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Conference Abstracts

NeMLA abstract

It wasn’t very long before father struck out leaving us at the mercy of heaven”: Representing the nation state in Hanna Mina’s Fragments of Memory

This paper will focus on one novel, Fragments of Memory, by the Syrian author Hanna Mina. This semi-autobiographical text is one of the key novels of Arabic modernism as it details the socio-economic and political changes in Syria in the early decades of the twentieth century. I propose to argue that the representation of the father figure in this novel expresses serious and significant concerns with the changing political landscape of Syria in the years following the end of Ottoman rule in 1918. The novel is set in the 1920s and engages with the consequences of the newly established French mandate on the poorest classes of society, the fellahin, whose lives are shaped by a feudal social set up that allows no access to justice or participation in economic wealth. The representation of the father figure in this novel, as I will show, exposes the cultural threats to masculinity and explicitly invites readers to engage in the questioning of hierarchical social strata that marginalise and mock traditional views of masculinity.

On March 8, 1920 The National Congress proclaimed Emir Feisal King of Syria “in its natural boundaries” from the Taurus mountains in Turkey to the Sinai desert in Egypt. One month later, however, the San Remo conference split up King Feisal’s newly-created Arab Kingdom by placing greater Syria under a French mandate and Palestine under British rule. More significantly, in July French troops invaded and occupied Damascus, forcing the King to flee abroad. The paper will argue the case for reading the loss of the King, a father-figure for the nation, as an immediate cause for the loss of a sense of national identity. Mina’s novel provocatively suggests that the loss of a guiding masculine figure—as is evident in the representation of the often-absent, picaro-like father—causes the deterioration of the traditional national/familial set up.

More importantly, the paper will demonstrate that in the absence of the father-leader, an alternative matriarchal order is allowed but that its existence is threatened by emerging alternative masculinities.

Louisville Abstract

Dialectics vs. Ideology: Atwood’s politics unmasked (1969-2009)

The paper offers a reading of Atwood’s oeuvre to date with particular emphasis on the author’s representation of political power in Canada since 1969. It charts Atwood’s depiction of the changing political landscape in Canada by locating her arguments within a conscious and purposeful interplay between dialectics and ideology. By examining the political dimension of Atwood’s fiction, I will demonstrate that it exposes the limitations of mainstream ideologies—capitalism, feminism, socialism, libertarianism, etc..—while it offers alternative realities constructed through dialectical analysis.

Scholarship on Atwood’s fiction has highlighted the author’s careful engagement with the social and cultural contexts in which she writes. This paper offers a retrospective of Atwood’s take on Canadian and world politics and attempts to establish an ongoing concern with unresolved, controversial problems surrounding the power of religious discourse, the manipulative dimension of scientific discourse, the essentialist representations of gendered bodies and the individual’s mediated access to speech and language. These concerns have been enunciated throughout Atwood’s fiction for the past 41 years but the narratives that contain them are constantly rewritten to reflect both the Canadian political scene and international politics.

The paper will refer to Atwood’s novels from The Edible Woman to The Year of the Flood and is part of a monograph, in progress.