BARZAKH Self-reading sheet
Moussa Ould Ebnou
I give this approach to my novel as a reader. Writing dictated itself without justification. As for reading, it is always a search for justifications for writing. Regardless of the objective and subjective causes and the assumed factors, whether psychological, existential or socio-historical factors, it appears through reading Barzakh that the novel is linked to a mythical model that greatly exceeds the writer himself, and the socio-historical moment. In Barzakh, the meaning of the text can be investigated in the light of traditional texts and major legends. It was from them that I was inspired by the manifestations that inspired me to create a world that contradicts the vulgar reality, but rather goes beyond that to reject the weight of this reality that is led by inferiority.
- A polyphonic work
I write science fiction because I'm not happy with this world. As Philip Dick said, "If you are not happy with this world, seek another world." I would say quoting Heinlein and Asimov that science fiction is “speculative fiction”, a “branch of literature concerned with human responses to advances in science and technology”. My fictional writing is also part of a larger philosophical project which aims to build a post-metaphysical philosophy. The completion of metaphysics, with its realization in the system of global knowledge in the age of technology, changed the nature of philosophy, whose task became: to develop a new thought that deals with the world of technology, a "metatechnics" which deals with the principles and characteristics of technological beings. This metatechnics aims to know the technical being, unlike the old metaphysics which was interested in the first principles of the physical being. The aim of metatechnics is to know the essence of the technical world and to determine the nature of technical beings. It also studies issues of technical knowledge and examines issues of truth and freedom in the technical world.
I. influence of Tradition
My first novel, The New Eve, for example, is an interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve, who came out of his rib and represents his fate, with the feminization of the human species brought about by the technology society and the destruction of the natural foundations of the relations of the two sexes of reproduction and interdependence, and by transforming men into women, and women into men, and cloning Humans. This fate led the hero (Adam), at the end of the novel, to change his gender to catch up with his beloved, as he decided to turn into a woman, becoming Eva.
Barzakh, in its first and second parts, recalls periods of the past; Because its hero Gara, who traveled in the time, recalls in the instant of his agony the memory of the deep past, starting from the eleventh century in which he was born, and passing through the twentieth century, which he faced fleeing towards the future, thanks to the Green One who guards the sea of time and who transports him from the past to the future to show him what humankind will become. I inserted the ancient tradition into the science fiction novel, through Greek philosophy and tragedy and through the Mauritanian folk music tradition.
A symphonic novel
Barzakh is structured like a concert of Moorish lute music. The Moorish music concert consists of three ways, the black way, the white way and the speckled way, which became in the novel Milky Way, because, according to Moorish musical mythology, this way was invented by a ghoul, a non-human, and because this third part of the novel introduces extraterrestrial characters and takes place when part of humanity has left Earth for other planets. Each part of the novel is made up of a prelude and 5 chapters whose themes dialogue with the 5 modes and the prelude which make up each of the voices of the lute. This intertextuality between the parts and chapters of the novel and the ways of the lute, came to highlight the relationship of the topics of narration in each part with those of the modes and the preludes which make up the ways of the lute, and the common nature of the narrative time and the musical time, because literature and music simulate the same time, that of myth. BARZAKH: The Land of In-Between is therefore a symphonic novel in the proper sense.
Gara, an oedipal character
There is an interrelationship between BARZAKH and King Oedipus, the tragedy by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles, not in the Freudian sense, but in the Sophocles sense. When Sophocles wrote King Oedipus, he wrote the tragedies of human insight, according to the distinguished reading provided by Karl Reinhart. The road separating the beginning of the glory of Oedipus King of Thebes to its horrific end, is a struggle between appearance (latency) and reality (truth), as he discovers that he has unwittingly killed his own father, Laius, and married his own mother, Jocasta. The main substance of the drama is the exploration of truth; it is a voyage through illusions and an ultimate realization of the truth.
The theme of illusion and truth or appearance and reality is thus found to play a vital role in King Oedipus. Oedipus advances towards the manifestation of the truth, and in this way - as Heidegger says - "He advances step by step to place himself in the reality, and for the truth to appear before him, that he can only bear to look with his eyes closed, to save himself from the deceptive appearance. Thus, the Tibetan hero gouged out his eyes to see the truth. By losing his sight, Oedipus was able to look Insight, to reveal the truth before him". Gara, the hero of BARZAKH, symbolizes several aspects of the Oedipus Myth: he is told by the seer in Awdaghost that his descendant will kill him, as the oracle of Thebes informed Laius that he would be killed by his own son. But Tangalla, the descendant of Gara- the murderer of his ancestor who married his mother ancestor- did not gouge out his eyes, as the hero of the Greek tragedy did, because he is the technical Oedipus, immersed in the appearance, immersed in sin! My other novel, The New Eve, also takes inspiration from another world tradition text, Plato's Banquet Myth, and employs it in science fiction to describe a future society that was inflicted with the same divine punishment that had previously been inflicted on the Androgyne sex, a society where mixing has been prohibited and where men and women have been separated into two distinct communities.
A narrative dilemma
The Qur’anic stories help me solving the narrative dilemma of an instant in which Gara revisits his entire life that spanned ten centuries: It has been stated in the Holy Qur’an, in Surah Qaf, that this instant exists, and it is the moment of the throes of death:
﴿ وَجَآءَتۡ سَكۡرَةُ ٱلۡمَوۡتِ بِٱلۡحَقِّۖ ذَٰلِكَ مَا كُنتَ مِنۡهُ تَحِيدُ (19) وَنُفِخَ فِي ٱلصُّورِۚ ذَٰلِكَ يَوۡمُ ٱلۡوَعِيدِ (20) وَجَآءَتۡ كُلُّ نَفۡسٖ مَّعَهَا سَآئِقٞ وَشَهِيدٞج (21) لَّقَدۡ كُنتَ فِي غَفۡلَةٖ مِّنۡ هَٰذَا فَكَشَفۡنَا عَنكَ غِطَآءَكَ فَبَصَرُكَ ٱلۡيَوۡمَ حَدِيدٞ (22) وَقَالَ قَرِينُهُۥ هَٰذَا مَا لَدَيَّ عَتِيدٌ. (23)﴾
The moment of agony came, and all the truth was revealed. (19) And the Trumpet will be blown. (21) This is the Day ˹you were˺ warned of. (20) Each soul will come forth with an angel to drive it and another to testify. (21) You were totally heedless of this. Now we have lifted this veil of yours, so Today your sight is sharp! (22) Here are the records ready. (23)
When the death throes, time stretches to turn around, so the period is restored no matter how long it takes, the beginning is recalled, and the truth unfolds. This is how the story came to narrate this moment of truth, the moment of death, in which the past life of the dying is revealed. At this moment, the hero narrates, with insight, events he lived through in a time that spanned ten centuries, events that he was heedless of, and they were revealed to him, and he became a witness to them, knowing everything about them and judging them with insight:
« ... Throughout my existence, I have always tried in vain to connect my life to my dreams, my conscious to my unconscious, and my consciousness to other consciousnesses, so that I could judge others, myself, and time with cool composure. But I remained isolated, a simple monad-- adjusted, protected, and absolutely cut off from everything else. And suddenly now, at the moment of my death, all these connections automatically formed with no effort on my part. In the throes of death, my dream and my life descended before me into the arena to be given an ultimate explanation, lining up in one very straight line, before sinking into the void. The entire world was piled up in a sort of little circular and transparent porthole, located just in front of me, where all enigmas and all secrets had come to be resolved and became self-evident. The past, the present, and the future had merged together into a single instant. Dying had shed its unremitting light into every corner of my life, laying bare everything I had touched. I suddenly discovered the hidden meaning of situations, the significance of each silence, every gesture and spoken word. Nothing about any being or thing escapes me now, not even their intentions. My entire life-- so close, so inaccessible, and so inordinately gratuitous-- was rewound and then replayed before me, a washed-up actor, an immobile spectator this time, tormented by the profound regret of having participated in this grotesque comedy...» (BARZAKH: The Land of In-Between, pp 10-11).
The semantics of the names
When I write, I translate, I try to spread a new reality in language and terminology that transcends the rules of reception and acceptance, to produce a text that suggests - through the honor of meaning - new meanings of places, times, people, and terms, and I am a translator always interpreting the great mysteries of life. This translation produces new meanings that are not found in any list of terms or in any language and leads to musical ecstasy and refers to metaphysics. The deviation of these meanings is evident when creativity crosses the borders of languages. Thus, by the name of one of the characters of BARZAKH, Ghostbuster, which is designed to sound like Awdaghost, I go beyond languages to get to the heart of the meaning of this character's function in the novel. The word Ghostbuster became the name of the head of the archaeological expedition that searches for Awdaghost, the lost caravan city, which was buried by the sand, and no one knows where it is. Three words were formed, according to their sound Ghost (“ghost” in English) and “Buster” (“seeker”) and “Aoudaghost” (the name of the caravan station lost in the desert)—so that “Gostbuster” became the name of the archaeologist in the novel, whose name means in English ghost seeker...
The semantics of the names are related to the narrations in my novels. The names of the characters are not arbitrary, but rather have connotations, and carry with them the themes of storytelling, and thus the dialectic between the names and the narration appears. Some of the names of the characters may represent a starting point for the formation of the text, and sometimes the names of the characters impose themselves from the path of the narration. The name Solima in BARZAKH is formed from the initial letters of three French words: Soleil (the Sun), Libya (the name of the 32nd point of the Earth map of Mars) and Mars (Mars), because when she was preparing for her trip to Earth, she trained at the "Center for Teaching Languages and Human Civilizations" Located in the solar system, in Libya on Mars...
In my novel, The New Eve, the text was formed from the name of Adam, which symbolizes the perfect human being, the first man from whose rib the woman came out and because of her he fell into sin, violated the divine covenant, and was expelled from Paradise. The story of Adam foretells the misfortunes of mankind in the future age - at a time when men will be forced to leave the Earth, which has become uninhabitable - around which the text revolves. The name Manikè, the heroine of The New Eve, is synonymous with the word manikè, which in Greek means “the art of predicting the future” and means in the Japanese language the woman who knew love. This heroine symbolizes the person of the woman who controls the fate of the man. She represented Adam's destiny in the novel, who turned into a woman in order to live his love with her. Androgyne in The New Eve is a character who symbolizes, as his name suggests, the mixing of roles and the erasure of gender differences, which has exacerbated in modern societies. In The New Eve there is also the character Riman, whose name suggests Satanism and represents evil people in modern societies.
The « bushy-bearded, mighty-looking man » in the two novels, The New Eve and BARZAKH, is Socrates, as described by Plato in his Praise of Socrates. The presence of Satan and Socrates without any change in their names or in the features of their personalities, from one text to another, is due to the fact that the events that take place in the two novels are an embodiment of the eternal conflict between Good and Evil, from the religious-philosophical perspective that Socrates embodied in part three of Barzakh, where he appeared with his beard trimmed and on his head the hood of the fundamentalists, and spokes their preaching. There is another justification for the appearance of Socrates in Barzakh, which is that some of the consequences of my reading of the Banquet myth in The New Eve are also in BARZAKH: If the divine punishment inflicted on the androgenic resulted in the emergence of the sexes, male and female, this was accompanied by a separation of every human’s feeling into the duality of consciousness and subconsciousness, which is no less dangerous than the separation of the integrated androgynous human, with his femininity and masculinity, which made the male and female, as stated in the Banquet Myth. This duality between consciousness and unconscious forms a central theme in Barzakh.
- My literary bilingualism
Barzakh was first written in French. For me, as for many foreign language writers, bilingualism is a legacy imposed by colonization. My use of French as a language of writing is explained by the fact that, in my country, I was educated in French school. At first, I wrote only in French, but after the publication of this novel, I opted for literary bilingualism, by self-translating into Arabic my books already published in French. Reading the two versions, French and Arabic, one wonders in which first language they were written, and one no longer knows which version to consider as the central part of the pair. In fact, we find ourselves before a triptych whose central section is the initial unwritten version (isn't every text the translation of an ideal text existing only in the mind of its creator, who then operates the "put it into words" in one or more languages?) and the side panels, the French version, and the self-translated Arabic version. The self-translated version gives me the opportunity to find my mother tongue. Despite the complex work of the translation, I become more spontaneous in Arabic. The Arabic version has the supreme degree of recovery of authenticity. I translate myself in order to tame my linguistic duality and to coincide with myself. Self-translation, or parallel creation, can then appear as a way of transcending the split, of reconciling the two halves of the internally torn being, by making the two languages coexist harmoniously.
In my practice, literary bilingualism or bilingual writing is writing in the first language of writing, French, second foreign language, and self-translation into Arabic, mother tongue, second language of writing and first foreign language, according the Derridian theory to which the mother tongue is the first of the foreign languages that one learns. Derrida indeed believes that monolingualism is an impossibility. According to him, there is a kind of pre-language in which individuals draw and from which they translate to express their thoughts. Therefore, translation would be inherent in the speech act, always a primary operation rather than, as commonly accepted, a secondary one. Our mother tongue would therefore be in a way also our first foreign language. Derrida thus affirms that one never possesses the language that one speaks, that one is in fact always foreign to it.
I have often wondered why I write in French and then translate myself into Arabic. I would say following Beckett that "my own language appears to me like a veil that must be torn in two to reach the things (or the nothingness) which are hidden behind". By writing first in French, I seek to distance myself from what is familiar to me by distancing myself from my language. French, the foreign language, is a necessary tool to get rid of the rhetoric of the Arabic language and escape the conventions, automatisms and expressions of the mother tongue.
SF as speculative fiction is philosophical.
I am a professor of philosophy and I write science fiction like a philosopher who reasons by myth or like a mathematician who reasons by the absurd! SF as speculative fiction is philosophical. Like Platonic myths, those of science fiction can save us, if we believe them. The myths of SF reveal what was hidden from us from the start. My fictions are rooted in man's anxieties in the face of his techno-scientific present, but also in his hopes and his wonder. Today, the borders between SF and mainstream are no longer very precise, especially for the novel. When, in her book Arabic fiction, Salma Khadra Jayyusi called my novel Madinetou al-riah, the Arabic version of Barzakh, "the only Arabic novel on technique", it reminded me of Martin Heidegger, whose criticism of the technological society had a profound effect on me. I will also quote Plato, because my first novel - L'AMOUR IMPOSSIBLE, presented by the publisher as an African science fiction novel, is a "sciencefictional" exegesis of the myth of Banquet, the full text of which is in the novel.
SF Africa, a Copernican revolution
Science fiction can contribute to the development of African thought by transforming its methods and ideas. It can help Africans transform their mentalities to support changes and harmonize their development models. Science fiction can produce a true Copernican revolution in African thought. It can produce a change of perspective in that thought. In Africa, we tend to look to the past to inform our present. Science fiction can help Africans look to the future to understand their present. The stakes of the future being already in the present, science fiction can help produce a backward reflection that illuminates the present through the future. Another world is being built and science fiction can help Africans understand and inhabit it.