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Unruly Bodies: Modernity, Dissensus, and the Political Subject in the Postcolonial Arab World

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This dissertation studies the articulation of modernity in its understanding as dissensus through the performativity of queer bodies in post-1960 Arabic and Francophone literature in the Middle East and North Africa. More specifically, I study Sonallah Ibrahim’s Tilka al-Rāʾiḥa, Mohamed Leftah’s Le Dernier combat du Captain Nimat, and Hoda Barakat’s Ahl el-Hawa and Ḥajar al-Ḍaḥik. I challenge the prevailing depiction of the modern Arab subject as ideological and/or submissive, an image that has been tainting this subject since the 1967 Defeat, and which has re-emerged in force following the recent political disappointments in the Arab world, by demonstrating that this subject is formed and expresses itself as a subject of desire, the engine of change.

The introduction theorizes modernity as a dissenting attitude that is both atemporal and historically contextualized, framed by the intersection of various theories: Adonis’s theorization of Arab modernity as creative and innovative forces instigated by the marginals and seditious (al-khurūj); Michel Foucault’s understanding of modernity as an attitude, and his theorization of assujetissement; Jacques Rancière’s configuration of politics in the aesthetics of literature, as an intervention in the sensible; Judith Butler’s conceptualization of the subject through a psychoanalytic lens that adds the gender dimension to this subject that, as a biopolitical subject, dissents from the prism of sexuality; and Dina Al-Kassim’s elaboration on Judith Butler’s work by theorizing the abject expression of dissent by sexual minorities. My first chapter studies how the male narrator’s body registers dissent through the performativity of sexual, social, and literary non-conformity. The second chapter builds on Abdelkebir Khatibi’s understanding of decolonization to analyze dissent through the male narrator’s sexuality. I conclude that Mohamed Leftah envisages modernity as a process in the making, looking for an epistemology to articulate its ontology. The third chapter analyzes male queerness to assess the war’s role in society’s multifaceted regulation of its marginals and seditious. This chapter imagines modernity in the space opened by Barakat’s deconstruction of binaries. Centered around male queerness and abnormality, these texts register dissent while pointing at the need to recenter Arab feminist discourse on queerness away from women’s veil.

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