Literature is no less important than other fields of the humanities in disrupting mainstream national histories. This paper showcases how the Syrian-Canadian queer writer and activist, Ahmad Danny Ramadan, contributes in his novel, The Clothesline Swing (2019), to undoing the authorised discourse imposed by Al-Assad's autocratic regime. By attempting to digest the current horrendous events in Syria and reassess the past to fathom the reasons for the countrywide shattering, the protagonist unfolds untold histories and stories re-narrating them in a way that challenges the formal histories accredited by the official authority.
In support, the field of memory studies proffers a fitting framework to investigate the novel in discussion. As the narrative evidences, re-visioning the country's politics, namely of Al-Assad’s era, occupies a prominent space of the author’s concern. Ramadan’s effort, in this respect, accords with Pearlman’s observation that “Syrians’ telling of their own stories produces new narratives. [...] They are refusing the collective silence that buttressed authoritarian rule for decades” (2016). Registering histories in fictions becomes, therefore, an awakening to the self-indulgence that has sustained the dynamic dispositif (Foucault), yet more significantly, it is a means of resistance. For, by writing counter-histories in works of fiction not only the dominant histories are defied but also the dominant collective amnesia. Between visibility and invisibility, fictional texts by either reviving actual obliterated histories or inventing alternatives stretch the playground of historical possibility. Cultural memory studies provide an effective methodology in inquiring into the dynamics of reimagining and consequently rewriting the nation, and in expounding the epistemic and structural benefits of this reimagining.
Cultural memory “is concerned not with actual events but their cultural repercussions; [...] and with representations of memories” (Saunder, 2008). In-depth, in their “performance of cultural memory”, fictions play the role of “catalysts” by “drawing attention to ‘new’ topics or ones hitherto neglected in cultural remembrance” (Rigney 2008). As such, The Clothesline Swing, as an autofiction, contributes in its interpretation of the historical politics of Syria to the national collective memory. More importantly, it might “record counter-cultural memories that official cultures tend to repress or try to forget” (Saunder 2008). I see a striking resemblance here between Saunder’s case study and the effort, in the novel, as well as, in other documentary volumes, like Syria Speaks (2014). “Tell me a story”, frequently reiterated in the novel, seems to be the call for Ramadan’s Scheherazade to unfold secrets and to interrogate the nation.