Orientalism in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North

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William Usdin
ENGL 157 – Exam #1
8.15.12

Orientalism in Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North

“Prospero, you are the master of illusion. Lying is your trademark. And you have lied so much to me (lied about the world, lied about me) that you have ended by imposing on me an image of myself. Underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior, that is the way you have forced me to see myself, I detest the image! What’s more, it’s a lie! But now I know you, you old cancer, and I know myself as well.” Caliban, in Aime Cesaire’s “The Tempest”

In his Introduction to Orientalism, Edward Said asserts that the “Orient has helped to define Europe as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience,” (71). Therefore, in Season of Migration to the North, just as far as the west is engendered through refinement and order, so too has Mustafa Sa’eed subsumed the clichés of barbarism. One of the questions that Salih seems to be asking is: if Orientalism is a western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient, can the Orient use this same dichotomy, in turn, to assert power over its European “masters”. In a discussion of the “boundless historical chasm,” separating the east and west, Mustafa Sa’eed forewarns, “I have come to you as conqueror,” (50). The relationship between the Occident and the Orient is one of “love,” “hate,” “astonishment,” “fear,” and “desire” (132). Said seems to denounce the possibility of an objective reflection between the two spheres, “the chances of anything like a clear view of what one talks about in talking about the Near East are depressingly small” (92). Tayeb Salih’s novel explores the possibility of dismantling such a cultural divide by calling into question the very elements that create such opposing outlooks. In doing so, he elevates a negative appraisal of the “other” into one of wonder and mystery, “curiosity […] changed into gaiety, and gaiety into sympathy […] sympathy will be transformed into a desire,” (33).

The novel can be seen as an exploration of the influence that western ideology can have on the “Orient”. English education is seen as a syringe through which to inject the hemlock of western thought, “the schools were started so as to teach us how to say ‘Yes’ in their language. They imported to us the germ of the greatest European violence,” (79). The European experience seems to sever Sa’eed from his Sudanese roots. “Everyone who is educated today wants to sit at a comfortable desk under a fan and line in an air-conditioned house.” The novel portrays the tradition of sending the young and talented of Africa, and other colonized areas, to the intellectual pantheon of Oxford and Cambridge. As is evident in the novel, not only does a European education further isolate such individuals, but also such a liberal education is seen as trivial in the eyes of their African counterparts, ”We have no need of poetry here. It would have been better if you’d studied agriculture, engineering or medicine,” (9). In his interview with Henry Louis Gates, Wole Soyinka asserts that true emancipation from colonial thought will only come at the expense of the established education system in Africa. “Now, first of all” he says, “ I think the most fundamental means is the complete reorganization of our educational system”. If the standard of education is set to the tune of European ideology then, intellectualism, indeed the entire philosophical landscape, is cast under the manipulative shadow of western thought. “Universities are very much the slaves of the system of bureaucratization.” (523).

Common in many literary works written by members of the African Diaspora is an overarching feeling of isolation. This existential displacement is very much alive in Salih’s novel, “the whole of the journey I savoured that feeling of being nowhere, alone, before and behind me either eternity or nothingness” (24). There seems to be a bifurcation of “self” present in Season of...
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