MESA Banner
Literature and Identity: Navigating Social Boundaries

Session VIII-17, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • In this paper, I will look at the issue of the production of Knowledge by Arab women through biographies, memoirs, autobiographies and the novel. I shall trace this trend of women’s expression back to the major biographies that shaped an early feminist consciousness especially in Egypt, Lebanon and Syria in the 19th century. By tracing the major concerns, themes and preoccupations of these biographies, I compare their political concerns with European biographies produced mainly before or around the same time all the way to the turn of the 20th century with the work of May Ziadah. Some of these common themes articulated by Jane Austen or Lucy Stone (among others) range from domestic exemplarity, male oppression, ideological commitment, from rebellion against the seclusion of women to the question of education of girls and the deconstruction of state/religious forms of authority and power. Moving from the early production of biographies usually serialized in women’s magazines, I will look at the significance of a shift to memoirs and the genre of the novel. I will specifically look at memoirs by Egyptian Huda Shaʿrāwī, the Moroccan Fatima Mernissi, the Palestinian Fadwa Ṭūqān and the war fiction of Huda Barakat and Hanan Al-Shaykh. My ultimate argument is to demonstrate by these examples how this act of “gendering history” has been a process of departing from contextually grounded biographies into setting the ground for new “modernist” articulations of the feminine and feminist self well exemplified in politically conscious memoirs, autobiographies and novels.
  • Since the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978, scholars have debated, modified, and supplemented the original thesis and east-west binary found in his work. In particular, “black Orientalism” and “Afro-Orientalism” have been used to describe a set of orientalist discourses by black scholars, academics, and writers. In this paper, I use Claude McKay’s works and personal archives, international films, and colonial maps to investigate the boundaries of “Africa” and the “Orient” in the imperial and sub-imperial imagination during the interwar period of the 1920s and 1930s. In particular, the sexualization and queering of a sheikh as a racialized subject in popular films and literature disrupts and blurs homo-hetero and gender binaries in such a way that comes to define the “logics” of orientalism. Similarly, I turn to the ways “Afro-Orientalist anxieties” are projected upon and worked through Afro-Arab women. I define Afro-orientalist anxieties as the tension, proximity, ambiguities, and boundaries between the East and the West, “Africa” and the “Orient,” black and Arab, in ways that reveal the fictitious nature of the hyphenated boundary between “Afro” and “Oriental,” as well as the categories themselves. I argue that imperial processes of racialization during the interwar period operated at different registers of meaning – emotionally, linguistically, sexually, and sonically–that allowed for a substantial overlap of blackness and Arabness in interwar period Marseille. Working across, English, French, and Arabic sources, I show how writers, intellectuals, and imperial subjects blur the line between black and Arab, African and Oriental, hetero- and homoeroticism in such a manner that allows for what Brent Edwards calls a “disarticulation” of the categories themselves. Through this dis-articulation, I re-articulate Orientalism as a set of discourses that reveal Africanity and queerness as foundational to the imaginary construction of the “Orient.”
  • The Tunisian #EnaZeda (#MeToo) movement gained momentum when a high schooler accused a newly elected member of parliament of sexually harassing her outside her school. After sharing her story on Facebook, a number of feminist collectives and organizations created Facebook groups for victims and survivors to talk about their experiences. The movement led to a public debate that reached college campuses, the mainstream media, and even literature. Monia Ben Jémia’s book Les Siestes du grand-père: récit d’inceste can be read as a product of this movement. Nédra, the main character of the book references #EnaZeda at the end of her narrative. This paper will focus on the tension between silence and survivor speech in and around the narrative. While the book cover shows a picture of the author as a young child, most of the narrative is written in the voice of a character called Nédra, and while the author’s interview with Le Monde describes the text as autobiographical, the author often downplays the importance of the genre in favor of the story line. This tension reveals the continued risks of representing vulnerability even in the wake of the #EnaZeda movement, but it also paves the way for recentering the voice of the child both in literature and public discourse.
  • “What was the voice that emerged from Algeria?” asked a twenty-one-year-old Mahmoud Darwish in a 1961 article for the journal Al-Jadid. In the years following the Bandung Conference of 1955, the idea of poetry that captured the ‘voice’ of the people became a key ethos, emblem, and strategy of the ideological project of Third-Worldism. Not only were different fantasies of ‘the voice’ of the people animated as the necessary precondition for the transformation of poetry into a weapon in the struggle for liberation, but the newly perceived importance of paying attention to voices from oppressed elsewheres generated a conception of poetry tasked with discursively linking disparate struggles. Scholars of poetry movements within frameworks of declared political militancy have often noted this tendency and gestured to internationalism as a unifying principle of mid-twentieth century cultural production. Rarely, however, have they sought to unearth any shared generic, stylistic, or tonal characteristics between the contemporaneous poets associated with Third-Worldist cultural formations, such as Darwish. If we wanted to bring some features of the poetics of Third-Worldism to light, where could we look? To what debates should we attend? In this paper, I suggest we begin by turning our attention to the aesthetic concept of genre, and in particular to two poetic genres that Mahmoud Darwish adopted in the early sixties as part of his quest to construct the ‘voice’ of the Palestinian people, and to put that voice in conversation with revolutionary actors elsewhere: the ars poetica poem and the dramatic monologue. These two genres were central to Darwish’s attempts to cultivate a form of poetic realism [al-shiʿr al-waqiʿ'i], which he deemed the only mode of writing the committed poet could adopt if he wished to transform the world and not merely reflect it. My paper will suggest that these 'minor' genres bring to light a more precise ground of comparison than other categories with which Darwish’s sixties poetry has often been associated, such as Soviet-style socialist realism. In fact, I contend that examining the particular poetic genres through which Darwish insisted on the role of art in political struggles, and through which he expressed his identification with far-flung anti-colonial actors, both gives us a sharper sense of how global aesthetic currents like socialist realism were vernacularized, and allows us to trace the Third-Worldist networks of literary exchange in which Darwish was embedded.