A Fool in the Forest

A fool, a fool! I met a fool i' the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool
Who laid him down and bask'd him in the sun,
And rail'd on Lady Fortune in good terms,
In good set terms and yet a motley fool.

As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7

L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Les Fleurs du Mal, “Correspondances”

Thursday, July 03, 2003
Nothing Changes -- A Timely Passage from Paul Bowles' The Spider's House

I have recently finished reading the new Library of America edition of the novels of Paul Bowles. I had not intended at the outset of this blog to plunge into commentary on the Middle East, but it is hard to ignore this passage from the conclusion of Chapter 12 of Bowles' 1955 novel The Spider's House. The book is set during the uprising against the French in 1954 Morocco, and the passage describes the thoughts of Amar, the young Arab protagonist:

He felt the imperative and desperate need for action, but there was no action which could possibly lead to victory, because this was a time of defeat. Then the important thing was to see that you did not go down to defeat alone -- the Jews and the Nazarenes [Christians] must go, too. The circle was closed; now he understood the Wattanine whom the French called les terroristes and les assassins. He understood why they were willing to risk dying in order to derail a train or burn a cinema or blow up a post office. It was not independence they wanted, it was a satisfaction much more immediate than that: the pleasure of seeing others undergo the humiliation of suffering and dying, and the knowledge that they had at least the small amount of power necessary to bring about that humiliation. If you could not have freedom you could still have vengeance, and that was all anyone really wanted now. Perhaps, he thought, rationalizing, trying to connect the scattered fragments of reality with his image of truth, vengeance was what Allah wished His people to have, and by inflicting punishment on unbelievers the Moslems would merely be imposing divine justice.

Bowles' novels -- The Spider's House even moreso than the better known The Sheltering Sky -- are often highly effective in taking the non-Muslim reader into the mental world of ordinary Muslims, such as Amar, and in showing off the two seemingly contradictory aspects of Islam: its ability to bring order and fundamental civility to the daily dealings of its adherents with one another while simultaneously urging those same adherents on to monstrous acts against "the unbelievers." While Amar, in the novel, never participates directly in anything comparable to, say, a Palestinian suicide bombing, his thoughts quoted above distill much that seems to dominate the contemporary Palestinian frame of mind. Bowles pegged it in 1955, and little or nothing has changed since.
Wednesday, July 02, 2003
Because One Must Begin Somewhere . . .
This post serves to announce the self-evident fact that it is the first post on this blog.
Matters of more weight and substance will follow.