Tahar Ben Jelloun: Les Strategies Narratives

Author: Amar, Ruth
This study is an analysis of elements that build the narrative strategies of Tahar Ben Jelloun’s work. On formal and thematic levels, the narrative sequence and its interwoven strands, manifest a story in perpetual becoming, in constant dissolution and evolution. In fact, the story is an infinite quest. It is told and repeated in various manners, with no possibility to be exhausted. This continual quest of the story is nourished by a lack expressed by the needs of the post-colonial Maghrebian novel for compensating a world that was, but is not any more. However, this lack conditions the production of the story. The text nourishes itself from the lack it produces. We could say then that Ben Jelloun’s novel is not the production of a story but the emphasized production becoming itself Story: it is not the story that is told but the story of its production. On the one hand, this study redefines Ben Jelloun’s narrative strategies, on the other hand, it focuses on the importance of the perpetual becoming, in all the aspects.

This book presents the analysis of Ben Jelloun’s narrative strategies manifested in his work, reflecting the difficulties of its hybrid nature, the function of the symbolical writing, the construction of characters and their contribution to the fragility of the story, the revelation of generative forces of a form and its rupture. Although other novels are taken into account, the focus of this study is on central texts like L’écrivain public, Moha le fou, Moha le sage, Harrouda, L’enfant de sable, La nuit sacrée, La Réclusion solitaire, Les yeux baissés.


“Tahar Ben Jelloun needs no introduction. He is one of the leading authors of contemporary Francophone literature and has been the object of many critical studies. He is often an integral part of the university curriculum and is prominent in the media … In this study, Dr. Amar proposes to analyze, in her own terms, what is “the story redefined by Ben Jelloun’s writing and what are his narrative strategies … she has ably written an in-depth analysis of two decades of the novelistic corpus (seventies-nineties) choosing to focus in this original and productive perspective, on central texts like L’écrivain public, Moha le fou, Moha le sage, Harrouda, L’enfant de sable, La nuit sacrée, La Réclusion solitaire, Les yeux baissés. The essential points of this important study are, on the one hand, an analysis of Ben Jelloun’s narrative strategies, on the other hand, a study of symbolic writing, in particular that of the metaphors.

Among others, Amar enlightens for her reader the significance of the desert metaphor, as expressing the genesis of the narration. In a well-articulated and persuasive argument, she demonstrates the central function of this metaphor, where mobility and fluidity inscribe ad infinitum the temporary, the trace, the mark forever absent and always renewed. This is a vivid example of a synthetic analysis, in the context of the dynamics of the text, its signs, but also its many blanks, the polyphony and the silences repeated from story to story. The import of this study is to have succeeded in delimiting and distinguishing, without reducing the meaning and the infinite possibilities, a voice that does not recognize itself, but is multiple, clashing, sometimes absent, always in the process of becoming.

This study redefines the narrative strategies that lie at the heart of Ben Jelloun’s work and at the same time, it delineates its process of becoming in all its multiple dimensions. Amar contributes to the critical scene by adding a reading full of accuracy and sensitivity, an approach which could also be directed to the more recent corpus. Thus she opens a new vista on the analysis of a text which never stops intriguing the reader by a complex and provocative writing subjected, as Amar herself expresses it so well in her conclusion, to “une poétique du récit en voie de se faire”.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Hélène Stafford, Lecturer and Director of French Studies at Aston University, Great Britain

“This critical study by Ruth Amar provides students and scholars of North African literature with an excellent analysis of the work of Tahar Ben Jelloun. Amar’s book renews the study of these known texts by focusing on the narrative strategies used by Tahar Ben Jelloun, linking all aspects of his writing to highlight the creative process of the act of writing. … In this insightful study, Ruth Amar shows how Tahar Ben Jelloun uses narrative strategies to bridge the gap between the Maghrebian context and the gaps in the French language used to express it. She reveals how the strategies, be they formal, thematic or symbolic, allow for the perpetual rebirth of the writing and thus reinforce the writing process. Amar’s thoroughly nuanced analysis provides a re-reading of these texts which brings fresh insights to our understanding of them. There is no doubt that this book is a significant contribution to the field.” – Dr. Kathryn Lay-Chenchabi, University of Melbourne, Australia

“When reading Ben Jelloun, we are in the center of the Koran, of a city, of a story. The multiplications of story tellers are so numerous, that the reader can get lost in what escapes, like the sand through the fingers. This sand is the consequences of disintegration of rocks, the grains of which are solitude, madness, fantasms. … Ruth Amar interrogates the two decades of the novelistic corpus (seventies-nineties) choosing to focus on what it is in the act of telling and writing, that shows the infinite or the lack. She demonstrates that the most significant aspect of Ben Jelloun’s work is the poetics of loss, as if the text nourishes itself from the lack it produces … The book offers an in-depth analysis of a wide range of narrative strategies (like the stylistic figures of the unusual typography of hyphens, parentheses, blanks, the use of the Arabic language introduced in the French text) as well as spatial metaphors (door, labyrinth, hammam, desert) and the symbolic meaning of objects (suitcase, drawer, mirror). These symbolic aspects reveal the hidden but significant bonds existing between lack, identity and memory concerning a colonized country. The eloquent story teller relates perpetually what J.M.G. Le Clézio calls, speaking about La Prière de l’absent, “une histoire imparfaite et hasardeuse, car les homes et les femmes qui l’habitent sont des ombres fugitives”. In this never ending enigma; the Story Teller promises, a secret to be discovered.” – Dr. Isabelle Roussel Gillet, Lecturer at University of Lille

Table of Contents

Liste Des Abréviations
Preface de Hélène Stafford
1. Les Stratégies Narratives Formelles
2. Les Stratégies Narratives Thématiques
3. L’écriture Symbolique
4. La construction d’un personnage