Identities of Sand Ch. 1

Ch. 1 Temporality, Story and L’enfant de sable: Voices and Spaces of Becoming

C’était sur une grande route, je marchais là depuis des jours

Voire des semaines ou des mois, je marchais là depuis toujours

Une route pleine de virages, des trajectoires qui dévient

Un chemin un peu bizarre, un peu tordu, comme la vie

It was a long road, I’d been walking there for days

Some weeks or months, I’ve been walking there forever

A road with plenty turns, trajectories that deviate

A path a little bizarre, a little twisted, like life

« Rencontres », Grand Corps Malade[1]

           L’enfant de sable, The Sand Child, a novel written by Tahar Ben Jelloun, calls for a queering of temporality as the eighth child born to a family is raised through a masculine apprenticeship in appeasing their father’s urgent desire for an heir.[2] Access to the novel’s invitation to reassessing and queering of space, self, and time is found, contested, and experimented through the multiple narrative voices. These voices complicate the form of bildungsroman or coming-of-age story as it is aggregated overtime from the enfant’s journal to the participants gathering in the act of oral storytelling. The compilation of storytelling is in constant movement as each narrator subverts the truth proposed before them. An early quote reads, « cette vérité, banale, somme toute, défait le temps et le visage… » (Ben Jelloun 44) “this truth, banal enough, unravels time and the face”. Unpacking and laying bare the faces, tools, and identities in the story involves an unlearning and revisioning of the reader and listener’s approach to a coming-of-age novel. Recuperative actions and gleaning within the setting of sand and desert,[3] as well as temporal notions such as a queer future and declarations made in future tense, are all unified in Ben Jelloun’s twentieth-century novel set initially in Marrakesh as well as in its extensions to the desert, during a grouping of unnamed years.[4]

           In referring to the ambiguity of the time period, John Erickson, author of Islam and the Postcolonial Narrative writes that this story is conducted in “the placeless place” (73), in a timeless time, and even lawless in stability. Such a rendering speaks to the story’s applications to multiple folds on existence, and offers a mindful play of picturing the rendering at various points in time, and at the undermining of any proposed regulation. An understanding of what philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin theorizes as the chronotope in the novel, “the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships” (84), can be evoked and even problematized in Ben Jelloun’s painting of L’enfant de sable.[5] The narrative’s various voices in addition to the subject matter itself move with context of undermining gender, colonialism, prediction, and reclamation as they administer complex tools for viewing the euphoria present in the frequencies of life and within the borders allotted in what I posit as a becoming-of-age story.[6]

           The title, L’enfant de sable, The Sand Child, portrays the categorization of childhood itself as a construction of grains of sand before the names given for the character, Ahmed/Zahra,[7] even appear. Paradoxical to the conventional youthful nature of a child, the collection of grains of sand indicate the passage of time such as proposed by the visual analog of grains of sand squeezing through the waist of an hourglass. The story proposed has been accumulating, gathering and aging in order to propose un enfant de sable, a child from sand. The title conveys an inhuman or geological time for the enfant as the creation of the sand itself is bound in a breaking down and crumbling of larger rocks, glass, and other residue. These elements are then carried, weathered, and aged by elements with strength and duration in order to emerge as fine grains. Similarly, stories facing change, silencing, and contradictory narrators endure jumbling, weathering and reduction in their retellings and longevity.

           In order to follow both the reading and listening involved in L’enfant de sable, the geological disintegration and reconfiguration of sand grains has to take part in a queer recuperation and becoming anew from what was once other. The original sourcing of each detail constructing the enfant’s collective story is difficult to return to. Such an effort resists the linear progression that are posited in commonplace renderings of coming-of-age. In the creation of the character’s trajectory in the gendered raising for power by the father, as well as the collective and equally subversive nature of narrating the story, readers undergo and withstand the extensive labor involved in making the child of sand.  The process involves considering all testimonies and perspectives brought about in the chapters. The linear progression of maturity posited in commonplace coming-of-age stories is challenged here as the becoming-of-age framing emerges recognizing growth, hope, as well disenchantment instilled at the various narrative impositions.

            The geological aging and weathering of the setting as it refutes symbolic memory[8] as tossing grains far from one another inevitably coincides with the eventual recuperative desire involved in the human recounting and storytelling, especially complex as it draws from multiple aspects. With the movement of grains in an act of deterritorialization, memory is taking part in becoming, as it is removed from coinciding with associations and representations triggering linear progression and remembering. In the setting, the story is told from a variety of voices reading and interpreting the enfant’s journal as well as other rumored aspects of those involved in or near their life. The inconsistencies found in the quotations or lack thereof blends the narrations and descriptions. Additional distinctions are made only by occasionally trackable chapter titles.[9] These modes of recording the story maintains anonymity as an element of consideration–perhaps placing it as one of the few tangible components to the narration. In the interhuman expression brought about by Ben Jelloun, both memorial and geological space is granted for the first narrator as listeners gather in the market square of the walled city.

            According to the initial claims of the first narrator, the enfant started keeping a journal, which provides a large portion of the narrative insight, during a period of time where the enfant was in solitude. The enfant is said to be living at home but retreats, for an extended period of time, to their room away from their sisters and parents. One’s room is left to be examined as a space for queer expression and experimentation during their time of journaling and isolation. It’s described that the secret to the enfant’s existence is there in the journal, « tissé par des syllables et des images » (12) “woven out of syllables and images”. With the granular building of imagery and syllables, the journaled existence proposes that there are more necessary pieces for the story than just the completed words and still framed images alone. Writer and professor Mary B. Vogl, in her analysis of Ben Jelloun’s work and L’enfant de sable, examines the subjectivities present in intermedia tellings of the Maghreb. In her book Picturing the Maghreb: Literature, Photography, (Re)Presentation she writes, “only Ben Jelloun’s works really explore the multifaceted consequences inherent in self-representation through visual images and words. His works attempt to reconcile the impulse to reveal Morocco through images or words with the realization that such representations can be limited and dangerous” (Vogl 95). Instead of conceding to the dangers, the writing alone is put on trial and is set in motion with collective and continuous storytelling. Yet, the enfant justifies their own purpose of writing from overhearing a poet’s claim earlier their life that a journal is « parfois nécessaire pour dire que l’on a cessé d’être » (12) “at times necessary for stating that someone has ceased to be.” The indication is that this is the aim for the enfant when they retreat to their room to remain in a solitary environment. This move rises to some of the multifaceted consequences that Vogl speaks of in self-representation. In starting a journal, they state and record as proof, an attestation that they had ceased to be, « Son dessein était exactement cela: dire ce qu’il avait cessé d’être » (12) “his goal was exactly that: say what he had ceased to be”.The proposition that journaling is a useful action for establishing both one’s existence as well as desired inexistence problematizes the stability of life writing, existence and authenticity. In addition to the writing of the journal, it is the reading of the journal and the collective depiction of the enfants story that further moves the existence and inexistence of the enfant through their becoming-of-age. The enfant takes this form as a way to disclose what they had been and to create some distance from it so as to become—not imitate nor progress or regress from the former state of existence. Although, what occurs when the narrators and audience come together to discuss both the written content and the imagined content of the enfant’s life remains as fluid and complicated. The enfant’s structure lingers as a loose gathering of grains to be carried in the wind.

            The phrase “cessé d’être” at the point where our enfant retreats to their room and remains there in a frame of solitary confinement calls upon the urgency for knowing of one’s existence just as it reaches the point of no longer existing. A moment calling for this through the journal is equally as important as the attention brought about to one’s birth or other designated “rites of passage” that commonplace coming-of-age stories ask for. Complications for the enfant are numerous when it comes to ticking the box on associative rites of passage such as inheritance in possessing their name and more. The listeners, narrators, and writers have to look elsewhere. Just as anthropologist and poet Gina Athena Ulysse’s experience of “coming of age colonized” led her to hollering, shrieking, and screaming, the enfant’s existence in the castle of their own skin[10] and proposed contradictory body leads them to “cessé d’être”. Ulysse builds on her positioning of writing in her poem,

“objectivity has historically miseducated me

objectivity has historically suffocated me

through subjectivity I can be

only through reflexivity can I be who I am

not who you need me to be

through subjectivity I can take my oppression

I can name it and claim it” (73).

Subjectivity for Ulysse is rendered as an urgent matter. In the terrain of subjectivity, as well as in the space of one’s own room and journal, choices can be made, named, claimed, birthed, and even cease to be. The capacity to impose oneself as a subject — to at any point claim and name oneself in new forms summoning both place and time is integral in my argument for becoming-of-age. Confronting or combatting the silence, the angst, or suffering is Ulysse’s methodology. Similarly, the enfant’s story urgently brings motion to the angst, expectation, and presuppositions of a story and an existence. In the journal, the story gains flesh and proposes a potential for the enfant to be interpreted, saturated, and rung out.

           Before the journal’s conception, the narrative insights of the story-in-disintegration-and-reconfiguration is uncovered as a gendered trajectory for power. The reader and listeners are informed of an unsatisfied father’s imposition to continue his inheritance and linear pride which formerly felt out of his control. He desires a son as his eighth child. He acts with a will to demand a future,[11] and proclaims a solution. The narrator explains that his idea was simple once spoken though difficult to carry out over an extended period of time; the words alone cannot sustain the power that they propose. But, upon considering the potential of such a path, with all of his force, he declares that the child will be a boy, an unshakeable decision and a binding he looks at without recourse, « son idée était simple, difficile à réaliser, à maintenir dans toute sa force: l’enfant à naître sera un mâle même si c’est une fille ! C’était cela sa décision, une détermination inébranlable, une fixation sans recours » (Ben Jelloun 21, italics mine). His decision, capitalizing on prediction and prophecy, seeks to cover his pride, seeks to ensure that his name and inheritance will be passed on, and refuses the possibility of any shame under the framing of gender in both normative and non-normative means. Through his desires, I wish to paint a connection to Shoshana Zuboff’s chapter titled “The Right to Future Tense” from The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for A Human Future at the New Frontier of Power as this is exactly the rite of passage that the father insists shall be his own as well as his son’s. I am proposing the promise and reclamation of future tense to explain the father’s maneuvers thus far in the story in order to establish the passage of a name and inheritance. In this I wish to investigate the various uses of the future.Incorporating the past for the narrative formulation insists that birth, for the enfant and their family, is not a point of origin but instead a marker that the mappings of becoming for the enfant wereenacted before birth and were always already aging with intensities of the future even in their cloudy present.[12]

            The space evoked with the future tense, sera -will be, encompasses more than the father’s name and life, but his wife’s body and consent, as well as the midwife’s discretion. The father informs his wife of her involvement in designating a space in the world for the child but he ensures her that he has both arranged and predicted everything, « Tu seras une mère, une vraie mère…l’enfant que tu mettras au monde sera un mâle,[13] ce sera un homme, il s’appellera Ahmed même si c’est une fille! J’ai tout arrangé, j’ai tout prévu » (23, italics mine).[14] To claim that you have all the knowledge of what is anticipated and of all circumstances in the verb prévoir, evoking that he anticipated, predicted and foresaw all, is to claim sight of the life of our enfant before their conception and birth. Despite the predictive foresight of inheritance and destiny, the narrative unravels in alternative ways as the sand child, for one, turns to journaling with the desire of ceasing to be. Further complication ensues as the recuperative acts of varied sources implicate the extensions of predictive errors including other presupposed hierarchical functions of gender and power. The enfant fluctuates from admiration of their position, to fleeing in exploration of femininity, performativity and sexuality all without certainty or conclusion. Overlooked errors in their imposed identity is especially problematized as the original narrator disappears and others step in to fill the gaps with their own interpretations and feedback.

            Once born and granted the name Ahmed,[15] the enfant grows through various trajectories of subjectivity and space separate from their siblings and other peers. Their father continues to raise a son with traditions reserved to masculinity, so that there will be a source of governance and protection for the family after his death « …selon la tradition réservée aux mâles et bien sûr il gouvernera et vous protégera après ma mort » (23, italics mine) “within the tradition reserved to males, and of course he will govern and you all will be protected after my death”. In this sense, the father’s imposition seeks to look beyond his own life expectancy. He acknowledges the lasting impacts of his declarations and desired control whilst calculating the years that the enfant’s orientation (in gender, sexuality, and life trajectory) will be kept secret. He posits that their lives will end and Ahmed will «…restera seul et régenra sur cette maison de femmes » (23) “will be left to reign over this house of women”, a linear continuation. But the discretion of those telling and retelling the story will also be left alone to reign after the father’s death and can usurp the power posited. Furthermore, the enfant’s own discretion during the distant yet close future of the novel’s bindings will also be left to reign over more than one house, narrator, and timeline.

            Our narrator describes, in the existence of secrecy, solitude and prophecy, that the enfant grows in an almost daily realm of euphoria, « l’enfant grandit dans une euphorie quasi quotidienne » (Ben Jelloun 31), particularly in regarding the rites of passage of an enfant such as circumcision, and journeying to the bathhouses. Ceremonies and gendered spaces swirl in abundance for the enfant as the family maneuvers each day. The father adds flesh to the story as he cuts his own finger in lieu of the enfant’s sex, and the enfant makes ecstatic discoveries in spending both aging days with their mother and father at separate bathhouses.

My world been ecstatic, I checked the signal that read

Buzzin’, radars is buzzin’

“YAH.”, DAMN., Kendrick Lamar[16]

As I argue to extend this euphoria as corresponding with ecstasy such as they align with elation and rapture, we can begin to see efforts of queer potentiality as expressed in the writings of José Muñoz’s theory in his book Cruising Utopia.[17] The basis for my equivocation here lies in the reading Muñoz conducts of the poem titled “A Photograph” by James Schuyler. Muñoz illustrates the decisions of the subject:

“He attempts to explain the ecstasy he felt that night, indicating that one moment of ecstasy, a moment he identifies as being marked both by self-consciousness and obliviousness, possesses a potentially transformative charge. He then considers another moment of ecstasy in retrospect, a looking back at a no-longer-conscious that provides an affective enclave in the present that staves off the sense of “bad feelings” that mark the affective disjuncture of being queer in straight time” (Muñoz 24).

           For the enfant, there too is a “potentiality transformative charge” (Muñoz 24) in their upbringing since the descriptions from Muñoz’s use of ecstasy as well as the quasi-euphoria narrated in Ben Jelloun’s work encompass more than one emotive space. The performativity of this blending takes place in collectivity and contribution as well as in disjuncture, isolation, and reflection. I’d like to offer my own analysis of poetic lyrics alongside Schuyler from Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city as we encountered it through my selected epigraphs in the introduction. In his song “m.A.A.d city” retelling of violence and relations with gangs in Compton, Los Angeles, Lamar places the word euphoria as something that he wishes would move to blend in accordance with all, “Hope euphoria can slow dance with society” – Lamar, m.A.A.d city.[18] For me, this reads as a metaphor asking for the blending of violence, beauty, peace, and culture especially as they correspond to one’s development and growth in a story. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in discussing their concept in their chapter “1730: Becoming-intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible…”  reference such an organization by stating “it is a question of ordering differences to arrive at a correspondence of relations” (236). Gazing at all of these emotive zones asks for a conjugation of becomings in the realm of gender, race, class and sexuality towards an agreement. If the euphoria that Lamar evokes is able to slow dance with society despite equally present violence and oppression, then the quasi-euphoria the enfant experiences too can have hope to correspond with more borders and bounds of society expanding beyond the walled-city to the swirling expanses of the desert. The subjectivity of transgender and non-binary spaces that the and orientations that the enfant presents moves both the narrative and those who retell the story towards expressive lines of thought, as Sara Ahmed names certain paths and orientations, and performative lines of motion (555). These performances find solace in artistic slow dances, poetry, music, oral-storytelling and even journaling.

           José Muñoz considers the expanses of the emotive euphoric spaces in his framing of queer temporality. He writes that queerness’s time steps away from straight linearity and for our enfant that can be extended to the stepping out of any hegemonic status, most emphasized gendered linearity. Queerness in following this thought emerges as “…a temporal arrangement in which the past is a field of possibility in which subjects can act in the present in the service of a new futurity” (Muñoz 16). Laid out before our enfant are opportunities to traditions ground out from years of formation and structural building. They would not experience these temporal and traditional realms if their father hadn’t decided their destiny in future tense prior to birth. The enfant is said to admit in a recounting to their father that they experience a liking to their “condition” — not solely an acceptance but an open gratification and interest in their complex individual reality, « Elle m’intéresse. Elle me permet d’avoir les privilèges que je n’aurais jamais pu connaître » (Ben Jelloun 50) “It interests me, it gives me privileges I could have never known”;the conditional tense finds extensions to various potentialities with its transformative charge.

            The enfant moves amidst these ideologies both with and against them as majoritarian as they prove to be. Minoritarian actions, speaking in the Deleuzian sense of what makes minor literature, are found nonetheless in the rethinking and twisting of that which is gleaned from the gendered rights and privileges of the enfant as well as of the narrators. The narration does not allow the streams of elation to pass without speaking on the suffering and sickness of solitude found in the pages of journaling after such declarations. They apparently concede their navigations, « La souffrance, le malheur de la solitude, je m’en débarrasse dans un grand cahier. En optant pour la vie, j’ai accepté l’aventure » (Ben Jelloun 51), “the suffering, the misery of loneliness, I rid myself of it in my grand journal. In opting for life, I accepted the adventure.” During this distillation from the past of control, to convey bouts of confidence and of woe, the narrative unfurls and evolves with no concern for destination. Instead, at interest is a stepping out of the controlled past and majoritarian functions for the desire of portraying what is quasi-euphoric in everyday life beyond what has been gleaned.[19] Muñoz again writes this idea as ecstasies or “queer relational bliss…the ability to rewrite a larger map of everyday life” (Muñoz 25). In these larger mappings, as they move through the sand and beyond, is the joining of tenses that evoke longing, desire and potentiality in their past, their future, and in their conditions. Their grand journal, and the even grander interpretations distilled from it, evoke the very same sentiments towards a becoming-of-age.

            As much proposed hope as there is for gleaning and constant subverting the story of the enfant, the equally likely feeling of disappointment,[20] not just for them but for all involved in the secret story of l’enfant,is to be examined. There is a danger in solidifying identity especially for a child shaped from various sources and perspectives occupying the pages and reconfiguring like grains of sand. Drawing conclusions that involve a complete refutation of the father’s-imposed life for the enfant or conclusions of a complete acceptance leave all other groupings of potential ignored. In keeping the content of l’enfant in loose formations, the risk of slipping into other structures of oppressive ideology and hegemony is less; a resistance of the dangers of solidifying identity and story to where it has, at last, come of age. Searching through the sand for aspects of the past that relate to a future of queer subjectivity involves confronting unforgiving geological weathering and terrain. This process, both hopeful and disappointing, is key to understanding and formulating becoming(s)-of-age.

            Furthering the intersections of the enfant’s story is necessary to maintain its motion. To better understand the space available for our enfant in the concept of a nation, I look to writer and academic Jarrod Hayes as he thinks through the process of sexuality and gender as it aligns with belonging. In a chapter of his book titled Queer Nations: Marginal Sexuality in the Maghreb titled “Becoming a Woman: Tahar Ben Jelloun’s Allegory of Gender”, he questions the violence of gender naturalization. Arguing that Ben Jelloun’s work can be read as national allegory to rewrite the Nation, Hayes clarifies that its founded “not on the subordination of one gender to another but on gender insubordination” (165). Insubordination of a concept so evocative of body, structure and society grants the becoming-of-age character to movements beyond desiring respectability. Insubordination diverts expectation instead of a subordinate progression or regression of self, norms, and time. The enfant’s delineation during the period of solitude, as well as the subsequent chapters in which they embrace sexual and gender exploration and performativity serves as an insubordinate following of the father’s insistence of “tout prévu”. Whether national identity and hegemonic structures are kept at bay with the edifices upheld by the sand child’s formations at this point remain uncertain, but the diversions and countless possibilities lurking in the clouded hills can be carried and moved by the collectivity that ensues.

             Hayes further interrogates questions on queerness in the Maghreb in writing that “the nation becomes one composed of sand children, whose identities [like other works on national identity confronted with geological structures] are clouded with sand” (Hayes 181); the nation involved becomes inescapably queer in the cloudiness of potential openings and the narrative concludes with no substance to firmly grasp.[21] The child in the desert space is clouded in an oscillation of individuality and imposition. Hayes describes that the telling of the enfant’s story is a collective contamination (170) as its public forum procedure leads to no narrative closure. But within the contamination, the multiple perspectives accumulate amongst all who continue to reveal its complexities in new spaces. I would bring this further to emphasize that the space allotted to the enfant and their story does not solely strike up their own queerness but the ways in which the members of the nation and community around them discuss and build upon ecstatic motions of becoming-of-age.Hayes builds “the narrative of sexual identity is disrupted by challenges to the very narration of that identity” (170) and I would add this analysis for more than the idea of sexual identity but of gender, as well as overall growth and association with truth in a space to live. There in the inhabited space is where Homi Bhabha writes that both the nation and narration can find their “…horizons in the mind’s eye” (Bhabha 1). It can be argued that for Hayes, this is further solidified in the novel that follows, La Nuit Sacrée, where the character named Zahra exhibits much more agency. Hayes frames, “this two-novel sequence…tells not only the story of one individual’s becoming a woman, but also the story of gender, a narration of the process through which gender is stamped onto the bodies and minds of those belonging to “the second sex” (165). The collective story and encounters blossom through the continuation of a powerful story. Yet, as Deleuze and Guattari cite in their explanation of the concept “becoming”, it starts with the becoming-woman.

            As tensions rise between interlocutors, a narrator informs the audience, « vous êtes libres de croire ou de ne pas croire à cette histoire » (Ben Jelloun 43), as listeners and readers we reserve the right to believe or not to believe the stories we are told. One must remain vigilant as the information that we hear changes over numerous interpretations which grind out important details and images to smaller factors and fragments. Re-piecing or reversing these fragments leaves much to be desired as it is never again the full picture. Re-piecing is less effective than carrying the pieces which can move, change, and inspire hope or nostalgia such as is the duty that collective storytelling enacts for encounters with art and stories that have not had the opportunity to be told enough. As Deleuze and Guattari write in describing their concept of becoming, encounters and collective responses tell us that “they [ideas] retain something essential throughout the process, across the displacement, in the distribution of a new domain” (235). So, without the portion of the story which is believed, which is subverted enough times for the listener to grasp it and move forward, where is the space for the enfant to continue in their becoming-of-age or desire of ceasing to exist?

            Where do the pages extend to after their unrelenting reach of non-closure, and where, when the sand becomes finer, does it slip into its next formation? For the questions to be unanswered leaves queer francophone formation lacking in any ability to obtain a space as a constant, to inhabit one place, as well as to be present to one narration and to one captive audience. In response to the subjectivity in this bind I look to Shoshana Zuboff once more in her chapter “The Right to Future Tense” from The Age of Surveillance Capitalism to wonder, as through her authorial admission and my own evocation of the future tense in this novel, if there is a space for the enfant available in the idea of home for the flourishing of life and of any projects.[22] Where through the occupation of time and space by words would such flourishing end up emerging? The enfant’s room, confined and isolated, was where the space for the journal writing began, but how true can it be that this space was without infringement of predictive policing and restrictive classification of identity and self-writing. And even there, or through motions towards imperceptible zones, is the solitary journaling enough to threaten the flow of surveillance she speaks of, or change the limited borders and trajectories? Or enough to sustain a “‘doing’ that is a becoming” (26) in which Muñoz speaks of?

           Sharing this point of analysis, Mehammed Amadeus Mack discusses a reworking of the home in the introduction to his book Sexagon: Muslims, France, and the Sexualization of National Culture. He writes in regards to the intersections of Islam, sexuality, and the banlieue when positing that “the valorization of clandestinity at a time of great change in urban planning, housing, and gentrification naturally leads to the revision of “home” as a concept” (24). While this refers to an urban France, this revision can still be applicable to l’enfant’s sandy surroundings. He further explains, “the queer innovation that these subjects are so often accused of lacking, I argue, occurs inside, and not outside, the home” (Mack 24). Innovating participates in a becoming as it does not seek to imitate or reproduce. Its representations offer formulations that have yet to come to fruition and can grapple with the multiplicities available of self, story, and development. Opposed to the moving multiplicities and potentialities of self and story is a concretization or standardization of what the enfant should be, how a narrative unfolds, and towards what point one should arrive in their coming-of-age. Instead, with becomings, innovative methodologies are employed. Otherwise, a perpetuation of power dynamics and structural pressures continue to take hold. In writing on the novel and narratives employing the chronotype mentioned earlier, Bakhtin writes “every concretization, of even the most simple and everyday variety, would introduce its own rule-generating force, its own order, its inevitable ties to human life and to the time specific to that life” (100).

           Innovation for my analysis can be the written creation of self for the enfant even as it occurred in isolation; the time in the home space adds to the accumulation of experience and representation. Through bouts of cloudiness, frustration, and refurbishments, the sand grains continue to accumulate in representation. Passing through the waist of the hourglass remains as an analog marker yet it can be shattered open in order to slip into further formations. Just as the story of L’enfant de sable “opens with absence” (Erickson 66) due to a missing quotation, the subjectivity swirls from the woven syllables and images of abundance whilst grappling with potential and possibility. Ceci est un autre monde pour l’enfant, this here is an other world for the childcharged with no specific life-time before it.


[1] In his song “Rencontres” from the album Midi 20 Grand Corps Malade reads through lyrics expressing his encounters with sentiments such as tenderness, love, and friendship in his life. He describes each situation in relation to another and works through their winding realities and bounds in the poetic song.

[2] I use “l’enfant” and they/them/their pronouns for my writing on the main character in the novel although other sources may use alternatives such as s/he his/hers or use the names Ahmed and Zahra as they appear in the novel. The quotations in French as well as their translations will remain in the il/elle he/her forms as they were originally written. I chose ‘they’ because of the uncertainty in the subject’s narration, identification and choices throughout L’enfant de sable. Arguments available for the Ben Jelloun’s novel that follows, La Nuit Sacrée, could lead to a different choice.

[3] My use of “gleaning” is in reference to Agnes Varda’s documentary Les glaneurs et la glaneuse, where various people are captured using diverse methods to recuperate and gather numerous things for their lives. The ideas I wish to weave in here will return in my later analysis of queer recuperation in both this chapter and the second chapter.

[4] John Erickson, author of Islam and Postcolonial Narrative, brings attention to the lack of specificity for the story’s date. Despite the fact that the novel was written in 1985, the reader has no basis to identify the plot’s association with a certain decade or century.

[5] References and citations are derived from “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel” from The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays.

[6] Again, I utilize the term becoming to propose maturation and growth as a constant instead of a process with a definite origin and definite end. Reading more works of art and literature with the formations distinguished in becoming-of-age stories allows the growth and hope instilled at these instances to be sustained towards opportunities of queer futurity and collective gleaning.

[7] ‘Ahmed’ is given by the father as the family name whereas ‘Zahra’ appears later in the novel as a chosen name whilst discovering femininity and sexual growth.

[8] I refer to symbolic memory as anything that has material associations that would trigger a remembrance or placement within a particular timeframe.

[9] John Erickson, again in his book Islam and the Postcolonial Novel, brings attention to the fact that the reader of the novel is unaware of the quotation marks that are missing and this adds to the suspension of the narrative voice leaving it missing even in its absence.

[10] Reference to Gina Athena Ulysse’s aforementioned poem “The Passion of Auto-Ethnography: Homage To Those Who Hollered Before Me”.

[11] As a reference to the Zuboff chapter on the right to future tense in her novel The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight For A Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.

[12] Reference to queer theory ideology of “always already” seen in Ahmed’s theory and many others.

[13] With mettre, the “placing” of the child within the world and structures of the novel is the burden of the feminine representation but this appears to be her only control and she takes with it shame of being unable to produce a male heir

[14] Prévu is the past participle of prévoir which informs that the foresight is already engrained in the process, it is not foresight that he will gain through his prediction of the future but is something he already possesses as the past participle must be paired with avoir, to have. The right to this possession problematizes the patriarchal structures and hegemonic power accessible to the father even from the grammatical structures of his declarations

[15] A name meaning “greatly praised”, https://nameberry.com/babyname/Ahmed

[16] Kendrick Lamar’s song YAH. from DAMN. cites here moments of ecstasy within his envelopments of feeling that he is called upon by god or YAH-weh.

[17] Readings from both the introduction of Cruising Utopia titled “Feeling Utopia” and chapter one titled “Queerness as Horizon”.

[18] The blending exists in multiple performative ways for Lamar as he literally mixes the verbal threats that he received from gang members into the chorus of the song “m.A.A.d city” as well as in other points of the album.

[19] Reworking the words used by Jose Muñoz in Cruising Utopia.

[20] To Muñoz, disappointment is paired with hope.

[21] I use the word “concludes” knowing well that the novel is followed by La Nuit Sacree but still as it stands L’enfant de sable offers little conclusion of the whereabouts of the enfant and their choices in gender expression and livelihood yet is most useful for the emphasized importance of storytelling and collectivity during the open-end format.

[22] Particularly interesting is the thought of those who could be written as becoming-of-age in forced confinement of pandemic circumstances and other restrictions for development.

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