The Arabian Nights: A Story Called Desire

The Sultan had to have lost all desire for life itself. A man who marries a woman, sleeps with her, strangles her the following morning, and repeats this everyday for three years has certainly lost some vital sense of self and connection to life. This is the man for whom, like some comic book wonder woman, Scheherazade left her father’s house.  She wanted to save the Sultan not because she loved him—who could love such a villain—she wanted to save him from himself because in saving him she hoped to save herself and the kingdom, for what is a kingdom without its women?

Going into the whole thing, Scheherazade knew one thing: a man could love your body and still destroy it. She did not have the luxury that many of us do—the way we can serve up our bodies or parts of our bodies on a platter to get a man to do things.  Her pretty face and stunning body were no use to the Sultan. He did not desire women. If at all he needed them, it was the way one needed trash…in the garbage.

What saved Scheherazade? Why did mad and murderous Shahryār not kill her? We know she told him stories. But why stories? Scheherazade could have danced for him, sang for him, read for him.

First of all, stories shape the way we think by teaching us how and what to desire. A storyteller is essentially someone who manages desire by modulating the listener’s expectations with the promise of some kind of fulfillment at some future time. Stories cannot live on desires that destroy its object. Loving a story means wanting to hold on to its hold on you for as long as the storyteller decides. By telling Shahryār these stories, she taught him one thing: captivation. She taught him the simple but necessary pleasure of being enchanted, of letting oneself to be held captive by something beautiful, and never wanting to let go. She gave him the joy of waking up to a living story and not to the body of a dead girl.

For 1001 nights, she told these stories—lots of them. One story in the collection could spawn an infinite number of stories. She used all sorts of devices and tricks to endlessly string stories together. She held Shahryār captive in a mesh of unfinished stories, making him slave to endings that never came or those that even when they came left him unfulfilled and hankering for more.

Shahryār became addicted to her stories, and as with all highs, the highs had to keep getting higher. I love how she ends each story with the promise (or plea) that the next one will be more wonderful, surprising, and diverting than the last. As I flip the pages from one story to the next, egged on by this promise, I often fear for her. Will she make good on the promise?

All this for a man she did not even love and who fell in love with her stories before falling in love with her.

 

 

 

First Image: t. van gieson

Second Image: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade

Third Image: The Blue Sultana by Léon Bakst

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I'm finishing up a phd at Duke University where I study African novels, which I believe are some of the loveliest things ever written. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Wonder Woman in Soweto! | Lauren Beukes Gives African Spin to DC Comic’s Superhero

wonder-woman-beukes2

We know and love Lauren Beukes for spine-tingling urban fantasies like Zoo City, The Shining Girls, and Broken Monsters. Well, it […]

What If Maps Were Made By Africans For Their Own Use? | Chimurenga’s New Issue is a Must Read

chimurenga-maps-africa2

CNN calls Chimurenga Chronic “Africa’s answer to the New Yorker.” But the truth is the New Yorker has nothing on the […]

Quotes from Five African Women Writers to Help You Jumpstart Your Writing Dreams

taiye-selasi

The month of March—Women’s History Month—has been great, but it’s coming to an end We invite you to join us in […]

How 58 Intellectuals from 25 Countries Took A Bus Ride Across South Africa

Forrest-durban-participant-francois-verges

A new issue of The Salon is out! And it chronicles the one-of-a-kind travel project that took 58 scholars from 25 countries across […]

My African Book Diary | African Food Porn for the Hungry and the Lustful

how-to-cook-your-husband-calixthe-beyala

Now, this is one sexy African novel. How to Cook Your Husband the African Way, written by Cameroonian author, Calixthe […]

Maker of Documentaries | by Nnamdi Oguike | An African Short Story

abbensetts14

“Jean-Marie de Valmont, the famous French filmmaker, was filming the final episode of a documentary series on Nigerian cuisine when […]