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Wars of representation: metonymy and Nuruddin Farah's Links.


This paper shows how Nuruddin Farah's Links counters the sensationalist media representation of the UN and US intervention in the civil war in Somalia in the 1990s. The novel contributes an alternative anti-sensationalist representation of the events, by which I mean a representation in which the direct spectacle of violence is often mediated and deferred rather than exposed. I want to argue that sensationalism at the heart of reportage, and specifically photography, is fuelled by a metonymic production and reproduction of images. In contrast, deploying metonymy as a strategy for representation and reading in Links reveals the anti-sensationalism of the novel and enables it to undermine the media's construction of the Somali war. The different political implications of sensationalism in the media and anti-sensationalism in Links, both entailed by the same trope, forms my basis for identifying metonymy as an important strategy in war representation and postcolonial literary criticism.


The main character in Links, Jeebleh, leaves New York for Somalia with his daughter's admonition in mind: "No body bags, please" (Farah 2004, 17). To a large extent, from an American perspective, Somalia signifies random death, gratuitous violence and stray bullets. The association of this location with body bags evoking the repatriation of fallen soldiers harks back to the widely circulated images related to the battle opposing a Somali faction to US troops in Mogadishu in October 1993. Nuruddin Farah's novel Links was published in 2004, a year that marked the formation of a new Somali Transitional Federal Government in exile in Kenya, in an attempt to restore central power in a country devastated by civil war since 199 (1). While set after the involvement of the US and United Nations (UN) troops in the Somali conflict in the early nineties, Links explores different perspectives on the main events that characterized these operations and functions as a counter-representation to the mainstream US media's sensationalist, therefore reductive, coverage of the Somali war. The novel constitutes a pertinent and alternative approach to the representations of war, which illustrates the importance of literature's contribution to the contextualization and understanding of international intervention in current or recent conflicts.

At the failure of the first United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNO-SOM I) to secure a safe environment to conduct relief work and face the massive famine, the UN authorized the US to form and lead the United Task Force (UNITAF), a peacemaking (2) mission with the main task of ensuring the safe delivery of humanitarian aid. (3) The official discourse of the US government centered on peace even as the military in Somalia gradually slid into combat missions. This understanding of the mission was also backed by images of soldiers carrying out humanitarian work. After the mission had been declared a success, (4) however, images emerged of maimed American soldiers and those of a ranger's dead body stripped of his clothes and dragged by a rope amidst a cheering crowd. The violent photographs clashed with the expectations of an audience more prepared to see its troops glorified for their assistance through a humanitarian and risk-free mission. Unsurprisingly, the media's representation of the Somali situation relied on the sensationalism inherent to the widely reproduced images at the expense of a contextualization of their production or the nature of the US intervention. For the mainstream US public opinion, signs of jubilation at the humiliation of an American body, and metaphorically that of a contingent and a mission, become the markers of arbitrary violence and cruelty that presumably characterize the land and its people. Such an image thus comes to occupy the center of representation of the Somali war, and to some extent that of African conflicts in general.

This paper attempts to show how Farah's Links counters the sensationalist media representation of Somalia by constantly deferring the direct experience of violence. Instead of reducing representation to a particular photographic icon, the text locates the circulated images within the complex context of their advent. In this sense, Links contributes an alternative anti-sensationalist representation of the events, by which I mean a representation in which the direct spectacle of violence is often mediated and deferred rather than exposed. This approach benefits a contextualization through various perspectives that broaden rather than limit the scope of interpretation. In what follows, I want to argue that the sensationalism at the heart of reportage, and specifically photography, is fuelled by a metonymic production and reproduction of images. In contrast, deploying metonymy as a strategy for representation and reading in Links reveals the anti-sensationalism of the novel and enables it to undermine the media's construction of the Somali war. The different political implications of sensationalism in the media and anti-sensationalism in Links, both entailed by the same trope, form my basis for identifying metonymy in war representation and reassessing its role in postcolonial literary criticism.

In the context of this essay; "metonymy" refers to a strategy of representation and interpretation that unfolds in the media's and novel's different descriptions of similar events. In the former, the metonymic displacement of the context of violence underlies the ways in which the media produce a truncated and spectacular representation that strongly suggests a hegemonic interpretation. In the novel, by contrast, the metonymic principle of displacement operates by deferring spectacular violence. By thus evading the overwhelming and often decontextualized spectacle of violence, the novel rather gives space to contiguous perspectives on the situation in Mogadishu. This constant deferral later translates into the absence of a denouement at the end of the novel which, I want to suggest, reinforces the resulting indeterminacy of the narrative as a contestation of media's strategies and claims of accurate representation. Links' counterdiscursive use of metonymic displacement and contiguity emphasizes the need to acknowledge the role of representation in the construction of conflicts and to reckon with it in conflict analysis and resolution.

Violence as fact and figure is excess. It challenges temporality since it exceeds its occurrence and outlives the violent event through the scar or trace that it leaves behind. The latter functions not only as a sign of its past presence, but also as a threat of its potential repetition. According to Teresa de Lauretis, the relation between violence and representation is twofold. Rhetoric names violence by describing events as violent; besides, "it is easy to slide in the reverse notion of a language which, itself, produces violence ... then there is also a violence of rhetoric" (1989, 240). A similar relation interlinks the notions of representation and war whereby the slide from one to another occurs easily. Representations of war and the materiality of war itself thus do not stand for one another; rather, they coexist in discrepant yet linked realms, a fact which illustrates the principle of contiguity in metonymy. In this sense, war and its representations, (5) here mainly through photography, can be read through displacement also associated with metonymy, and not just substitution, related, as it is, to metaphor. Similarly, representation in Links unfolds along these two principles, displacement and contiguity, which together underlie the deferral of closure in the language and plot of the novel. Related to them then is the concept of indeterminacy here referring to the ways in which the text questions the claim of representation and representability of violence. The novel, in short, comments not so much on war as on the constructed nature of its representation.

To understand the role of metonymy in Farah's text more clearly, it is necessary to focus on it as the main vehicle of representation. This choice, however, is not guided by the belief that metaphor plays no major role in Links. The traditional opposition between metaphor and metonymy notwithstanding, the two figures tend to be closely associated and often work in tandem in the complex politics of representation and the production of meaning. My objective in pursuing the metonymic construction of the text is to seize the complexity of representation that unfolds not only metaphorically but also metonymically According to Mac Fenwick, who insists that the two figures are intertwined in texts, "[m]etonymy seeks to emphasize the historically determined connections between two terms without eliding or denying their difference," whereas metaphor "implies almost a magical sharing of meaning [between] the two terms" (2004, 46). Fenwick specifies that the definitions can be clear-cut only in simple examples of these figures. Most studies of the tropes derive from Roman Jakobson's formalist distinction between the two as springing from two linguistic strategies of association. According to Jacques Lacan's reconceptualization of the Freudian and Jakobsonian notion of metaphor, the trope marks a paradigmatic movement that works through the principle of substitution whereas the metonym moves along the syntagmatic axis (1977, 164). The latter figure, then, represents contiguity since both elements of the metonymy exist coevally on the same plane, but also displacement as meaning slides from one to the other.

Even though Jakobson and Lacan associate metonymy with the genre of realism, the metonymic slippage thus produced not only describes or reports a situation but generates and channels meaning through a particular set of connotations. More specifically, meaning and connotations come into being through the initiation of that particular link in the text itself. Contiguity and absence of exact equivalence also imply displacement from one to the other. Paradoxically then, contiguity and displacement form the two guiding principles of the trope, and this inherent paradox accounts for possibly conflicting implications of representation through metonymy. I am not suggesting that they exist at opposite ends; rather, they complicate the problem of representation and make metonymy simultaneously a potentially hegemonic as well as a resistant and multifaceted strategy of representation.

Metonymy and Postcolonialism

In postcolonial literary studies, metaphor and metonymy have also been regularly misplaced at opposite ends of representation. Metaphor was regarded with suspicion given its history in the construction of colonial discourse as a coercive trope deployed to fix identities and to promote a Eurocentric, universalist vision of the world. In contrast, metonymy, according to Homi Bhabha, signals difference. In his article "Representation and the Colonial Text: A Critical Exploration of Some Forms of Mimeticism" (1984), Bhabha sketches the difference he perceives between metaphor and metonymy in ways that were instrumental in launching a particular postcolonial interpretation of these figures. (6) More specifically, Bhabha posits that a metonymic reading of V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas forecloses the appropriation of the latter "as a good object" (1984, 114) by the canonical Great Tradition which strips it of its particularities in order to privilege the universal characteristics that qualify it for acceptance. By claiming that "it is possible to see the tropes of the text as metonymy and repetition instead of metaphor, and its mode of address as the uncanny' rather than irony" (115) (7), Bhabha rein-scribes the debate around the two poles of representation in a postcolonial context concerned with the politics of the universal and the local. His suggestions enable a metonymic analysis of Naipaul's novel so that the house "becomes not a representation of all homes or the Home, but a part of a complex series of homes that define the novel" including "the houses that inspired the novel, which are the homes of rural and newly-urbanized Trinidad" (Fenwick 2004, 49). As a result, the Caribbean context of the text is brought back to the fore since it is no longer solely perceived as a mere geographical location of a secondary importance within a metaphoric, universalist signification.

From this perspective, then, in a postcolonial context, metaphor marks Western hegemony and hegemonizing interpretations of the non-West, whereas metonymy signifies cultural differences the assertion of which does not deny the existence of contiguous realities. In Bhabha's example, when read through metonymy, the reference to "house" evokes not only the notion of home but also the meaning of house in the local context of the Trinidadian setting. Here, a metonymy rather than a metaphor-driven reading generates a different interpretation of the text not as reflective of a pre-established reality but as "productive of meaning" (1984, 100). Thus, while neither denying nor asserting the connection between metonymy and realism, Bhabha, frees metonymy from the mere mimetic function suggested in Jakobson's and Lacan's categorizations. Even though he credits metonymy with more generative and representative potential than previous studies, Bhabha does not mention the ways in which even metonymy could be appropriated to generate hegemonic accounts of the postcolonial world.

Another foundational text in the field describes the function of metonymy in postcolonial texts in slightly different yet related terms. For the writers of The Empire Writes Back, "postcolonial writing enacts a language variance" representative of "the metonym, the part which stands for the whole" (Ashcroft, et al. 1989, 51). While Bhabha views metonymy as a reading approach, here Ashcroft et al., who limit it to the function of synecdoche, analyze it as symptomatic of postcolonial writing itself. In the cross-cultural text, they argue, metonymy, as language variance, "registers cultural distance" without seeking to bridge the gap between "center" and "'margin" (56). One of the metonymic strategies consists in the insertion of non-English words in an English (language) text which allows it to "resis[t] incorporation into 'English literature' or some universal literary mode" (53). Arguing that metonymy performs anti-universalist resistance is reminiscent of Bhabha's position even though Ashcroft et al. embed this function in the writing of the text itself and not in interpretation.

The idea that the text resists incorporation informs the way I propose to read Links, beginning with the observation that the title invites a metonymic reading strategy. Here metonymy represents a figure deployed at the conceptual level of the novel that problematizes the representation of violence in the media and in fiction. At the same time, metonymy performs the dual function of figure of speech and interpretive strategy. Reading the novel metonymic ally, as I do here, departs from Bhabha s postcolonial definition. In the latter, metonymy moves the postcolonial text from universalist readings to a local perspective and interpretation. In Farah's text, in turn, metonymy includes the local while also placing k within a geopolitical global context. In this case, then, metonymy still performs anti-universalist and anti-hegemonic readings of postcolonial realities but places them within a global context of war and international intervention, thus identifying contact zones and the interrelated factors that underlie violence in Somalia. While Bhabha's approach informs my reading to a certain extent, I do not focus on metonymy as a privileged and more productive reading strategy than metaphor. In fact, the title "Links," which is a starting point for my metonymic reading, is a trope operating both metaphorically and metonymically. My study of the novel does not follow a chronological order to trace the ways in which metonymy unfolds but, instead, seeks to identity coeval manifestations of the metonymic deferral and contiguity that result in the ubiquitous anti-sensationalist quality of the novel. Such a reading contrasts with media's strategies in the coverage of the Somali conflict and the failed US intervention. More precisely, if the media's metonymic truncation exacerbates the visual effect of violence while harnessing it to propaganda, the novel, in contrast, illustrates how the same trope acts as an antidote to the easy distortions of sensationalism. In fact, it is metonymy that constantly defers the spectacle of direct violence. While catering to the audience's voyeuristic desire, direct and decontextualized representation of violence tends Co strongly suggest a particular interpretation of the event, in this case, attributing arbitrary violence to Somalis and ill-fated good will to international forces. As the novel eludes the direct spectacle of violence as the sole mode of representation, the reader is presented with a broader interpretative scope premised on the multiplicity of perspectives on the war and the various factors underlying main outbreaks of violence.

Somalia in the Media

At the level of the media, one metonymic effect resides in the potential of an image to displace the context of its advent. Through photography, specifically metonymic displacement results in the focus on a sensationalist image or a set of images which are propelled to a representative position. The power of the image to mark memory while "eclips[ing] other forms of understanding" (Sontag 2003, 89) provides it with a tremendous political potential for biased metonymic truncation. Moreover, this metonymic dimension of the image is buttressed by its mass reproduction, (8) itself prioritizing and spreading a sensationalist account to a large audience in ways that continue to obscure the context of its production and to promote a particular discourse seemingly endorsed by the photograph. More specifically, the metonymic reproduction and truncation operate with the metaphoric reification of identities of the photographed objects whereby the photograph comes to substitute for a discourse. Here, however, my concern is not the metaphorical dimension of the photograph but the metonymic move through which that very image zooms in and displaces other contiguous elements inherent to the picture's background. (9)

UNITAF, more known in the US as Operation Restore Hope, which lasted from December 1992 to May 1993, first generated images and narratives of hope for Somalia while rhetorically constructing a new kind of interventionism for the United States. Through the rhetorical presentation of the intervention, the nation's role as "arbiter" of the world, then recently displayed through the Gulf War, was now complemented by a peacemaking function. Gradually, however, the peacemaking mission slid into a full-fledged battle in which the US contingent sided against one of the warring parties in the Somali civil war. (10) Very soon, Mohamed Farah Aidid, leader of one of the two main warring factions in Mogadishu at that time, was presented as the sole obstacle to peace and his capture became the main goal (and obsession) of the troops as well as the media covering the mission. A fierce battle during which hundreds of Somalis were killed also brought forth photographs of the American failure and humiliation, which were to dominate the press coverage of the event. The shock provoked by the images not only results from their stark reality and materiality, but also from the pre-existing popular support for a mission that had been rhetorically constructed as humanitarian and risk-free. Widely circulated and decontextualized in mainstream media, (11) these images conformed to the official version that the US mission was well-intentioned but ill-fated. (12) Most media, political debates and analyses following "the battle of Mogadishu" underline US losses while overlooking the heavy toll on the local population and failing to mention the gradual escalation of violence that culminated in the confrontation. In particular, many Somalis resented what they perceived as a breach of the principle of neutrality in the forces of intervention when the manhunt for Aidid became an official objective among the troops. The general shock of the outcome of the battle largely follows from the continued implicit denial that the peace mission had slid into war together with a misunderstanding of the complex Somali situation in part due to what Steven Livingston calls "parachute journalism" or the presentation of news "as a dramatic event rather than a process" (Hess and Kalb 2003, 77). Despite the "unexpected" events, then, there occurs no major change in the strategy of representation in the media because the underlying metaphors of the "white man's burden" (Razack 2004, 4) remained almost completely unchallenged since the details of the war were still being displaced by the spectacular and highly affective power of photography.

Representation, then, was marked first by the image of peacemaking soldiers, and secondly by that of a soldier's defiled body. Throughout, Somalia was and continues to be a "photo opportunity," to use Thomas Keenan's words (2004, 435), in which the whole context of the US mission first encapsulated in the image of peacemakers is once again displaced by the image of the body. Sensationalism here actively obscures understanding as well as culpability in the US (13) since personal and collective memory "freeze-frames," as Susan Sontag puts it, and mistakes the image for a fully-represented and representable reality (2003, 22).

Metonymic Representation in Links

If the media are the first battlefield for the war of representation--mainly due to the immediacy of reports--literature integrates the battle in its own terms. In the wake of immediate television reportage and photography, literature can often contribute to the representation of a conflict with the vantage point of hindsight. In this sense, the literary text comments on the way a conflict has been reported, thereby negotiating the representation of the event. The role of metonymy in Links benefits from the multilayered structure of the text which, in contrast to many journalistic reports, integrates various and sometimes conflicting modes of expression. This particularity allows the literary text to add, counter, and question modes of representation including its own. Interestingly, Links situates itself at the heart of the war of representation while refusing to reproduce the media's strategies of reportage. As much as the narrative critiques that representation, its use of metonymy resists providing a fixed alternative version of the war; rather, it underlies the strategic anti-sensationalist and indeterminate characteristics of the novel. This distinction in modalities of expression allows metonymy to function counterdiscursively. More precisely, deferral and contiguity work in tandem to create the counterdiscursive anti-sensationalist and indeterminate aspects of the novel. Links thus opens multiple spaces for possible representation and potentially conflicting interpretations, more "representative," so to speak, of a complex Somali situation in the 1990s.

Links contests the media's truncated mode of representation primarily by displacing the direct spectacle of violence from the reader's gaze without denying its ubiquity. For example, the episode when Jeebleh returns to his hotel in Mogadishu and is informed that two armed men who entered his room have already been fought and stopped is symptomatic of the way violence often appears to elude Jeebleh's direct presence as well as the reader's direct observation. Instead of the armed confrontation, what the text stresses here is its affective impact on Jeebleh. By the same token, this metonymic deferral of direct violence questions journalistic representation in which the context of the production of violence and its traumatic effects are displaced from the frame of representation in favor of the spectacle of violence. This is clear in the way the succession of images of soldiers conducting relief work and those of the contingent caught in the battle in turn became the narrative of the international intervention in the conflict and implicitly seemed to validate the good-versus-evil model. (14) This perspective leaves little room for the alternative explanation that the gradual escalation of incidents involving the troops had rendered a massive showdown inevitable.

The novel's characteristic deferral of the direct experience of violence starts with the character of Jeebleh who, as an exile, is absent from the country at the height of the showdown between Somalis and the forces of intervention. Following a near encounter with death in the New York traffic, Jeebleh decides to interrupt his twenty-year long exile and visit his now war-torn native Somalia, which he had left after being mysteriously liberated from prison and a death sentence for his political activities under the dictatorship. He discovers a bruised environment where enmeshed family and clan relations oscillate between allegiances and enmity. Amid traces of war and violence in a metamorphosed Mogadishu, he is reunited with a childhood friend and former political detainee. Bile, who walked out of prison only with the collapse of the government a few years prior, now forms one of many sources of information that help Jeebleh assess Somali perspectives on the conflict and the confrontation with UN and US forces. Jeebleh's self-assigned task to unravel the mystery of the abduction of Bile's niece Raasta and her playmate becomes one of the various subplots in the novel. Identifying himself as a man of peace for whom the belated honoring of his mother's grave accounts for his presence in the country he, nevertheless, decides to take action in order to provoke the killing of Caloosha, Biles half brother and one of the main figures in the clan-led war, as well as the man behind the imprisonment of the two friends. Even though the girls' liberation and Caloosha's death fulfill two of his wishes, the degree of his implication in the turn of events remains unclear. Now seeing his life as interlinked with others and that of Somalia, Jeebleh nevertheless leaves without a sense of resolution.

The title of the novel suggests metonymy as a meta-narrative strategy. More than a theme, the noun "links" becomes a trope almost as pervasive in the novel as violence in Mogadishu. Commenting on Farah's narrative style, Alden and Tremaine notice that he uses "special forms of narrative, which are named in the titles of the three novels: Maps, Gifts, and Secrets. These special narrative modes serve at the same time as metaphors for the equivocal nature of the power of all narratives of self-invention" (1998, 760). The title of Links similarly enunciates the main trope in the writing of the novel. Not only do "links" in the title and in the novel signal a connectedness between different points or links in a chain, but they also imply the delay of meaning and action from one to the other. In other words, while functioning metaphorically, the title signals a metonymic movement of violence which, far from denying it, strengthens its impact by stripping off sensationalist distortions and focusing on its persistence beyond and after the act itself. Interestingly, then, the word contains both principles of displacement and contiguity. The displacement of meaning from one link to the next characterizes Jeebleh's quest throughout the novel. For example, discontinuities and slippages mark his attempts to extricate explanations and details from the people he encounters. Paradoxically, then, "links" evokes connectedness and a will to contextualize but also breaks and gaps, in short, the impossibility of achieving a full understanding of the violent and unstable situation in Somalia.

Slippage of meaning and communication marks the subtext of other characters' crisscrossed storytelling. This textual metonymic movement, therefore, keeps delaying conclusions or even the possibility of drawing them. The connections between what Jeebleh sees and hears are replete with inconsistencies due to his interlocutors' tendency to truncate, interrupt, or withhold their stories. His first dialogue upon his arrival to Mogadishu is indicative of much of the communication throughout the narrative. Af-Laawe, an enigmatic figure with shifting alliances, vaguely introduces himself to Jeebleh but refuses to tell him who instructed him to meet him. When asked how Bile is doing, Af-Laawe's answer remains evasive: "it depends on who you talk to" (Farah 2004, 5). This answer, Jeebleh soon realizes, applies to almost every question he asks. Other conversations, when they do happen within the purview of the text and the reader, also seem to be continuously interrupted as the different characters typically lapse into their unspoken anxieties. On his first encounter with Bile, for instance, Jeebleh notices his friend's recurrent brooding expression suggesting that "his thoughts provided their own subtext" (81). While Bile still struggles with the effects of his long isolation in detention, his subtext of unspeakable thoughts also reflects the evasive nature of language that cannot capture the full experience of war-related violence.

Other passages perform a linguistic deferral, which ultimately reflects the strategically evasive conclusion of the novel. Raasta, described in the novel as a gifted and "special" child (Farah 2004, 302), knows how to comfort Bile and ease him out of his panic attacks. Immediately after Caloosha's death, however, she realizes that Bile's distress this time differs from his usual bouts of depression. Faced with the general silence, Raasta "thought of a neater way to close the brackets her mother had opened when she spoke of Uncle [Bile]'s not having been well" (310). To her question, her mother, Shanta, simply answers that it is a long story (310) yet "Raasta knew that she wouldn't get to hear the story. But never mind ... there was no joy in making demands that were impossible to meet" (310-11). Raasta then knows how to interpret Shanta's words not as a promise to tell her later but as an assertion of the impossibility to fully recount and grasp the story. Subsequently, Jeebleh learns that Bile's state results from his visit to Caloosha before his death. The mystery surrounding this death, however, persists. In other words, the brackets cannot be closed as the text merely reproduces rumors but eludes details on the visit, including who or what killed Caloosha. In fact, the spectacle of the act itself could not properly represent the full story behind Bile's distress. Likewise, no easy answers or iconic images could neatly unravel the knots at the heart of a long conflict. Significantly, Raasta establishes a link with collective violence and concludes the conversation by quoting her uncle: "in a civil war there is continuous fighting, based on grievances that are forever changing" (312). To attempt to do justice to the narrative of a complex situation through an expeditious, sensationalist and suggestive set of images is indeed "a demand impossible to meet" (311).

At the end of a particularly anguishing stay Jeebleh comes to view his quest for answers differently. He now understands that "his story lay in a tarry of other peoples tales, each with its own Dantean complexity. His story was not an exemplar to represent or serve in place of the others: it would not do to separate it from those informing it" (Farah 2004, 331). The deferral that he confronts in his attempts to decipher the now-changed city and its people thwarts all desire to substitute one representative narrative for another. As his story can neither represent others nor be viewed in isolation, establishing links, then, represents the most that Jeebleh can achieve. The impossibility to substitute one for the other ensures a contiguity of interlinked tales.

Similarly, the main plot cannot be dissociated from other texts forming an intertextual dimension in the novel. Although Dante's Inferno constitutes a prominent literary intertext of Links, the latter also integrates references to media representations of the war, in a way deploying them as another subtext. Therefore, one level of intertextuality recasts Inferno in a contemporary context of wars, while the other, which is my focus, brings different modes of representation together, thereby emphasizing the role the texts play in interpreting and constructing current conflicts. Intertextuality, or the coexistence of traces of different texts within the novel, illustrates metonymic functions since the narrative slides from one text to another. At the same time, no text exits the body of the main narrative so that the multilayered frame operates in a contiguous fashion. As I suggested earlier, the main difference between journalistic discourse and the novel discussed here lies in the flexibility of the fictive text to incorporate self-consciously various modes of representation. For instance. Links, mainly through Jeebleh, includes details of the conflict representation provided by the media to the extent that these references form another source of (mis)information within the text. Even though the novel tends to deconstruct or at least seriously question media representations of the Somali crisis, the body of information it constitutes forms the basic knowledge about the events that Jeebleh, and probably part of the readership, possess. Consequently, Jeebleh's contributions to conversations often draw on the details he has accessed through journalistic mediation. This itself forms an important subtext in Links.

Another subtext brought to bear on media rendition of the conflict comes from Somalis telling their version of the same battles. Dajaal, for instance, provides an extended story of his personal experience of the confrontation between US forces and Somalis in July and October 1993. One of Bile's most trustworthy aides, Dajaal, tells Jeebleh that he was part of the meeting targeted by the US Quick Task Force that launched the attack in order to capture important members of their "enemy" clan in the gathering (Farah 2004, 71). As it later became clear, neither Aidid, to whom the novelist refers as StrongmanSouth, nor his aides were present at the meeting that had attracted clan leaders and prominent figures to discuss peace plans. The helicopter-led attack, however, left its share of casualties. As Dajaal explains,
  the July gathering has since become famous, because it led
  eventually to the October-third slaughter. It is the viciousness
  of what occurred in July, when helicopters attacked our gathering,
  that decided me to dig up my weapons from where I had buried
  them after the Dictator fled the city. (Farah 2004, 71)

If, in a first movement, the story slides from the initial representation of the US media to Dajaal's perspective, the metonymic move is effectively completed through the persistence of both texts rather than the supplementation of one by the other during the displacement. Dajaal's story about the attack in July does not erase the images of the October battle, or previous confrontations with US and UN forces. Nevertheless, it provides the context leading to the latter confrontation. While media representation displaces its focus from the image of soldiers assisting children directly to that of Somalis fighting peacemaking forces and desecrating a body, the passage here points to one of the missing links: the other events contiguous to and inseparable from the October battle including the heavy toll on the Somali population. (15)

The text refuses to present a truthful version by completely erasing another one, which allows for the contiguity or coexistence of scenes of experienced violence rather than a mono-logic coherent narrative. After all, the problem with the photographs taken in Somalia lies not in the inaccuracy of images that were real enough but in their reductive interpretation through the choice of framing and journalistic commentary. In contrast to Susan Sontag, for whom photography lacks the narrative coherence of the written text and always needs to be complemented with an explicative and interpretive caption, Judith Butler argues that the photograph's framing "is itself interpreting, actively, even forcibly" (2005, 823). The novel's contribution, then, consists in broadening the frame of representation and therefore that of interpretation. The presence of the media through Jeebleh's and other characters' access to journalistic articles and footage enriches the intertextual nature of the text, specifically because the novel deconstructs and questions this narrative without moving beyond the indeterminacy of representation.

Through the movement they create, the stylistic features of metonymy have further conceptual implications that transform its deferral of violence and resolution into strategies of counter-representation. Anti-sensationalism and indeterminacy, as the implications I would like to emphasize, serve to foreground the irreducibility of a complex war to a spectacular and schematic explanation. Anti-sensationalism, or the intensely mediated character of Links, primarily questions the previous press coverage and unsettles claims to truth and authenticity, while also delaying closures. Generally, sensationalist photography strongly suggests meaning and evokes old cliches on African conflicts rather than encourages critical analysis and understanding. To emphasize the image's immediate and presumably eloquent "truth" erases the short and long term contextual factors, thereby dehistoricizing and, often enough, depoliticizing conflict. By veering away from the suggestive spectacle and its claim to authenticity, the novel shifts the audience from the position of a mere consumer of often-decontextualized information to that of a more contributive reader given the absence of a predetermined meaning to consume. Derek Wright argues that literary representations of the arbitrarily formed and imagined postcolonial nation often reflect postmodern characteristics such as indeterminacy and the constant deferral of closure. These concerns in postcolonial fiction have engendered what Wright calls "flamboyantly experimental" novels (2002, 96-97). In Links, Farah reproduces the problematic and often detrimental nature of representation and notions of truth without resorting to experimental writing. In tact, metonymy, as a figure of deferral, acts as a strategy precluding closure and resolution in part through its anti-sensationalist effects. Consequently, the delay of the meaning and closure that Jeebleh seeks acknowledges the impossibility to re-present and thus foregrounds the flawed nature of representation of Somalia in the media. In particular, the mere presence of an "alibi" through a snapshot proves insufficient to represent the complexity of violent confrontations, as becomes clear through Dajaal and his family's story. Metonymy is thus used counterdiscursively when it achieves an anti-sensationalist discourse that questions widely accepted descriptions of the conflict and the nature of US presence and intervention in Somalia. In short, indeterminacy here does not result from a "flamboyantly experimental" text, but through the metonymic movements involving the reader in multifold and simultaneous interpretive readings. Therefore, while building on the postcolonial understanding of metonymy as a tool to address the local, this particular reading of Links expands Bhabha's Lacanian notion of metonymy in order to emphasize its political significance.

Aside from countering the politics of the media, the anti-sensationalist feature of the text imposes a distance between the violent act on the one-hand, and Jebbleh and the reader who often access it retrospectively, on the other. By staging this gap, Links in fact alludes to the inevitable delay separating any event and its representation even as the camera seems to erase that distance. From his New York residence, Jeebleh's sources of information about the situation in Somalia are necessarily subjected to an irremediable lapse between the event and its rendering. It is important here to remember that the gap is not necessarily temporal, given the immediacy of media reports. Therefore, the hiatus inherent to every representation is reinforced by the displacement of links within the image itself because of its focus. Despite Jeebleh's efforts, gaps abound in the novel and are never filled, thus indicating the impossibility of representing the war through a unique text or perspective. The displacement of representation and, by extension, interpretation underlies and underlines the fact that represented violence is (re)produced rather than merely "reported." In this sense, the novel interpellates the reader through its own indeterminacy, which stands for the need to question modes of representation including photography's assigned role of alibi or fact. Withholding gruesome and sensationalist details from the reader while exposing different facers of the conflict within the same text thwarts the reader's reflex to search for an easy resolution and thus indicate the irreducibility of violence and war to simple dualistic schemas.

Reflecting the narrative strategies of representation in Links, the plot also unfolds in a "non-spectacular" narration. This aspect marks the way in which Jeebleh continues to experience violence in a delayed and mediated fashion throughout his stay in Mogadishu. This is not to say that the war is not real to Jeebleh, who witnesses the senseless murder of a child at the hands of militiamen taking bets on live targets (Farah 2004, 16). Nevertheless and despite the ubiquity of violence, Jeebleh often senses it through its past and present traces as in the "bullet-scarred, mortar-struck, machine-gun showered" (70) walls that act as reminders of past fighting or the omnipresent weapons that constantly signal another potential outbreak. If Jeebleh goes to Somalia to "learn and listen" (32),"to know the answers [and] witness what's become of our city" (36) as he puts it, he soon realizes there are no easy answers and his access to information often remains mediated. Typically, the most intense events narrated reach the reader and Jeebleh through other characters' mediation and thus depend on their (un)willingness to tell the story. The sense of danger distresses Jeebleh when two armed men sneak into his hotel room to wait for him. Even in this case, however, he arrives after the security guards have confronted and killed one of them. Violence, then, engulfs his presence in the country while rarely involving him directly. The plot continues to unfold according to this pattern.

The non-spectacular effect thus functions as a comment on representation precisely because it is constant in the narrative style and plot which never reache a truly (un-mediated) climactic moment. Interestingly, at first, the text seems to evolve according to the principles of a detective novel. However, the metonymic implications guiding the narrative deflate all expectations of sensationalism, climax and denouement. From the peripheral position of a newly returned exile, the protagonist decides to act and contribute to the writing of his own story; nonetheless, the narrative continues unfolding along its anti-sensationalist slippage. Jeebleh gradually moves from the privileged position of the incoming observer, who is allowed to cross the clan zones dividing Mogadishu, to the position of an actor intent on contributing to the resolution of the girls' abduction on the one hand, and integrating the cycle of revenge by asking Dajaal to carry out Caloosha's murder, on the other. Yet his wish to act never materializes into a carefully prepared action on his part notwithstanding his tangential, if not incidental, presence at the girls' rescue, or his possible role in Caloosha's death.

The girls' liberation and Caloosha's murder happen in quick succession, but neither results in a final explicatory episode so that denouement is deferred beyond the narrative in spite of Jeebleh's indirect involvement in the final events. The final return of Raasta and Makka, whose earlier disappearance forms a pole of tension in Bile's surroundings and functions as the main mystery in the novel, does not correspond to a classical resolution of the affair. While we know that Caloosha orchestrated the abduction, hints about the motives and the involvement of Rassta's father remain hypothetical. As for Caloosha's death, in spite of Jeebleh's indirect implication, neither he nor the reader knows much about the circumstances. While the text remains evasive about Bile's role in his half-brother's death, Jeebleh believes that his friend murdered Caloosha but dares not ask Dajaal if the latter helped him. In other words, he leaves Somalia without the certainty of having contributed to the assassination through Dajaal. The implications of his decisions and actions thus remain open-ended and reinforce the novel's characteristic indeterminacy.

Related to the lack of a clear denouement of the abduction mystery is Jeebleh's inability to become a fully formed voice or authority in the representation of violence. Another event illustrates how his wish to act eludes him. After Dajaal tells him about the US operation during which a Black Hawk helicopter whirled so close to the population that his infant granddaughter was snatched from her mother's arms and maimed for life, Jeebleh asks to meet her. But as soon as he steps into the house, he realizes that given his powerlessness there is no justification for what he now sees as a voyeuristic visit typical of a "war tourist" (Farah 2004, 272). Even if Jeebeh's uncertainty and thwarted desire to act can be attributed to the trauma of his arduous imprisonment and long exile, this indeterminacy is also inscribed in the metonymic character of the text. Significantly and despite Jeebleh's awkward realization, this passage also constitutes an important moment in the novel when the text shifts focus from the main character's actions and thoughts to present a Somali perspective of the battle leading to the US debacle. Similarly, it serves to explain the local anger at the US operation and the illogical harm done to the population in the name of peacekeeping. Yet this testimony only represents another perspective that neither captures the nature of violence nor totally accounts for its continued presence. Not only is Jeebleh often frustrated in his attempts to understand and find a coherent narrative of the situation and people surrounding him, but he also falls short of achieving the goals of the hero of a quest, just as the text accumulates hints and clues yet resists narrative closure.

Quite clearly, here, the power of metonymy emanates from its persistence. On the one hand, the movement of displacement maintains an unsettling force, while, on the other, contiguity simultaneously enables the coexistence of different interpretive possibilities. The classical denouement where the narrative ascribes deeds to doers never becomes a reality. Instead of resolution, Jeebleh understands the intricacy of a situation in which guilt and responsibility are shared. The myth of neutrality that might have surrounded him at the beginning also evaporates when he decides to yield to his desire for revenge. In more than one sense, the novel never swerves from anti-sensationalism even in its most intense moments when Jeebleh often receives violence through mediation. In other words, it is not so much violence that is at the center of the narrative as the production of its representation in which the readers attention is called upon not to absorb but to observe and participate.

Reading Links as a series of scenes, or pieces of stories that interact and relate to one another but do not form a coherent exclusive and conclusive narrative, illustrates the entanglement of displacement and contiguity These narrative and structural strategies thus result in a permanent state of indeterminacy in Links subverting the identification with a mystery novel as well as the journalistic claim to explicatory clarity, objectivity and accuracy. In contrast to Derek Wright's comment on indeterminacy being brought forth by exuberantly experimental narratives, here it springs from constant delay and the impossibility to choose a leading narrative thread among the contiguous elements emerging from the storyline. By the end of the novel and his Somali journey, Jeebleh leaves with unanswered questions but comes to an understanding about his life as entangled in a network of other stories, that he can neither escape from, nor represent, for each link in the network signals a difference. Likewise, the chain of events leading to, and perpetuating, the civil war are locally and internationally interlocked, and so is the responsibility of each individual within it. In this sense, the obscurity surrounding Jeebleh's implication in Caloosha's death conforms to the spirit of the novel, and so does his initially vague decision to take action as he gradually integrates the civil war world where no one is completely innocent. If, for Bhabha, metonymy represents a way to move from Eurocentric universalism to postcolonial localism, metonymy here evolves to link the local to its global context. Tins, evidently, is no regressive move back to universalism but a reading that locates the Somali conflict within a global context of war and geopolitical intrigues.

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag argues that by marking memory "the photograph eclipses other forms of understanding, of remembering" (2003, 89). For her, photographs "haunt" us but remain limited in contrast to "narratives [which] can make us understand" (89). Sontag pinpoints the potential power of photography to freeze events through shock. However, the photograph does more than freeze, for it actually suggests a particular understanding while functioning as irrefutable truth. Similarly, the narrative wields such power as to make us understand in a specific way, which again could amount to a photographic kind of truncation. Both modes of discourse displace events through their representation. In the context of Links, however, Jeebleh's uncertainty towards the end represents the novel's role as a comment on the production of violence and the complicit nature of the politics of representation. Here understanding does not result from a coherent narrative. In fact, the narrative exhibits too many gaps to claim coherence, but this uncertainty becomes the narrative's positive contribution since precluding closure also broadens the scope of interpretation.


I am grateful to Heike Harting for her insightful comments on earlier versions of this article and to anonymous College Literature readers for their advice.

(1) After maintaining a few-decades long dictatorship and a state of war driven by the dream of a "Greater Somalia" and fueled by the support of cold war rivals, Siyad Barre escaped the capital in 1991 thus leaving a vacancy of power over which the local warlords, then organized along clan lines, reached no agreement.

(2) It is noteworthy that the US opted for a peacemaking rather than a peacekeeping operation. According to the UN, the former is a "diplomatic process of brokering an end to conflict, principally through mediation and negotiation ...; military activities contributing to peacemaking include military-to-military contacts, security assistance, shows of force and preventive deployments" ( Peacekeeping, in turn, consists in a "hybrid politico-military activity aimed at conflict control, which involves a United Nations presence in the field ... with the consent of the parties, to implement or monitor the implementation of arrangements relating to the control of conflicts ... and their resolution ... and/or to protect the delivery of humanitarian relief" (The United Nations Organization, "Glossary," While the former option emphasizes the diplomatic route for peacemaking, it also provides for a more militaristic approach. Besides, the UN authorized UNITAF to use "all necessary measures" to secure the area (The United Nations. "Somalia-UNOSOM II, Mandate,"

(3) After the failure of UNOSOM I (April 1992-March 1993) to secure the safe delivery of food supplies to the population, US-led UNITAF (December 1992-May 1993) was launched after the UN and the Bush administration agreed on a plan to later transfer it to UNOSOM II (March 1993-March 1995). UNITAF officially ended in May 1993 when UNISOM II took over the mission. However. 3000 US troops were maintained as a component of the UN force while an additional Quick Task Force of 1000 soldiers was to assist the UN when necessary, although the force remained under US command (The United Nations, "Somalia-UNOSOM II, Background." Members of this task were involved in the July 12 and October 3 events.

(4) See Bill Clinton's "Remarks by the President to General Johnston and Staff" on May 5, 1993 (1993,565-66).

(5) This slide is facilitated by the immediacy of reports thanks to the technology whereby images of war are transmitted live or within a short span of time. In contrast to earlier props for war reconstruction such as diaries and letters usually consulted retrospectively, as documented by Evelyn Cobley (1993), the visual and immediate power of photography and footage reinforces the assumption of authenticity.

(6) Bhabha's article is no full-fledged study and comparison of metaphor and metonymy but focuses on representation in literary texts according to what Bhabha lists as universalist, nationalist, and ideological Althusserian perspectives.

(7) By associating the uncanny and metonymy, Bhabha reverses the Freudian and Lacanian notion that the uncanny materializes through symptom and thus operates metaphorically. He, however, does not elaborate on this particular association.

(8) See Walter Benjamin, "A Short History of Photography," (1931).

(9) The connotation of realism in photography also fails to reckon with the role of the camera in provoking performance. Even though the camera captures events while they are happening, the assumption of realism not only masks the manipulation of subjects, but also the fact that they sometimes contribute to the production of their representation. Thomas Keenan astutely remarks that during the escalation of the showdown between US and UN forces and Somalis, the camera does not simply perform the role of the surreptitious observer but becomes, at times, an instigator encouraging staged acts of hostility, as when "bodies were presented ... for the scrutiny of the cameras, not simply dragged around for fun" (442). See Thomas Keenan (2004).

(10) The decision to launch the operation and pair it with the UN mission came at a time when the media as well as pressure from the UN focused on the humanitarian plight in Somalia. Initially, then, the announced goal of the mission was to enable relief agencies to reach those in need of assistance in a brief mission. See George Bush (1992, 2174-176). After the failure of the mission, many observers pointed out that it had shifted from the initial announced goal of "feeding" the population to that of "nation-building." For the gradual and undeclared shift to war see John Bolton (1994, 56-66) and Ryan Hendrickson (2002).

(11) In its cover story, "Anatomy of a Disaster," Time magazine (October 18, 1993) illustrates the two moments of representation related to the American involvement in Somalia. Two images mark the article. The first picture, showing a soldier interacting with a child while surrounded with other children, fosters the image of the humanitarian goal of the mission. The second image, focusing on the body of the ranger and the cheering crowd, promotes the idea of an irrational Somali reaction towards a humanitarian crew. The pictures placed side by side epitomize the way the events in Somalia were largely presented and represented in mainstream media as a peace mission that had inexplicably triggered hostility.

(12) Another common reaction was to blame the turn of events on the UN. According to Paul Wolfowitz, for example, the mistake of the US consisted in handing over the Aidid manhunt to the UN when, he affirms, only US forces and command could have conducted the search and capture successfully. See Paul D. Wolfowtiz (1994, p32). Ryan Hendrickson also notes a common and similar "anti-UN stance" in Congress (2002, 36).

(13) Media representation was also crucial to the construction of the conflict and international intervention in other participating countries. For a study of the Somali affair in a Canadian context, see Sherene Razak (2004).

(14) As Susan Carruthers argues in relation to the presentation of Western humanitarian missions in Africa, "sub-Saharan Africa continues to feed the West's subconscious ... enabling identities to be fashioned around the polarity of Western civilization and African 'barbarism'." See Susan Carruthers (2004, 157).

(15) In another passage, Jeebech and his friends discuss the aftermath of the October 3rd attack. Seamus says of the US forces: "They came to show the world that they could make peace-on-demand in Somalia." As the different parties grew confrontational, "we asked ourselves how the Americans could reconcile the earlier gestures of mercy with the bombings of the city." A UN official's comment quoted by Seamus "We fed them, they got strong, and they killed us" (262) also illustrates the metonymic slippage in media representation (see note 10) from one image ("we fed them") to another ("they got strong, and they killed us") while the context of this truncated version is displaced beyond representation. In the passage from Links, by contrast, metonymic representation takes place through both displacement from the American perspective to the Somali version of the conflict and continuity of the complex factors leading to the escalation, as they point out the Somali responsibility as well. Bile concludes that "[t]he American in Charge met his equal and Faustian counterpart in StrongmanSouth [the clan-militia leader standing for Aidid]" (263). Metonymic representation is used to describe the same event but to different political ends.

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Ines Mzali is a doctoral candidate at the University of Montreal. Her dissertation focuses on concepts of negotiation and resistance in the post-Independence era in African works of fiction
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Author:Mzali, Ines
Publication:College Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:6SOMA
Date:Jun 22, 2010
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