Arab women writers between transgression and identity

Yousfi, Zeyneb (2021) Arab women writers between transgression and identity. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis focuses on contemporary novels by Arab women writers producing literary texts from the 1970s to the first decade of the 2000s, namely, Nawal El Saadawi, Assia Djebar, Fadia Faqir and Rajaa Alsanea. It argues that each of these writers employs innovative techniques of transgression to destabilise the normative gender discourse pertinent to her society. Close reading of their novels, specifically El Saadawi’s 1973 Imra’ah inda noktat al sifr, translated and appeared in English in 1983 as Woman at Point Zero, Djebar’s Ombre sultane published in 1987 and translated into English as A Sister to Scheherazade in 1993, Faqir’s (2007) My Name is Salma and Alsanea’s 2005 Banat Al Riyadh translated into English in 2007 as Girls of Riyadh, in their original languages and in translation, reveals that transgression is a common mode of resistance used in these narratives, yet each writer deploys unique subversive strategies to effectuate an autonomous female construction. Reading Arab women’s writings in one monograph in order to foreground women’s agency in women’s literature of the Arab region runs the risk of perpetuating homogenising tendencies. To prevent such a danger, Chapter 1 offers a detailed sociohistorically contextualised discussion to account for the diverse factors that have shaped women’s experiences across the Arab world. In this chapter I argue that the Arab woman’s body is connected with the notion of honour and has been exposed to discursive and material constraints to maintain its position in society as a taboo. In Chapters 2 and 3, I show how the writers in my corpus destabilise this notion of the body by enacting thematic, aesthetic and linguistic transgressions that invite a reconsideration of female perception and identity in the Arab world and globally. In Chapter 4, I focus on the topic of reception by analysing language choice and translation practices to see what other boundaries Arab women writers are willing to traverse in order to (re)present the Arab female experience.

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