A Poetics of Arabic Autobiography : Between Dissociation and Belonging book cover
1st Edition

A Poetics of Arabic Autobiography
Between Dissociation and Belonging

ISBN 9780367258016
Published March 4, 2020 by Routledge
210 Pages

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Book Description

This book examines the poetics of autobiographical masterpieces written in Arabic by Leila Abouzeid, Hanan al-Shaykh, Samuel Shimon, Abd al-Rahman Munif, Salim Barakat, Mohamed Choukri and Hanna Abu Hanna. These literary works articulate the life story of each author in ways that undermine the expectation that the "self"—the "auto" of autobiography—would be the dominant narrative focus. Although every autobiography naturally includes and relates to others to one degree or another, these autobiographies tend to foreground other characters, voices, places and texts to the extent that at times it appears as though the autobiographical subject has dropped out of sight, even to the point of raising the question: is this an autobiography? These are indeed autobiographies, Sheetrit argues, albeit articulating the story of the self in unconventional ways.

Sheetrit offers in-depth literary studies that expose each text’s distinct strategy for life narrative. Crucial to this book’s approach is the innovative theoretical foundation of relational autobiography that reveals the grounding of the self within the collective—not as symbolic of it. This framework exposes the intersection of the story of the autobiographical subject with the stories of others and the tensions between personal and communal discourse. Relational strategies for self-representation expose a movement between two seemingly opposing desires—the desire to separate and dissociate from others, and the desire to engage and integrate within a particular relationship, community, culture or milieu. This interplay between disentangling and conscious entangling constitutes the leitmotif that unites the studies in this book.

Table of Contents

Decentering the Self in Arabic Autobiography

Entwined Voices, Embedded Auto/Biography: Hanan al-Shaykh’s My Life is An Intricate Tale

Engagement and Separation in Leila Abouzeid’s Return to Childhood

Self in the City in Abd al-Rahman Munif’s Story of a City: A Childhood in Amman

Inscribing the Self in a Landscape of Rupture: Salim Barakat’s The Iron Grasshopper

Casting the Self through Outcasts: Mohamed Choukri’s Streetwise

Personal Myth and Self-Invention: Autobiographer as Ironic Hero in Samuel Shimon’s An Iraqi in Paris

Autobiographer as Auto-ethnographer: Hanna Abu Hanna’s The Cloud’s Shadow


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Ariel M. Sheetrit (PhD, Harvard, 2007) is a lecturer in modern Arabic literature and Arabic film at the Open University of Israel. She has published many scholarly articles on Arabic autobiography, fiction, women’s writing and on Arab film.