Paul Bowles' Orientalist Urges

By Douja Mamelouk
Submitted to Session P4918 (Intersectional Approaches to Critiquing Orientalism, 2017 Annual Meeting
Arab Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
The year 2014 marked the 65th anniversary of the publication of Paul Bowles novel Sheltering Sky (1949) and resulted in a republication of his work, in which the American couple Port and Kit Moresby wander the North African desert after WWII in quest of self discovery. For an American expatriate such as Bowles who has made Tangier, Morocco his home for most of his life, it is interesting to see that the desert remains a site of intrigue and an exotic space where his characters wander.
In this paper, I examine Bowles’ bourgeois characters’ imagining of the Arab/Muslim Other through the lens of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality in order to illuminate the author’s Orientalist fascination with the desert. Bowles authorizes himself to speak for the Other and positions his characters in a dialectic of attraction/repulsion with the Arab. I argue that the desert as a space facilitates this cultural binary and situates the presumably lost “Western” souls in an unequal power relation to the Other, in their search for the “exotic”. Making use of intersectionality theory allows us to better untangle the structures of power associated with race, class and gender between the Westerner and the Arab who is rendered the Other even when he is in the desert: a space of madness and deadness that the characters encounter on their quest for the exotic.
By virtue of Bowles leaving America and settling in Tangier, rather than interrogating his own “Otherness” he creates a narrative that states the inevitable Western domination: Bowles simply, cannot escape, his Orientalist urges.