The research project "Body and Storytelling in Tahar Ben Jelloun and Assia Djebar" focuses on body concepts comparing works of the francophone Arab writers Tahar Ben Jelloun (Morocco) and Assia Djebar (Algeria). In texts of both authors the body is conceptualized prominently in its connection to language, be it in metanarrative comments on the role of the body in the process of narration, be it in philosophical reflections on the relation between body and language, or be it on the level of the storyline where body language is represented as a medium of negotiating society.
With reference to the aspect of narration, a closer look is taken at the location of the body in oral tradition and in the performative act of storytelling. As a result of the paradigm shift from oral telling to novel writing due to colonial influences in the Maghreb states, the texts reflect their own genealogy and, accordingly, the specific part the body has in it. The metanarrative commentary discusses concepts of the body with regard to its medial qualities and offers a broad variety of possible relations between body and story. The conceptions range from Sufi-influenced monistic constructions of the story as essence in the body, which is transmittable not exclusively by telling but also, for example, via saliva, up to performative illustrations, according to which the story is constituted in the act of telling. In addition, under consideration are understandings of the story as an autonomous being hosted by the narrator’s body, and of the narrator as possessed by jinns as a source of inspiration insinuating stories to him. Both Ben Jelloun and Djebar pursue a narratological approach to storytelling in which specific ideas of the “embodiment” of narrating are developed.
In its correlation to language in more general terms the body is examined by analyzing metaphorical and metonymical constructions discussed explicitly by both authors. Ben Jelloun’s and Djebar’s reflections on the interrelation of the mother tongue colloquial Arabic and the colonial language French as well as resultant somatic effects of both languages and on both languages, reveal a philosophical perception beyond the Cartesian dualism. These concepts are to be conceived rather in the context of Andalusian epoch monism or twentieth century holism and embodiment theories than in dichotomic models and terminologies. French is conceptualized in metaphors involving the body such as aphasia, Tunic of Nessus, veil, intruded home, traitor, or even lover. The physical presence of the body in language, that is the embodiment of language in the actual sense, is represented in metonymical structures encompassing materialization and transformation processes of words and stories, somatic interweavements between proper names and persons, and a contagious, pathological or healing impact of language on the body.
As subject of the storyline the body is utilized as a medium for staging and negotiating society. Social order, power structures, hierarchies, values and norms are shown in their embodiment, that is in gestures of subordination, anatomizing and fragmenting gazes, compulsive acts, or treacherous involuntary body expressions. Likewise, acts of transgression are depicted as trances, Zar rituals, or strategic androgyny. Thus, the language of the body in habitus, body techniques, and disciplinary practices coincides with the language of Tahar Ben Jelloun’s and Assia Djebar’s novels.