Linda Istanbulli

Faculty Fall 2023: Linda Istanbulli

Unravelling the Nation: Criticality and Agency in Contemporary Syrian Women’s Fiction

Caroline D. Eckhardt Early Career Professor of Comparative Literature and Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature

Through the lens of contemporary Syrian women’s fiction, my book project reflects on the crisis of nationhood in the Arabic-speaking world and on the ways in which the novel as a genre both reflected and created the conditions of possibility for the 2011 uprisings known as the Arab Spring. Unravelling the Nation: Criticality and Agency in Contemporary Syrian Women’s Fiction” brings literary criticism in conversation with the linkedquestions of gender and sexuality, and the logics of nationalism and secular modernity to explore Syrian women novelists’ critique of the intellectual project of Arab modernity and its gendered paradigms as the oppressive legacy of a colonized past. With the advent of the new millennium, I propose, a new generation of women novelists in Syria spearheaded an investigation into both the nation and the novel as male-constructed spaces. Evoking histories and sensibilities that literary, epistemological, and political authorities aim to repress or reshape, their works interrogate the totalizing models of sovereign paternalism that a previous generation of intellectuals produced, the genealogies they constructed for Arab modernity and its normative interpretation of the world in terms of identity, secularism, and nationalism. Tracing what I term as an “aesthetic of unraveling,” I tarry with these women authors’ use of innovative literary practices, which, I argue, enable them to contest history; undermine the notion of an unquestionable author(ity); and re-gender the multicultural spaces within the Syrian collective, cultivating alternative reading and sociopolitical practices.