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Multiculturalism as text and context: teaching Fatima Gallaire-Bourega's 'You Have Come Back.' (play) (Practicum on Teaching Postcolonial Literatures)

In these postcolonial times, it may be hard to imagine a reasonably well-educated individual who knows the dictionary meanings of terms such as "assimilation" and "acculturation" and "cultural difference" but is blissfully unaware of the specific negative and positive meanings that these terms have gained. When I was very young, I was simultaneously introduced by teachers and family members to a great many works of European and Indian literature. While I grew up voraciously reading this literature -- identifying with the characters, immersed in an aesthetically constituted global consciousness -- I did not know I was a "postcolonial" subject, or my culture was a "subaltern" culture. Nor did I know that I was being given a multicultural education. The multiculturalism of my formative years seemed like a natural condition of living.

According to my earliest conceptions of objective reality, differences between modes of knowledge and between languages were not hierarchized; hence, binarism had not entered into my definitions of the world. Regrettably, much has changed since I first became a serious student of languages and literatures. My social self has become politicized; it is irretrievably caught up in the global politics of nation and race. Still, my early training and the integrative paradigm it validates for me is very usable. In an academic environment where multiculturalism has become a fad, this paradigm has led me to opt for a richly pluralistic, integrative multiculturalism.

Two years ago, I designed an undergraduate course titled "International Studies in Literature" as part of the University of Wisconsin's Design for Diversity program. Last Fall I had the opportunity to teach one variation of this course with a special focus on world drama. In it, I included great works of world drama from cultures such as ancient Greece, India, Japan, Modern Europe, postcolonial India, Algeria, and South Africa. I deliberately deviated from the more commonly used separatist models for teaching multicultural courses, models that implicitly attribute the definitive appellation of "culture" to Eurocentric traditions and place all others in a generic category of "multiculture." In my World Drama course, all individual works were studied primarily as literature or theater. Relevant historical and cultural contexts were explored for the sake of interpretive depth. In terms of thematic structure students were directed to isolate universal aspects of human experience as well as its culture-bound aspects. Similarly, they were directed to isolate literary universals as well as aesthetic categories specific to particular cultures.

This focus on literary aesthetics in a global context is consistent with my current research interests. As there is at present a significant lack of multicultural knowledge in the field of literary aesthetics, the primary goal of teaching and research should be the accumulation of a knowledge base. For example, to formulate a legitimate history of literary genres, figures of speech, tropes, it is necessary that literatures written outside of Europe and America be widely read, taught, and studied, and secondary references should reflect global information. Encyclopedia entries on literary terms like "tragicomedy" should mention that this type of drama was written in India (in Sanskrit) as early as the 7th century AD. Entries on "Metaphor" can demonstrate encyclopedic breadth only if and when various non-Western concepts of metaphorical representation -- for example, the Indian concept of "Dhawani" -- are properly noted.

That such terms are omitted indicates that the methods most commonly used in accumulating and recording knowledge not only indicate habits of thought entrenched in cultural imperialism, they betray serious intellectual neglect. Asian modes of accumulation of knowledge that do not include Aristotelian and other European concepts and definitions suffer from the same kind of intellectual neglect. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that most non-Western nations, due to colonization and other forms of cultural imperialism, have not had the perverse privilege of remaining ignorant about Aristotle and other European theorists. The relation between the colonizer and the colonized does not only involve issues of validated bodies of knowledge; this relation also centers around the issue of validated forms of ignorance, that which the imperialist or the colonizer does not need to know. On the other hand, for the postcolonial writer there are no validated forms of ignorance. However, outside of the context of cultural imperialism, this imperative of knowledge can be seen as an unquestionable advantage.

Many postcolonial writers I taught in the International Studies in Drama course extensively use and transform Aristotelian categories to allow themselves a larger range of structural options. Many of these writers are equally well grounded in their native traditions. Fatima Gallaire-Bourega's You have Come Back is originally written in French and Arabic. Its elegant English translation by Jill Mac Dougal retains some of the syntactical and semantic traces of Arabic. Yet Fatima Gallaire-Bourega does not hesitate to exercise artistic freedom in her use of a Chorus related to that of the Greek drama, while applying indigenous conventions of storytelling and creating a mode of dialogue that is at once real and surreal. This mixing of modes allows her to speak of a reality that is happening at "the present time," as the first stage direction indicates (168). At the same time, it allows her to invoke a sense of doom that is age-old, eternal, universal like an ancestral curse.

Gallaire-Bourega also makes use of the unities of time and place in a very exciting manner. The entire action of the play takes place in the courtyard of the protagonist's ancestral home in Algeria, a home to which she has returned after twenty years. Upon her return, Lella, the tragic protagonist of the play, is subjected to a false trial by the female Elders of her father's village. She is accused of having turned away from the Islamic Law by marrying a French man. At the end of the play, Lella is condemned and clubbed to death by the village women, whom she describes as "monsters without mothers, freaks, ogres" (218). In the tragic fury of her final moments, Lella refers to them as women "who have been dead for ages" (219). The play starts at daybreak and ends at dusk. A beautiful dawn is announced by the muezzin's call to morning prayer. During the festivities of the day, the call for the afternoon prayer is lightheartedly ignored by the young women who have come to celebrate Lella's return and bring joy to the old house. The play ends with "the muezzin's call to evening prayer," as "|the male~ Elder and Lella's body remain on stage" (220).

Thematically, the play reenacts the trauma of any postcolonial country in the early periods of its independent nationhood when the state machinery is trying to establish an indigenous ideology. Gallaire-Bourega's play shows that in Algeria, the inevitable postcolonial conflict between tradition and modernity takes the form of a rigid, repressive return to a "pure" Islamic culture. In this context, the muezzin's call for prayer introduces various kinds of dramatic irony into the play. At the same time, the playwright's use of the muezzin's periodic calls for prayer as time markers enriches the Aristotelian category through the insertion of an intercultural trace. Gallaire-Bourega uses the madwoman ("the Maboula") to foreshadow tragedy and to provide insight into the fragmented nature of Algerian society. Maboula's body and mind are filled with self-destructive energy and lucid intelligence. Her dancing and shrieking figure is powerfully haunting, and recalls Agamemnon's fateful return to Greece and Cassandra's prophetic madness. These intertextual echoes give a timeless quality to Gallaire-Bourega's play and they infuse a new, contemporary, postcolonial reality into the Greek motifs. The playwright uses Western and non-Western models freely to speak of a reality that is grounded in a specific historical and cultural context. At the same time, she transcends the narrowly time-bound and culture-bound aspects of human condition.

I included Abla Farhoud's and Gallaire-Bourega's recent work in the International Drama course to facilitate teaching them within the aesthetic contexts they evidently share. I wanted to place them securely inside the tradition of world drama, a tradition to which they have made significant contributions. I was not eager to teach them in courses in which they would be treated exclusively as women authors, or postcolonial authors. In fact, both these writers should be included in the standard anthologies of world drama. Before they read Gallaire-Bourega's You Have Come Back and Abla Farhoud's The Girls From Five and Ten, my students had already read and written on Agamemnon, Oedipus Rex, four Japanese Noh plays, Kalidasa's Shakuntala and various other plays. This provided a broad international context for Farhoud's and Gallaire-Bourega's works. It was interesting to discover from week to week that my students consistently preferred non-Western to Western works of literature. Bertolt Brecht proved to be the only exception to this rule.

Perhaps because we started with Greek drama, several students had a hard time with it. Only one student, Satekeia Awad, shared my wild enthusiasms about Greek drama. Hers was the lone voice that identified compelling parallels between the Greek notion of destiny and various forms of socioeconomic determinism in contemporary American society. On a brighter note, the entire class "loved" Japanese drama and thought Sanskrit drama was very "modern" because in it "human beings determined their own destinies" and had an "egalitarian" relationship with the gods (Michelson, Ohner, Burt). They were very impressed by the fact that in Kalidasa's Shakuntala, powerful humans like Durvasas were able to intimidate Indra, the most powerful god in the Hindu pantheon. This somehow seemed to compensate for what they saw as the overbearing importance of Zeus in Greek drama. All of them liked the tragicomic form of Sanskrit drama and thought it provided a relief from the doom and gloom of Greek Tragedy. At least ten students mentioned that Kalidasa's Shakuntala was the only book they have ever read that represented romantic love as palpably real. Three students mentioned that Dushyanta's city in Kalidasa's play was very much like a modern city, and the behavior of policemen in the play appeared very familiar to them.

When we finally came to Bourega's You Have Come Back, the entire class got very involved with acting out scenes in class. A majority of the students found the play very "powerful." As with the other plays, I handed out pre-discussion response sheets containing the following suggestive directions:

the play reminds me of _______;

I identify and/or don't identify with the characters because @ @
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Author:Pandit, Lalita
Publication:College Literature
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Words:1723
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