image of the European community in general and the British community in particular. This is evident when he says for instance: "The Europeans were, with minor differences…. Are just like us… are born and die, and in the journey from the cradle to the grave they dream dreams some of which come true and some of which are frustrated … they fear the unknown, search for love and seek contentment in wife and child… some are strong and some are weak… some have been given more than they deserve of life, while others have been deprived by it…etc". These words speak of an objective view of the other with no excess or negligence. It is that view whereby the other is a human being, like all other human beings with all the impulses of good and evil, or if you would like; he is just like the self, neither a devil nor an angel. 

Al-Tayeb Saleh continues to contrast the self and the other in a remarkably deep and thorough way when he deals with the manifestations of the existential anxiety and the stress that strike a person when the other becomes a part and parcel of his own self. 

That is exactly what happens to the personality of Mustafa Saeed and set clear by his tragic and mysterious death that was portrayed in a meaningful symbolic scene where the Nile carries his dead body towards the North, the North that he kept yearning for, although it was the source of his tragedy and existential agony. 

Moreover, Al-Tayeb Saleh does not subjectively relate oppression, tyranny and injustice against political adversaries to a specific political or sectarian group. For him, such a bad behavior could be adopted by any other rulers, simply because they are human beings, who may equally have their own weaknesses and defects. An evidence of this is what is illustrated in 'Bandar Shah” novel, where the educated narrator tells his friends in the village that a transformation has taken place in the authority in Khartoum, that the leaders of the current government at that time are particularly religious, that the Prime Minister and the members of his council congregationally perform dawn prayer in the mosque every day, and that any employee who does not perform his prayer will be fired. 

The narrator goes on to state that maybe one day another government will take over, and there will be none among its leaders who performs prayers, and whoever would be caught praying, will be sent to retirement as the lightest punishment for such a crime. 

Furthermore, the Christian other, in 'Season of Migration to the North' whose author is a Muslim, who mostly depicts a Muslim community, does not appear in a negative image at all. Indeed, some scenes show a clearly positive and sympathetic image of the Christian other. For instance, the author portrays the priest with whom Mustafa Saeed travels in the same train coach from Aswan to Cairo, and how gently he spoke to him and praised his proficiency in English. When the priest knew that Mustafa Saeed was only 15 years old and that he was travelling alone from Sudan to Egypt, he said to him in apparent affection and eloquent wisdom: "All of us, my son, are in the last shall resort to traveling alone!". The author also describes Isabella Seymour, one of the many English ladies with whom Mustafa Saeed had affairs in 'Season of migration to the North' as listening to his lies and honeyed words, with "a Christian sympathy in her eyes…etc".   

To conclude, I would like to say that the intellectual bearings and contents of the novels and stories of Al-Tayib Salih, whether being put on the mouths of his characters and the narrator, or being developed by the narratives and dialogues, most of these contents and bearings, suggest a high degree of tolerance, objectiveness, fairness, promotion of the common human merits and qualities, while cherishing and reflecting the values of truth, goodness and beauty from a remarkably human perspective. 

I thank you for your attention.


*** Dr. Khalid, a seasoned diplomat and a man of art, is a graduate of the University of Khartoum and a PHD holder in literature, Paris, France. He is one of the finest breed of artists who focused on the Sudanese culture, the country’s linguistic diversity and rich colloquial Arabic and how it is strongly and meticulously related to archaic Arabic language. He is a talented translator and a poet of rare albeit refined production. Is suffices to say that Arabic language authority professor Abdul Tayeb had selected one of his poems to recited during the mourning of the late Sudanese poet, Dr Mohamed Abdul Hai. He writes with love compassion and spirit of joviality and humor.




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