Panel 6g. Liberation in Arab Cultural Productions: Literature, Cinema, Theatre

Chair: Ala Al-Hamarne
Discussant: Gihan Abouzeid

Inter-textual nation: Novel resistance to dominant forms in Ibrahim Nasrallah’s Palestine Comedies
Nora Parr, SOAS, University of London

A series of eight works so far, al-Malha al-Filasṭiniya [The Palestine Comedies] by Ibrahim Nasrallah (b. 1954 Wihdat camp, Amman) explores the ability of the national novel to tell Palestine’s multiple stories as collective identity. Typically, the national novel is thought of as representing a “precise analogue” to the imagined national community, which in turn is imagined as “inherently limited and sovereign” (Anderson, 1986). In subjecting both the novel and the national-form to simultaneous scrutiny, al-Malha al-Filasṭiniya forges an alternative pattern of belonging that brings the diversity and multiplicity of Palestinian history and experience into a single framework. No longer subject to the conventions of the bordered or sovereign nation, a critical reading of the series also reveals the development of an alternative model of the nation. From a bounded space filled with linear time, the nation becomes a constellation of texts held together by crisscrossing trajectories of exile, displacement, and hoped-for return. This paper will introduce the series, and through a reading of its fifth novel, Aras ‘Amina [Safe Weddings, 2004] show the revolutionary potential of inter-textual belonging.

Libido, Aliaa El-Mahdy and Arab social media. Signs of Sexual Liberation?
Viola Shafik, Humboldt University

This paper deals with the question if Egyptian short films, like Libido/al-raghba al-jinisyya, Alia El-Mahdy’s early 2011 video-performances including her nude self-representations as well as the more recent Love Matters campaign which circulate on youtube and in social media are first signs of a sexual liberation in Egypt or if they are just desperate and exceptional attempts to subvert a crushingly oppressive reality. Headlines on violent sexual harassment during demonstrations in Egypt, crack downs on supposedly homosexuals have coincided with artistic Graffiti exhibitions on sexuality. At the same time female victims of army and police violations ranging from humiliating virginity tests to actual rape have chosen to speak out publicly about their ordeals. How do these phenomena feed into the notions of freedom and dissidence and what do they tell about current post-revolutionary culture in Egypt and beyond? Also, maybe the discourse on sexuality as such is currently taking a different direction being a morally and religiously highly contested arena? On the other hand, what if there are no real changes but the question of sexual liberation itself is a matter of reading inspired by a modernist discourse that believes in historical progress?

Visualizing the 2006 War on Lebanon: Limits and Possibilities
Syrine Hout, American University in Beirut

In this presentation, I compare and contrast the portrayal of the 2006 War between Lebanon and Israel in three visual renditions: Lebanon’s 33 Day War (July 2013), 33 Days (April 2013, directed by Iranian Jamal Shurjeh, with an entirely Lebanese cast), and Under the Bombs (September 2007, produced and directed by Franco-Lebanese Philippe Aractingi). While the first two are local productions financed by Iran, the last is a Lebanese and French production. My comparative analysis will focus on the uses of the war, ranging from a form of political propaganda (as in the documentary Lebanon’s 33 Day War shown on al Manar) and passing onto a discussion of nationalism in a larger socio-cultural context (as in 33 Days shown in several countries in movie theatres) all the way to an exploration not only of international discord but more significantly of sectarian conflict and reconciliation in the face of a common national tragedy (as in Under the Bombs shown internationally) within a larger sentimental but also a philosophical framework. The larger concern has to do with the definition of Self versus the ‘Other’ at a moment of a national and a humanitarian crisis. How elastic or narrow a definition is it and why? Besides geographical borders and frontlines, what other demarcation lines need to be crossed for the purpose of military and political confrontation but perhaps also of resolution of inner conflict and spiritual and religious reconciliation? Ultimately, the destruction and loss of life aside, what advantage(s), if any, did this war have in these three artistic representations?

Spaces of Liberation? Geo-Hermeneutical Reading of the New Women’s Novel in Jordan
Ala Al-Hamarneh, Center for Research on the Arab World, University of Mainz

Contemporary feminist novelists in Jordan are addressing issues of emancipation and patriarchal society and attitudes in unaccustomed ways unknown earlier in the country. Writers with fresh approaches such as Afaf Bataineh and Kafa el-Zou’bi address emancipation, patriarchal order, violence against women and body topics directly beyond symbolism and the classical “modernist” approach of the pioneers of women’s literature such as Samiha Khreis and Suheir al-Tal. The main aim of the paper is to explore and to re-think the space-gender nexus in the new women’s novel. Geo-hermeneutics delivers an analytical approach of deconstructive reading, understanding and analyzing the new women’s novel in Jordan. Spaces where stories develop provide insights into the authors’ understanding and presentation of societal-spatial evolving of social change and women’s role in the society. Spaces are places where gender, class and power relations are structured, interacted and presented. In this paper, I argue that the narrative’s spaces reflect sociopolitical choices made by the authors to highlight the spaces of suppression, spaces of physical violence, spaces of emancipation and liberation: village, city, Europe, home, street, school, university, working place, etc., which all represent rational choices of spaces by the authors. The paper discusses two novels: “Out of the Body” by Bataineh (2009) and “Laila, the Snow and Ludmila” by al-Zou’bi (2007). The biographical elements in the two novels and the similar class and rural backgrounds of the two writers provide the possibility of rethinking socioeconomic and gender developments in rural areas by applying a geo-hermeneutical approach in comparative context.

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