First, let’s talk a little about The Hakawati (translation: The Storyteller). It’s a novel that’s not quite a novel. When we talk about novels, we usually talk about plot structure, arcs, one cohesive line that takes us from the first chapter to the last. Some authors mix it up and give us something unexpected. Alameddine is one of them. In his book, he’s giving us a more literal representation of a traditional oral storyteller by structuring The Hakawati in a different way.
The book Orality and Literacy, by Walter J. Ong focuses on the different characteristics between written and oral culture. Among those differences is the structure of narrative, which he explicates in the chapter titled “Oral Memory, the Story and Characterization.” The inherent difference between “orality” and literacy lies within relying on either memory or text, between listening to the story or reading it:
When I read The Hakawati, suddenly 1,001 Arabian Nights made sense. Based on the layered storytelling structure, I realized how Scheherazade could maintain enough suspense to buy herself another night, and another, and another. It’s not just that she stopped in the middle of a story at dawn, it’s that she stopped in the middle of a story, which was really part of another story, and even when she finished the story in the story, she was still nowhere finished with the first story. It’s like the best TV series where in each episode they conclude one complication, just to reveal that Complication A affects Complication B, which triggers Complication C. For every thread they tie up, they unravel one or two more. That’s what keeps us eagerly anticipating the next episode. In a way, we have oral storytelling structure to thank for that.
Whew. I promise the next post will be more concise. It will also have at least one picture. Stay tuned!