Monday, June 17, 2013

Blogging the Caine: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's "The Whispering Trees"

I get the impression, from Ibrahim's "The Whispering Trees," that it takes part of a tradition with which I am unfamiliar; that what is being drawn on to make this text work is simply something I don't know. At the same time, though, it retains a closeness to traditions with which I am familiar, and so is even more confusing.

"The Whispering Trees" opens with a direct address to the reader;

"It’s strange how things are on the other side of death. I fear I am incapable of describing the experience to you because I do not know what words to use."

And, of course, the following paragraphs are a long, unsuccessful attempt to do just that. It didn't lead me to expect any explicit cosmic horrors, exactly, but it did put Lovecraft on the brain (and the title certainly didn't help). If Lovecraft did anything, of course, it was to insist obsessively that his unknowable horrors were material, not metaphysical, and so the association isn't even really accurate at all; I get the impression that, if anything, Ibrahim and Lovecraft are in some strange, atemporal way, contemporaries, both reacting to a body of work with similar rhetorical strategies, although with wildly different purposes.

On the other hand, the moral, too, while apparently the antithesis of a Lovecraftian point, boils down -- if you read both authors uncharitably -- to, effectively: "give up." Whether this sentiment is expressed through the character's realization of the harsh, unthinkable malevolence of the universe or through their coming to terms with their lot and desiring nothing else, and whether this is accessed through "madness" or depression, the takeaway's arguably the same; give up.
Before this gets too belaboured; the point, I suppose, is that "The Whispering Trees" seems, to me, to have many genre trappings.

At the same time, though, I get the sense that it isn't really a genre text, and even as I write that I cringe. I tend to think even the most ostensibly ostensive definitions of genre tend toward a certain essentialism; "knowing it when you see it" might seem to be radically open but it is almost exclusively used in service of arguments in favor of enclosing genre in a supremely reactionary way. Part of my disappointment in the story is that I would like to read it as a genre text, and figure out where it does interesting things given that context. For whatever reason -- it is at least equally possible that I am at fault here as that the story is -- I can't, though. This is related to my sense that it derives from a different tradition; someone suggested the magical realism of Marquez, but I'm still assuming there is some more relevant, perhaps explicitly religious, canon from which "The Whispering Trees" draws of which I am entirely ignorant. Again, though, I would not be especially surprised to learn that I am wrong here.

I suppose that means I'll defer to others' judgments here; I've nothing much to say.