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Senses of Vulnerability: Gender, Embodiment, and Dis-Orientation from the Algerian War to the War in Iraq

  • Author(s): Magearu, Alexandra
  • Advisor(s): Boscagli, Maurizia;
  • Reynolds, Dwight
  • et al.

Senses of Vulnerability makes a contribution to postcolonial feminism and literary criticism by developing a feminist politics of the senses and by redefining the relationship between vulnerability and resistance as part of an extended reading of creative works emerging from transnational and transhistorical contexts such as the Algerian War, the “War on Terror,” and the War in Iraq. I propose an exploration of feminist phenomenology, in particular the work of Simone de Beauvoir, Sara Ahmed, Alia Al-Saji, and Judith Butler, in relation to Francophone and Anglophone literary and cultural productions by Arab, Amazigh, and/or Muslim women such as Assia Djebar, Yamina Mechakra, Leila Aboulela, Mohja Kahf, Riverbend, Mona Haydar, and Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. The project deconstructs hegemonic appropriations of the notion of vulnerability, such as in the instrumentalization of Muslim women’s rights in the service of imperial wars, and aims to shift conversations about vulnerability towards critical engagements with socially and politically induced forms of precarity and resistance at the intersection of colonial, patriarchal, and neo-colonial systems of power. Because the political life of the senses is crucial in this context, I explore the defamiliarization of the Islamophobic gaze, subaltern orality, the traumatic effects of sexualized torture and bodily pain, proprioceptive diasporic displacement, and the disorientation produced by gendered racialization in Arab, Amazigh, and/or Muslim

women’s work. While acknowledging the embodied trauma and the social and affective consequences of experiences of racialization, this project also aims to foreground concrete poetic modes of dis-orientation employed by Arab, Amazigh, and/or Muslim women to counter, disengage, and shatter culturally racist, misogynist, and Islamophobic practices. Disorientation, in Mohja Kahf’s understanding, is an aesthetic and political approach to creative work that undoes the Orientalist habits of seeing and the Eurocentric epistemological assumptions inherent in moments of gendered racialization and, more generally, in Islamophobic forms of representation.

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