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Disciplining Narratives and Damaged Identities in Rossana Campo’s Lezioni di arabo


Rossana Campo’s novel Lezioni di arabo imagines a relationship between two outcasts, Betti and Suleiman, an Italian woman and an Algerian man living in a post-9/11 Paris. This article explores the different ways Betti and Suleiman respond to the social and ideological imperatives to conform to normative notions of gendered existence. Suleiman must contend with the narratives of otherness that, since 9/11, have made the Arab male body hyper visible, and have rewritten him as threatening, potential terrorist. Betti, on the other hand, is faced with the restrictive myths of femininity that mark the sexually desiring woman as deviant because of her pleasure. Neither Betti nor Suleiman recognize themselves in the narrative of the suspicious Other: damaged woman, and dangerous Arab man. In response to these othering stereoptypes the outcast subject must either render themselves legible and thus “harmless” by offering up alternate narratives that excessively explain and combat assumptions of deviance; or else, the outcast subject may choose to inhabit that space of otherness without transparency, without volunteering “safe” explanations for non-normative behavior.  This article considers the consequences and challenges that accompany these decisions to participate in or abstain from the pervasive logic of self-narrativization and individual transparency.

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