The complete Tingis
All genres have gaps of indeterminacy as each reader creates an account of their own. As a particular choice of words, a Google-search click away, an abrupt ending to a short story, or the space between comics panels, gaps appear in all genres and are to be filled by the reader. A text is subject to a reader’s interpretation as the reader fills in these gaps through uniquely drawn connections and meanings that are relevant to him or her. Whether the text appears as an online blog, an academic journal, a short story, or a graphic novel, a unique reading experience will be created as one completes the missing story in a text. As we continue engaging our class discussion on literary genre, it may be agreed upon that we all have had different readings of a text and that gaps of indeterminacy will prevail.
In the case of the graphic novel, this gap is made more visibly explicit in the form of a gutter. The gutter, or the space between the panels as Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics defines it to be, creates a rupture in the flow of the graphic narrative. “Here in the limbo of the gutter. Human imagination takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea.” According to Scott McCloud, the gutter allows the reader to be the “silent accomplice” between panels, “the equal partner in crime” that back-stabs the victim while scanning their eyes across the gutter. He emphasizes that the gutter allows the reader to become an active participant as he or she creates an individualized experience of the narrative. The reader finds closure, the perception of the whole from the observation of the parts, out of experience and practice in our boundless human mind and imagination. We, as humans, easily relate to icons and find meaning and relation between them. We hence create interpretations of a narrative and a story of our own, eventually emphasizing the gaps of indeterminacy as we each find meaning to a text.
As we read Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, I was drawn to actively fill in the gutter between the frames and become an active participant in Satrapi’s life story as presented through the icons. On my first online reflection of the text, I sought to find a hidden meaning in the gutter:
“The term Persepolis was surprisingly not mentioned at all in the chapter [Persepolis] and I was rapidly reminded that words are but a part of the graphic novel story... Persepolis is the lost paradise, the Persian splendor, the worthy history of a proud people, and the remembrance of a wealthy past during the Islamic revolution. Satrapi did not live in the grandeur of Persepolis, but was faced with war and change that only allowed for reminiscence of the glorious past. Her childhood missed the greatness of her ancestors but she was faced with the clash of her own people. Not referencing the name during the chapter symbolically conveyed that regardless of the magnificence of her country’s past, her story is that of a Persia falling into rubble in a time of revolution.”
As I followed the trail left behind by the icons to find meaning to Satrapi’s Persepolis, it became a quest of my own as my life story resonated with Satrapi’s French upbringing and family privilege.
I am Moroccan, born and raised in the city of Tangier. My Arabic mother tongue was spoken unharmed by other Western languages only for the first two years of my life, before my life and education were signed off to the American school in a sixteen year contract. At home, I speak Frarabic and watch French TV. With friends and siblings, Franglabic is spoken. For me, Andalusian Spain is but an annual ferry trip away.
Western influences in Morocco were inevitable: French is a pseudo-primary language, the Spanish coast is a view away, and English is the lingua franca. I was privileged to have open-minded, well-off parents who themselves continued their professional education in France. My privilege held onto the Western world and gradually made me a stranger to my own roots.
I am aware of the gaps in the account of my story as I reconstruct my life writing. I grew up in a Westernized Morocco and the perception of my country is altered by my upbringing and socio-economic status. My privilege distanced me from the rich Arabic language, a history and culture of an Arab and Berber people, and an experience shared by a wide majority of Moroccans. In my life writing, my human imagination is futile in bridging the gaps. The missing pieces of my life puzzle are back in my home country, in the Arabic history books written by Moroccans, in conversations with the older generations in my family, in folklore stories, and in trips to the unvisited places in my country. These gaps are not completely indeterminate but are to be filled as I return to do my research. I am very far from undertaking this task right now, but I will share what I do know and fill in some of these gaps (using Wikipedia as a reference, ironically).
Long before the Arabs extended the Islamic Empire to Morocco in the 7th century, Morocco was home to the North African indigenous Berber people. They speak the Berber language. Not until recently did the Berber Amazigh language become state-recognized as one of two official national primary languages.
My family is of Arab ancestry. I am not sure when my ancestors moved to Morocco but my father’s mother is a direct descendant of the Muslim Arabs in Andalusian Spain. Her family fled the Spanish Inquisition and settled in central Morocco, as did many Muslims and Jews.
In 1912, the Treaty of Fez made Morocco a protectorate of France and Spain the protecting power over the Northern and Southern Saharan zones. This marked the beginning of colonial rule. Morocco gained its independence after years of resistance in 1956.
In addition to the Arabs, Morocco has been invaded by the Romans, Vandals, Phoenicians, Ottomans, and the Portuguese.
Tangier was an international zone in 1939 and finally joined the kingdom of Morocco in 1945.
These are but fragments to a story yet to be complete. Time and research will fill the rest.
As I went about examining the gaps to my life writing, most appear out of the missed context of my history and the questioning of the pre-molded life that I have had only after coming to the United States. Growing up, I was surrounded by my country and people that my life account, not only uninteresting to the people around me, seemed fluid and unquestionable. As I tell my story here in the United States, I am faced with the missed context, the misunderstood cultural references, and the linguistic barrier, which widen the gaps to my life story. I am reminded, as I break my story down into chunks and pieces relatable to the culture here, that my knowledge about myself and my history is limited.
In relation to any literary genre, the reader has in some sense crossed the Atlantic Ocean and dived into a new culture to which the writer is the unique participant. The reader has to find the bridges in the missed contextual references and understand the culture and history of the writer in order to fill in the gaps in the reading. As this task depends on one’s cultural interpretation, the reading experience becomes relative to the reader. The gaps of indeterminacy are but an emphasis to the flexibility in the understanding of a text and make for diverse perspectives and rich, open-ended discussions.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. 1993
Note on Title:
Analogous to the irony in the title "The Complete Persepolis", I present my "complete" Tingis.
Tingis, now Tangier, was founded by the Carthiginian colonists in the early 5th century BC. It was then known as a Berber and Phenician town. It was named after the Berber goddess Tinjis, whose son Sufax built the city.
The picture above is of the Cave of Hercules, on the Atlantic Coast of Tangier. It was believed that Hercules slept there before undertaking his 12 labors.