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The complete Tingis

sterrab's picture


           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.




Anne Dalke's picture

Filling in the gaps?

Kudos, first, to you, for beginning to explore, and exploit, some of the possibilities opening up to you in this new genre of the on-line academic essay. You're beginning to write prose that's more bi-directional, along the lines you first described in breaks in the genre of science writing a month ago.

Choosing to open your essay, for instance, with such an evocative image of a "gap," one that draws us in and leads us on… and then to close it by explaining what we are looking at... was quite powerful. Naming your paper "Tingis"--knowing that was a word I and most of your readers would not recognize, was also a lovely move, entirely appropriate to a text about "filling in the gaps."  There is of course still more that you can do, in terms of exploring the capacities of this new genre of on-line academic writing; you might use images or diagrams throughout the text, as quotes or illustrations of your main ideas. You might also make your links  (for example, your quoting your own earlier posting) active;  and you'll need to figure out, along the way, just how to make your sources clearer to your reader. I look forward to seeing your continued experimentation in this regard! (But I also note that you find your use of Wikipedia "ironic"--why is that? You might want to look @ Ayla's earlier essay on this source, as you consider the possibilities it offers for your own writing.)

You highlight in your narrative the striking thing that happens when one moves out of one country and into another: being Moroccan, in the U.S., you face "missed context" and "misunderstood cultural references," as well as a "linguistic barrier," which "widen the gaps" when you tell your life story. A listener or reader, confronted by an unfamiliar story like your own, "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."

But the more striking point you have to make, in my mind, is the way that you really "up the ante" in the claim that McCloud makes, about readers filling in the gaps in the gutters that appear between the panels in graphic narratives; your claim here is that each of us has gaps in our own stories, holes in the narratives we tell that we may not even be aware of. These are holes that might be filled by imagination, and may be filled by research; but naming those gaps, and even the act of beginning to fill them, is a reminder to us all of the incompleteness of all stories, perhaps most particularly the ones we tell about our own lives.

Wolfgang Iser, who coined the phrase "gaps of indeterminacy," argues in The Act of Reading that "our construction of meaning is likely to be open and provisional at the outset, but to become gradually less open and more definite"; he thought that, as we proceed through a text, we reduce the number of possibilities. I disagree, and your narrative seems to suggest that you may, too?

sterrab's picture

multi-possible meanings in the gutter

I do disagree with Wolfgang Iser on his statement that "[the] construction of meaning is likely to be open and provisional at the outset". As one reads more carefully through a text, the hidden meanings and missed contextual references rise to the surface allowing for multi-directional overall meanings of a text. The more a text is read, analyzed, and broken down into smaller digestable pieces, the wider the gap in meaning between what is meant in one sentence to the next.

EGrumer's "Gutters: An Evolution in Thought" is a great parallel to the claim that gutters are in every genre. She emphasized the stuctural gutters in prose and short stories appear as line-, pargraph-, or chapter- breaks that provide a "jump" in the narrative. I thought that she provided a new perspective on how the gutter physically appears as the blank or negative space on any published work, whether online or printed.

As for the comment on Wikipedia, Ayla's paper did indicate that the online encyclopedia can be used as a legitimate source and I do agree with that claim. However, I found it to be ironic to use Wikipedia as I attempt to return to my roots to fill in the gaps to my story. It is still an accurate source, to some extent, but I am reading what was probably written by a Westerner. (Or maybe not.)


Anne Dalke's picture


You might also want to check out a related essay by one of your classmates: Gutters: An Evolution in Thought.