Redirecting al-nazar : contemporary Tunisian women novelists return the gaze
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Georgetown University, 2010.; Includes bibliographical references.; Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format. The notion of an objectifying gaze, as described and elaborated in feminist and psychoanalytic theory, may have its correspondent in Arab culture in the concept of al-nazar (vision, gaze or "beholding") or perhaps also in the evil eye. In many contemporary Tunisian novels written by women, female protagonists question masculinity and the gendering of Tunisian/Arab society. Three Tunisian women novelists in particular, Amel Mokhtar, Massouda Boubakr and Fethia Hechmi give special attention to visual aspects, such as the gaze, the nazar and the evil eye, when describing male characters. Making use of concepts of the gaze, al-ayn and al-nazar, I argue that it is no accident that Tunisian women novelists would re-appropriate al-nazar in order to question concepts of masculinity in Tunisian/Arab culture. Instead of lowering the gaze, they create fictional female characters who dare to look back at men and define them through the potency of their female eyes. While looking upon men and masculine behavior, the novelists redefine their perception of male characters as contextually formulated within Tunisian/Arab society. As the female characters take on the gaze and refuse to lower it, they redefine and effectively repossess the nazar.; This study challenges the notion proposed by Hanita Brand that mutuality of the gaze does not exist in contemporary Arab literature. Amel Mokhtar's Nakhab al-hayat (1993), al-Kursi al-hazzaz (2005) and Maestro (2006) serve to demonstrate the female narrators' attempt to establish mutual gaze with male characters, which often leads to pleasure, while exploring conflicting gender relationships. However, current theories of the gaze prove inadequate in the examination of Massouda Boubakr's Laylat al-ghiyab (1995), Trushqana (1999), and Wadaan Hammurabi (2003) while Arabo-Islamic concepts of al-ayn allow for a greater nuance of analysis. Boubakr ascends from the personal realm to regional and national levels, asserting that all Arab men are marginal. Finally, Fethia Hechmi captures the masculine through the evil eye in Hafiyat al-ruh (2005), Minna Mawwal (2007) and Maryam tasqut min yad Allah (2009) and condemns men to impotence through female characters.
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