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Between Fiction, History, and Ethnography: Bedouin Women in Sulṭānāt Al-Raml
Abstract by Linda Istanbulli On Session IX-27  (Feminist and Queer Literature)

On Saturday, November 4 at 3:00 pm

2023 Annual Meeting

Lina Huwayyan al-Hasan is one of the first Syrian novelists to dive into the world of the Bedouin tribes in the Syrian desert. In several of her novels, Huwayyan al-Hasan, who is herself of Bedouin origin, investigates and documents the history, culture, and social life of the Bedouin community as a form of exploring what she calls, the repressed memory of her own self. This paper focuses on Huwayyan al-Hasan’s 2009 novel, Sulṭānāt al-raml (The Sand’s Sultanas), which draws on the life stories of multiple Bedouin women, whose legacy continues to occupy the Bedouin community’s collective memory and imagination. Set in the Syrian desert at the turn of the twentieth century and against a background of profound social and political transformations, the novel explores the complex lived experiences of powerful heroines, whose bodies are liberated from patriarchal codes of morality and whose identities are not determined by fixed points of reference. Additionally, the lives of these women unfold through a strategic juxtaposition of fictional accounts, intergenerational storytelling, western travel narratives, and nationalist legal documents and political speeches. As I investigate the novel’s representations of Bedouin women and its straddling between fiction, ethnography, and history, I argue that Sulṭānāt al-raml interrogates the dynamics of both colonialism and anti-colonial nationalisms. The novel’s activation of the nomadic, desiring female body as a charged site of agency allows for alternative genealogies and articulations of the Bedouin female subject beyond paradigms of sameness and difference, on the one hand, and alienation and national belonging on the other. Additionally, Huwayyan al-Hasan’s cross-genre intertextual practices—the engagement of the fictional narrative with the historical and the ethnographic—further interrogate the power structures at play in hegemonic discourses and the tensions that inhabit mediated forms of representation, rendering history making a type of literary practice.
Geographic Area
Arab States
Sub Area