The Fire and the Puzzle


One man (a Frenchman wearing a helmut?) inspects the Egyptian temple ruins close up. Meanwhile others, wearing turbans, prepare a mid-day meal in a huge pot over a fire just outside the entrance to the ruins. Another man approaches from a distance; over his back is draped what looks like a large, full wineskin. Multi-ton chunks of masonry lie toppled on all sides. (You may need to scroll to see the full illustration below.)


The temple appears to have settled into itself very strangely. Huge uncarved foundation-blocks support the pillars. But instead of just one foundation-block per pillar there are several, stacked on top of each other, all irregular. The pillars themselves are barely a man's body-length in height, and they too are in fragments, one piece stacked upon another, nothing fitting right. In fact, the pieces of each pillar don't look like they ever went together---they all have different shapes and markings, a real hodge-podge. And many pieces are clearly missing: the temple's pillars are comically short and the whole thing must be one quarter or at most one half of its original height. (See close-up.)


 How could the ruin be in such a state? It couldn't have just settled in place, for the parts don't match. This is not just a ruin of ancient Egypt but a ruin of a more modern reconstruction. Is this reconstruction the handiwork of the Egyptians? the Ottomans or Marmuks? Is it the best job that could be done, because many of the parts are missing? Or is it botched job by people whom the French believe can't learn to "read" the ruins' fragments properly?

The hidden story of this drawing by the French: the French have arrived to set all to rights. But part of their job as they define it is to suggest that lesser civilizations cannot fit together correctly the puzzle pieces of a great past civilization. The French are also in Egypt to record Islam's failure, to assemble a monument of it.

Edward Said, Orientalism: "For Egypt was not just another colony: it was the vindication of Western imperialism; it was, until its annexation by England, an almost academic example of Oriental backwardness...." (35). See also Martin Bernal, Black Athena, Volume One, on the "whitening" of ancient Egypt and reinterpretations of Egypt's relations with Greece and the rest of Africa.

To the far left a French guard paces in the distance, rifle on shoulder.


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