Updated: Feb 2, 2022
I recently discovered a superb scholarly review of my first book, by a self-described ‘intersectional feminist’. In the abstract to ‘Orientalism and the Failed White Saviour: A Study of Garry Craig Powell’s Stoning the Devil’, (2020), Dr Rathwell writes that my collection of linked stories ‘delivers a critique of Western white expatriate saviourism by presenting a nuanced relationship between his British protagonist Colin, and his Palestinian wife, Fayruz. Through the use of meta-literature, anti-hero tropes and references to violence and sexuality, Powell critiques stereotypical tropes of Orientalism. (…) complicat(ing) them in a literary manner to provide biting criticism of white saviorism in the Middle East. The relationship between Colin and Fayruz therefore serves as a metaphor for relations between the West and the Orient, and in doing so, questions if there can be a post-Orientalist world. Furthermore, the literature is a reflection of the time in which it was created, demonstrating a cultural awareness of the myopic view of Arab women from western eyes, while simultaneously exploring the trope of the failing expatriate.’
I agree with all that. I had read Edward Said’s Orientalism when I wrote the book, if not all the other postcolonial scholars Dr Rathwell references, and the intertextuality was deliberate, as was the metafictional nature of a few of the stories, especially those in which the protagonist is Colin, a professor of colonial and post-colonial literature. The book was intended not as some proselytising feminist or anti-racist screed – I hope my readers are intelligent enough not to need me to preach to them – but certainly as an interrogation of the way westerners interact with Arabs in the Gulf. Still, it’s interesting that the book has been more than once praised by feminist critics. Rathwell herself refers to Paula Mendoza, who wrote an overwhelmingly positive (and astute) review of my book in Lipstick and Politics (Mendoza, 2013).
And yet just today I heard that a local artist was angry with me because of my ‘misogyny.’ I wonder where she got the idea that I was misogynist? Has she read Stoning the Devil? I doubt it. Probably she misinterpreted some flippant comment of mine on social media. (A bad habit I need to break!) For the record, as far as I can tell – obviously I’m aware that all men are guilty of subconscious sexism, according to some radical feminists – I am not remotely misogynistic. I support women’s rights to equality. It’s true that I don’t consider them to be innately superior to men. Nor do I support the kind of exclusion of men (or any other group) being practised by some very privileged women in the media and academia these days. Possibly that makes me a misogynist in the eyes of some – the purblind.
But back to ‘Orientalism and the Failed White Saviour.’ I agreed with virtually every word in the article. It’s a brilliant analysis, of its kind. My only criticism of this kind of postmodern criticism is that it concentrates so wholly on the political themes, particularly the themes of identity politics, that it neglects other aspects of the book that I consider equally or more important. Certainly it’s true that the inequality of power between the sexes permeates everything in the book. Nevertheless, it’s also very much a book about failed love, and lust, in a society so corrupted by materialistic values that every relationship becomes a transaction. It’s a study of the essential loneliness of men and women in the early twenty-first century, not only in the Gulf, but anywhere that western materialism has crushed the human spirit and turned men and women into impulsive, self-destructive children who have no self-control, and at times into beasts.
That may appear depressing, but it’s also a portrait of people longing for connection, longing for meaning, longing for some kind of spiritual insight, and getting occasional glimpses of it. Rathwell concentrates in her article on the most dysfunctional relationship in the book, and although it’s true that most of the romantic relationships in the stories are no better, there are signs of hope. There’s Tyrone, a remarkably wise, kind Buddhist masseur from Sri Lanka. And while none of the characters is perfect, and most of the Arab women fail to fulfil themselves, there’s a clear indication that one of them, Randa, in spite of her faults, will manage to take control of her life, and live in a satisfying, fulfilling way. And even Colin, for all his repressed racism, is aware of his prejudices, and ashamed of them. He is at least trying to change for the better. In fact, in their own way, almost all the characters are doing their best, perhaps making unwise decisions, but truly trying to live the best way the can, given the circumstances. Isn’t that what most of us do?
And wouldn’t it be wonderful if, instead of judging one other all the time, and being outraged by one another, we had the generosity of spirit to see that even the people who disagree with us are doing the best they can, with whatever gifts they have? They have the same longings and needs, as you do, and suffer in the same ways too.
This insight is literature’s greatest gift, and if you don’t understand it – if you insist on detesting others because their ideology is different from yours (or skin colour, or sexuality, or sex, or religion, or whatever) then you may as well not read at all. Unless you read merely to confirm your prejudices – which I’m afraid is increasingly the case these days. Everything I write is an invitation to step into the other man’s, or woman’s, shoes.
Mendoza, Paula. ‘Desire and Debasement: Feminism in Garry Craig Powell’s Stoning the Devil.’ Lipstick and Politics. September 8th 2013. Desire And Debasement: Feminism In Garry Craig Powell’s Stoning The Devil – Lipstick & Politics (lipstickandpolitics.com)
Accessed January 26, 2022.
Powell, Garry Craig. (2012). Stoning the Devil. Cheltenham, UK: Skylight Press.
Said, Edward. (1978). Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books.
Rathwell, Selena. (2020) ‘Orientalism and the Failed White Saviour: A Study of Garry Craig Powell’s Stoning the Devil’. Siasat Al Insaf – The Middle Eastern Review (1:3)