Reinscribing Conrad: Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North R.S. Krishnan, North Dakota State University In the works of postcolonial writers such as Salman Rushdie, Derek Walcott, Chinua Achebe and others, one sees an attempt to resist and reinterpret the ideological underpinnings of imperialist writings, an effort in which not just the historical subject of colonial discourse but the discourse itself might be reversed. One such work is Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North J Published in 1969, Salih's novel is significant, not only for its appropriation of the topoi—the journey into the unknown, the quest for self-identity—of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but also for its efforts to resist, reinterpret, and revise from the perspective of the colonized Other, the epistemology and language of discourse signified in Conrad's novel. In the process, Salih's work reclaims for itself both the fictive territory and the imagined topos of Conrad's Africa, and substitutes a postcolonial retelling, a new mythos for Africa, for a colonizing tale. Season cf Migration to the North focuses on the Marlow-like narrator's account of the story of the brilliant and promising Mustafa Sa'eed, whose journey north to the European "heart of light"—England—from his Sudanese village is a deliberate reversal of Kurtz's journey into the heart of darkness—the Congo. Sa'eed's experience in England, similar to Kurtz's in Africa, is marked by selfloathing, despair, and a desire for annihilation. Having spent seven years in jail for the murder of his English wife, Jean Morris, and having also been responsible for the suicide of three other women whom he had seduced and abandoned, Sa'eed retreats to a village near Khartoum in the Sudan where, before committing suicide, he befriends the Marlow-like narrator and makes him the guardian of his sons and wife, the keeper of his flame, and the repository of his enigmatic life. Season explicitly evokes the ambiance, ambivalence, and ambiguity of Conrad's novel, but implicitly refers to the discrepancies evident in Conrad's attempts to criticize the culture of imperialism in his work. For all of Conrad's efforts to step outside of the framework of discourse, the rhetoric of his criticism is the result, as Edward Said notes, of "a self-conscious foreigner writing of
Tayeb Salih (also transliterated as al-Iayyib Sâlih), Season of Migration to the North (Hanover, NH: Heinemann, 1969). The Arabic text of Mawsim al-Hijrah ilâ al-Shamâl appeared in 1966. All subsequent references to this work will appear in the text in parentheses after the abbreviation S.
Tayeb Salih's "Season of Migration to the North
obscure experiences in an alien language";^ Conrad perforce becomes a participant in the very ideology that he attempts to expose and destroy. This is not, however, to diminish Conrad's essential humanity, since "Conrad's prose is not the unearned prolixity of a careless writer, but rather the concrete and particular result of his immense struggle with himself. If at times he is too adjectival, it is because he failed to find a better way of making his experience clear." 3 To suggest this is not to ignore Conrad's understanding and condemnation of the effects of colonialism; rather it is to indicate the contradictions and anomalies that exist in any postcolonial reading of Heart of
Africa as a savage and primitive place, and darkness as the essential condition of its topos, form the ideological underpinning of Conrad's work, since he, inevitably, shares in the contemporary European discourse on Africa, manifest in the writings of explorers and travelers like Mungo Park and others. 4 Thus contemporary ideology frames the apposition between savagery (Africa) and civilization (West), a sustained and insistent metaphor that informs Heart of Darkness. Since colonialism's self-righteous justification is that it is a process of "civilizing" savages, the "liberal homogeneity of a...