Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juni 2006

3.3. (counter-)memories and national history in modern Arabic feminist literature
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Wafaa Sorour (University of South Valley, Qena)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Report: (counter-)memories and national history in modern Arabic feminist literature

Wafaa Sorour (University of South Valley, Egypt)


At first, the session aimed to discuss ethnicity, and gender in modern Arab women writings. But, the idea of the session has flexibly changed to discuss five presentations of diverse cultural backgrounds bearing no apparent thematic specificity. It brought together scholars whose academic interests are similar attempting to integrate ethnic, cultural, historical and linguistic issues.

The scope of Nagwa el-Zeini (Helwan University, Egypt, Cairo) study covered religion, translation and linguistics. In her paper "Translating euphemism in Prophetic Hadith", she selected from Prophetic Hadith, specifically in Bukhâri’s Sa hî h euphemisms resulting from a sense of decency and propriety (Ullmann, 1962, pp.205-208). Hadith stands for "what was transmitted on the authority of the Prophet, his deeds, sayings, tacit approval, or description of his sifaat (features). However, the term was used sometimes in a much broader sense to cover the narrations about the Companions and Successors as well." (Azami 1977, p.3.) These euphemisms deal with the marriage act, illicit sexual intercourse, and husband and wife relationship, among some other sensitive issues.

In her presentation, Nagwa hypothesised that euphemisms in Hadith should be translated following foreignization rather than domestication (Venuti 1995) when the target reader is a member of the non-Arab Muslim minority groups so as to maintain the source language cultural input. However, the foreignized version has to be followed by its domesticated version in order to guarantee correct understanding of the euphemisms by the foreign reader and to reduce the alienation of the translated text.

Ahmed Sokarno (University of South Valley, Aswan, Egypt) virtually delivered a paper about "Ethnic Identity in the works of some Nubian Novelists". As Sokarno put it, there has always been disagreement on the nature of the novels produced by such Nubian novelists as Khalil Qasim, Idris Ali, Hasan Nour, Yahya Mukhtaar, and Haggag Adoul and others. Some critics characterise these novels as part of Arabic literature. This viewpoint is based on the fact that any literary work written in Arabic should be considered a part of Arabic literature. Since Nubian novelists use the Arabic language, their literary products should be classified as belonging to Arabic literature. However, there are also critics who provide these novels with a different label: Nubian literature. In addition, some Nubian novelists introduce their novels to the public as Nubian novels. Apparently, the latter viewpoint is mainly based on the content, rather than the language, of these novels. By content, we mean the setting, the characters, the events, the names given to the characters, and even the language used in the dialogues. It should, however, be noted that the proponents of these viewpoints have not produced any evidence in support of their respective characterisations of these novels.

Sokarno argued that the viewpoint that is based on one piece of evidence (i.e. the language of the narration) is less convincing than the viewpoint that establishes the identity of these novels as being part of the Nubian culture, even though they are written in Arabic.

The Nubian background was also reconsidered by Nabil Abdel Fattah (South Valley University, Qena, Egypt) in his paper "The Image of the Orphan Child in Western and Eastern Fictional Works" His presentation focused on a specific issue which preoccupied two writers who belong to two different cultures as well as centuries: Charles Dickens, the well-known English novelist and the Arab Egyptian Nubian novelist Hassan Nour. The image of the orphan child was the central cause which was successfully handled in their great masterpieces Oliver Twist and Dawamat El Shamal (Whirlpools of the North.)

According to Nabil’s presentation, both Dickens and Nour share common characteristics regarding the cause of the orphan child. The first problem which drew their attention is the problem of the identity. The importance of this cause made both Dickens and Nour focus on it from the very beginning of their works. Nabil concluded that both Dickens and Nour succeeded to attract our attention to their orphan children by their vitality, innocence, humanity and sense of responsibility. Their roles are so prominent and effective that they deserve to be called central characters. The children's world in Dickens' and Nour's novels is marked by innocence, freedom, spontaneity and sensitivity while the adults' is characterized by hypocrisy, cruelty, injustice, prejudice and violence.

Sedki Sedik‘s presentation (Tanta University, Egypt) discussed "Irony in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence". Sedki highly applauded Edith Wharton (1862-1937), as a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Age of Innocence, and considered her as one of the major figures in American literary history. Sedki explained how t he novel develops the theme of conflict between the individual and society - between the urge for personal fulfillment and the need for group stability. It reveals a universal dimension, as Wharton comments on the oppression of women by convention and their emancipation from it, the role of marriage and the family in determining the quality of a civilisation, and, above all, the conflict between sexual passion and moral obligation. It is a book in which the problems of a group of people at a certain time are carefully perceived, their manners and con ventions meticulously documented and criticised, the tenuous balance between the values of innocence and of experience tolerantly analyzed, and the conflicts between tradition and change memorably dramatized. Although Wharton introduces a number of techniques to present her theme, she relies basically on irony - a stylistic devicefor which she is especially dis tinguished to highlight her theme. Irony was always the method best suited to both her purpose and talent in communicating her message. It dominates the story lines of her book, where she portrays men and women entrapped in marital dilemmas that are ironically of their own making: in effect, they are responsible for imprisoning themselves.

Sedki explained how Wharton also levels stinging attacks on the artificial, vacuous upper-class society that wields such devastating control over her vulnerable heroes and heroines. H is study is, therefore, an attempt to examine, through close textual analysis, a number of ironic devices that Wharton uses in this novel.

In her paper "Representations of gender and formation of identity in The Stone of Laughter by the Lebanese writer Hoda Barakat", Wafaa Sorour (University of South Valley, Qena, Egypt) probed the world of Arabic feminist literature. She claimed that such literature now includes novels written by Arab women novelists who defy the conventional trends of Arabic writing and created what is known as the Emerging Voices Series. These novelists are both defining their times and enriching the Arabic literature. Wafaa admired the Lebanese novelist, and short-story writer Hoda Barakat who wrote The Stone of Laughter (Hajar Al-Dahik)(1990) with a great deal of daring novelty.

W afaa concluded, Barakat’s unfamiliar choice of the male protagonist, together with her exquisite style make her treatment of the era of the Lebanese civil war truly unique . Though Hoda Barakat does not directly address female issues in The Stone of Laughter, her novel can be categorised as a feminist work. It investigates the influence of the tragedy of war upon human agents of different national, ethnic, and sexual identities. Its themes are both uncommon in contemporary Arabic literature, and are also presented through a new perspective.


The conclusion

Since the goal of the section was to reach a multicultural, multiracial audience El-Zeini’s choice of euphemism provided a key linguistic reading of the cultural components in the religious texts. It approached an study area unfamiliar to Western scholars. Likewise, as Ahmed Sokarno’s paper introduced writers belonging to a culture seemingly close to that of Arabic culture, yet it raised a rather problematic question about the identity of these Nubian writers. In his viewpoint, the unique narrative characteristics of their literary works would establish a trend of their own, divergent from their Arabic traditional roots. This was different from the points of cultural contact which Nabil Abdel Fattah wanted to establish. He also selected the Nubian writer Hassan Nour as an eastern literary paradigm sharing the same concern of a prominent English writer Charles Dickens. Nabil in turn was not, in the least, preoccupied with an ethnic issue, such as was raised in Sokarno’s paper. Instead, he was so keen to create a cross-national connection between two fictional works. Away from ethnic differences, Sedki’s reading of Wharton’s The Age of Innocenceas a portrayal of women characters as tragic victims of cruel social conventions, possessed the same socio-cultural nature as Wafaa Sorour's paper. The two presentations shared the same concern for gender issues . Wafaa took The Stone of Laughter (Hajar Al- Dahik) (1990) written by the Lebanese novelist, and short-story writer Hoda Barakat as a case study, showing how Arab women's literature has greatly evolved. It also introduced literary scholars into other-literatures of different social and historical contexts.

The problem that these presentations can not be grouped into similar feminist writings was resolved by creating a general socio-cultural framework for these seemingly different contributions. The diversity of the cultural backgrounds of these papers made up for the lack of thematic unity. Each paper raised a lively discussion. In all the presentations discussed in this session there lies the importance of culture in reproducing both fiction and nonfiction. The participants profitably discussed some cross-cultural, cross-religious, and trans-national issues in fiction and non-fiction production.

© Wafaa Sorour (University of South Valley, Egypt)

REFERENCES le’s Daily Graphic 5, 1986, 3.

x xlingualisxoduction to spoken English. Lagos: University of Lagos Press.

3.3. (counter-)memories and national history in modern Arabic feminist literature

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Wafaa Sorour (University of South Valley, Egypt): Report: (counter-)memories and national history in modern Arabic feminist literature. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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