Even for researchers who do not actually deal with gender-related and literary topics like myself, it is surely a real pleasure to read Martina Censi’s Le Corps dans le roman des écrivaines syriennes contemporaines, which has been published by Brill in 2016.
In this book, Censi, who is presently Assistant Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Bergamo (Italy), explores the political and social significants that the female and the male bodies convey in Syrian contemporary novel. To do so, she selects six novels written by Syrian women writers: Kursi by Dima Wannus, Hurras al-Hawa’ by Rosa Yassin Hasan, Banat al-Barari by Maha Hasan, Rai’hat al-Qirfa by Samar Yazbik, Imra’a min Hada al ‘Asr by Haifa’ Bitar, and Burhan al-‘Asal by Salwa al-Na’imi. Censi navigates the ways in which the six writers have been shaping, fantasising, and at times boosting “difference” through their body and sexual pleasure experience. In particular, she does not demand difference in their writing: she rather makes the effort to nuance how difference takes place for each novelist, at the level of the individual body and sexual pleasure, in relation to maleness and political power, and in terms of new emerging subjectivities. Indeed, she suggests how it gets configured in the contemporary Syrian scenario, made of repressive politics and social transformations. By analysing how each writer relates to ruling and hidden powers and gendered social relations in Syria, her analysis goes way beyond femaleness conceived as fighting male-led body domination. Maleness also shows its own vast array of vulnerabilities; also changes in reflection to a complex political scenario; and, as such, also can be dominated by female difference.
For all of those who have ever engaged with the key debates on womanhood versus manhood, performativity, sexualization, bodies and gender (see, for example, Judith Butler, Simon de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous), this book establishes an important dialogue between Syrian women thinkers who, through novels, convey their different understandings of what the body can mean in contemporary society, both materially and metaphorically. In the current whirlwind of macro-political and sociological commentaries on Syrian society(ies), a window onto the literary perspectives is very much needed!
The book can be accessed here: