‘A Distant Episode’ by Paul Bowles

PaulBowlesA Distant Episode by Paul Bowles, 1947

The magic trick:

The hatred shown the professor before the violence

The story is probably most memorable for the graphic descriptions of the Reguiba’s brutal treatment of the professor during the narrative’s second half. Bowles is just as graphic, though, in the first half, portraying the non-violent hatred the professor inspires from the locals upon his arrival.

The chauffeur is “scornful” when he hears the professor talk of surveying the native dialects. The qaouji’s despises immediately the professor’s attempts to claim ownership of the local culture. He hates the professor’s use of the Moghrebi language, his proud connection to Hassan Ramani the cafe owner, and finally, his desire to purchase a collection of boxes made of camel udders.

Bowles is so relentless in this depiction of resentment, the ensuing violence that befalls the professor winds up feeling more like a predictable eventuality than a shocking change of direction in the narrative. And that’s quite a magic trick on Bowles’s part.

The selection:

“Everyone knows you,” said the Professor, to cut the silence between them.

“Yes.”

“I wish everyone knew me,” said the Professor, before he realized how infantile such a remark must sound.

No one knows you,” said his companion gruffly.

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