Tuesday, September 25, 2012

192. The Repudiation by Rashid Boudjedra

Repudiation (Three Continent Press, 1995 (First Pub. 1969); 195) by Rashid Boudjedra investigates the lives of a people from the home to the nation-state. This focused investigation begins at the mirco or family level and progresses gradually, adding on several limbs, to the macro or national level. Regardless of the issues being investigated – religion, sex and sexual orientation, the state, plight and rights of women in a patriarchal state – the theme of ‘repudiation’ runs through them all.

Boudjedra investigated the Algerian family unit in certain chosen facets. At this level, he discussed three main issues which are also characteristic of the larger society. The first is the repudiation of women in the household by their husbands; the Algerian family household, like most households in Africa, is of the compound model where sons and daughters and husbands and wives live with cousins and nephews and aunts and uncles and grandparents with, mostly, an older male playing the role of the patriarch directing affairs of the compound. The second issue is that of lasciviousness pregnant and inherent in such household compositions, which when pricked delivers incestuous relationships of unimaginable dimensions. These incestuous tendencies grew out of the religious ban – implemented by ‘to-the-letter’ religious patriarchs –prohibiting females (girls and women) of the household from leaving the compound without the prior permission of the patriarch; consequently, over-ripe teenagers brimming with sexual hormones who cannot any longer control their sexual desires – either through the five-times per day prayers or through mental suppression and pretence – lean back to their cousins to save them from their debilitating sexual fantasies. And in ignorance they experiment.

The third issue is about the state, plight and right of women living on compounds ruled by strict patriarchs. Boudjedra discussed this in terms of their freedom of movement and freedom from sexual oppression – where a man, through religious texts and its practice, is given all the rights to marry more than one wife yet that woman isn’t given the right to decide on her life. The repudiation in this context is different from divorce; by repudiation, the man, perhaps fed-up with the monotonousness of monogamy, neglects his connubial responsibilities with this wife and takes up that role by marrying another. Since the wife in question has not been divorced – only neglected, sexually – she cannot marry and is still under the control of this patriarch who monitors her for any adulterous tendencies. It could also be used as a tool for punishment. Rashid’s – the narrator – father, Si Zoubir, employed it for both reasons when at fifty he married fifteen-year Zoubida. The women on Si Zibour’s compound – including the wives of his brothers – were so sexually oppressed that Rashid described them as having only one right: the right to own and maintain a sexual organ.
My mother is a repudiated woman. She reaches orgasm alone, with her hand or the help of Nana. In our city the number of marabouts is constantly increasing. We live in feudal society; women have only one right: to own and maintain a sexual organ. [Page 79]
And yet this right to own and maintain a sexual organ only ends at its maintenance and not its use. This sexual repudiation of these crones led to another kind of malignant decadence: the solicitation of sex from young and virtually unspermed boys and, for those who could brace the consequences, from marabouts or individuals who pretended to be marabouts. The repudiation also made sex the most discussed topic amongst the women folks, away from the prying ears of the young and the men. Whilst the women became starving nymphomaniacs their husbands patronised brothels in obscure corners of the community. Their worth as women arises only during or at the point of marriage where they assume pecuniary importance; even this semblance of importance is demeaning for it is at this point that their prices are determined and are sold like cows:
Later I understood it was poverty driving the taleb to homosexuality since getting married in our city is extremely expensive. Women are sold in public squares, chained to the cows, and brothels are inaccessible to small purses! [Page 80]
There are other issues Boudjedra discussed which transcend the boundaries of the family into the wider culture and country: sexual orientations and molestation (sometimes by men of the high religious ranking) and the location of hypocrisy hidden within a pietistic society culminating in a general repudiation of religion. This repudiation of religion was partly caused by the repudiation of women; the narrator writes:
Let father continue straining over the smooth body of his young wife, he would never again be left in peace! Traps. I swore aloud, denied God, religion and women. Zahir [the narrator’s elder brother] hated the tribe and pissed in the water used for the ablutions of the holy men and the Koran readers. [Page 61; [my insertion]]
And this repudiation was not repudiation of one religion but of religion in general. Heimatlos – Zahir’s homosexual partner – described himself as an atheistic Jew and the bible as a ‘beautiful poem ever written by man’.

The children tortured by religion and by the dichotomy between preach and practice and raped by men and women eager to believe in their pureness and the sanctity of their religion elapsed into unstable mental states. This behaviour of a hypocritical and sycophantic society with wide gaps between talk and walk led Zahir to take to alcohol and exile where he eventually died. Zahir, a homosexual by orientation, was scorned, misunderstood and vilified by the very pious adults who sexually molested young boys (and girls through child marriage); the likes of Si Zoubir who fought for a theocratic state that would protect the patriarchal culture and force each person to live by the tenets of the traditional religion. This interference of the state into the religious lives of the people led to the repudiation of government.

Thus, women and the psyche of the young boys (who became men) were the ultimate victims. But that’s not entirely true. The patriarchs didn’t remain unaffected in a household where everybody was. Si Zoubir, facing an increasing challenge from his emotionally and psychologically unstable children unable to marry the two sides of the coin – their father’s behaviour and their mother’s plight; their father’s words and his deeds – and having become sexual predators to the young women on the compound, became hysterical and psychotic, beating them at least opportunity and accusing them of plotting to kill him and the baby his young wife was carrying.

In deconstructing this story of a country, Boudjedra removed the shiny foil off every event to expose the rot within. For instance, at the wedding between Si Zoubir and Zoubida, the rejected and the poor – blind men, cripples, beggars –overfed themselves with free food and drink that they eased themselves at the very location they ate, turning the feast into unsightly putrefaction. Similarly, Boudjedra showed how the continuous celebration of Id had engulfed the community within a cocoon of pungent smell of blood and dung of slaughtered animals. This scatology reeks of Jose Saramago's Blindness. The Id itself stressed and stretched the emotional cord of young boys who were expected to show their bravery through their calm observation of the slaughter.

However, the children’s general repudiation of life – as lived by the primogenitors – was crushed by the uncles, who were too eager to enjoy the trappings of power their sex afforded them, and the same women who suffered from these trappings further tightened the noose. So that those [children] who stood up to the few religious fanatics, who have found a way of influencing the new post-independence government, were summarily arrested and jailed.

Boudjedra’s thesis of comparison indicated that redemption only lies in the repudiation or abjuration of religion; that is, to eliminate the symptom you must uproot the cause. For in comparing the various sections of the city, the rot from religion decreased from the Moslem quarters to the Jewish quarters down to the European quarters.

Using long sentences, interspersed with shorter ones, long paragraphs, and monologues, Boudjedra achieves a narrative that is sometimes philosophical and at other times poetic, that is if there is a distinction between these two. Though it was Rashid narrating his life stories to his French girlfriend Celine, he proved sometimes to be an unreliable narrator trying to hold on to fading memories and incidences of his life. Like me, you may not agree with Boudjedra entirely – I don’t believe religion is the only repressive force, for he somewhat, through silence or omission, upheld European Capitalism, claiming that the sheer lack of religion in that quarters meant there was no putrefaction; however, his story is bound to generate a lot of discussions.

It’s recommended.

About the author: Rachid Boudjedra was born in Aïn Béïda, in eastern Algeria in 1941. He went to school in Tunis, where he studied at the élite Lycée Saddiki and became familiar with the basics of both Arab, and western culture. In 1962 he began studying philosophy in Algiers, in which subject he eventually graduated from the Sorbonne in Paris.

After having published six novels in French in 1981 he began to write in Arabic. He resumed writing in French in the mid-1990s.

His first book La Répudation (1969, tr: The Repudiation), which was translated into several languages but banned in Algeria until 1980, won the Prix des enfants terribles, funded by Jean Cocteau.

Boudjedra’s goal is also, in his own words, to question the official Algerian interpretation of history and uncover its contradictions. Illustrating this approach, he tore aside the myth of a glorious past in "Les 1001 nuits de la nostalgie" (1979, tr: The 1001 Nights of Nostalgia). (Source)


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