Majnün Performing Autopsy: Exposing the Ugliness of Dictatorship in ??’ir al-Khar?b


  • Sami Alkyam Harvard University



Authoritarianism, authoritarian deliberation, dictators, Majnün


Trauma and the experience of it is only one of the ways open for victims to speak and/or testify for the horror done to them. My argument in this paper focuses on the use of the verbal (i.e. words) and the nonverbal (i.e. the body) testimonies as modes of remembering and disclosure. Through the reading of the heart breaking love story of ??’ir al-khar?b by ?abd al-RRab Sar?r?, the paper shows how the novel gives a voice and space to Ilh?m to recounts her individual and collective past and expose the traumatic impact of the dictatorship on the female body, and by a means of allegory on the body of the nation, as exemplified by the character Ilh?m. The juxtaposition of both the story of the raped female body and the rape of the nation by the dictator, who is referred to throughout the novel as ??’ir al-Khar?b (the bird of destruction) as well as Sheikh al-qab?lah (the tribal sheikh), is read as an anguished cry for normalcy sought by not only women in Yemen but all the nation. Sr?r?’s representation of the body may be looked at, and this is what this paper is doing, as an index of his position on dictatorship, its nature, the relationship of the individual to state and society in it, and the place of authoritarianism within the decaying body of Ilh?m which he uses as an allegory to the body of the nation. Thus, the transformation of the trauma of the past, this paper suggests, is treated less as a source of knowledge than as a means of assigning a human-like quality to texts where they become able to speak, even if it is allegoric, to and of the present.


Ahmad, A. (1987). Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the" National Allegory". Social Text, 3-25.

Agamben, G. (1999). Remnants of Auschwitz: The witness and the archive (p. 155). New York: Zone Books.

Allen, R. M. (1995). The Arabic novel: an historical and critical introduction. Syracuse University Press.

Alley, A. L. (2010). The Rules of the Game: Unpacking Patronage Politics in Yemen. The Middle East Journal, 64(3), 385-409.

Bergoffen, D. B. (2006). From genocide to justice: Women's bodies as a legal writing pad. Feminist Studies, 11-37.

Bhabha, H. K. (Ed.). (2013). Nation and narration. Routledge.

Casey, E. S. (2009). Remembering: A phenomenological study. Indiana University Press.

Clark, V. (2010). Yemen: dancing on the heads of snakes. Yale University Press.

Darrida, Jacques. (1989)Writing and Difference, Alan Bass (trans.) Chicago: Univ of Chicago press.

Das, V. (2007). Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. Univ of California Press.

Day, S. (2010). The political challenge of Yemen's southern movement (No. 108). Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. El-Ariss, T. (2013). Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political. Fordham Univ Press.

D'Afflitto, I. C., El-Enany, E., Boustani, S., & Granara, W. (2014). Desire, Pleasure and the Taboo: New Voices and Freedom of Expression in Contemporary Arabic Literature. RIVISTA DEGLI STUDI ORIENTALI,87 (Supplemento 1), 3-284.

El-Ariss, T. (2013). Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political. Fordham Univ Press.

El-Enany, R. (2006). Arab representations of the occident: East-West encounters in Arabic fiction. Routledge.

Esslin, M. (2004). The theatre of the absurd. Vintage.

Faulkner, Rita (2005). Land and Body in Nawal Elsa’dawi and Assia Djabar. (Unpublished PhD Dissertation). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Felman, S. (1992). Camus’ The Plague, or a monument to witnessing.Testimony: Crises of witnessing in literature, psychoanalysis, and history, 93-119.

Ibrahim, A. H (1976). Studies in the Contemporary Story in Yemen 1929-1976. Beruit: Dar Al-Awdah.

Jameson, F. (1986). Third-world literature in the era of multinational capitalism. Social text, 65-88.

Layoun, M. N. (2014). Travels of a genre: The modern novel and ideology. Princeton University Press.

Mallot, J. E. (2006). Body politics and the body politic: Memory as human inscription in what the body remembers. Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, 8(2), 165.

Mehriz, Samia (2009). From the Hara to the ʿImara. Emerging Urban Metaphors in the Literary Production of Contemporary Cairo. In Singerman, D. (Ed.), Cairo contested: Governance, urban space, and global modernity (pp.145-176). Oxford University Press.

Ouyang, W. C. (2013). Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel: Nation-state, Modernity and Tradition. Oxford University Press.

Said, E. (1994). Representation of the intellectual: The 1993 Reith lectures. Vintage, London.

Shusterman, R. (2008). Body consciousness: A philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics. Cambridge University Press.

Smith, S. (1993). Subjectivity, identity, and the body: Women's autobiographical practices in the twentieth century. Indiana Univ Press.

Spencer, R. (2012). Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and the African dictator novel. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 47(2), 145-158.

Srūrī, Habīb ᶜabd al-RRab (2011). Tai’r Al-Kharāb. Bayrūt: Riyāḍ al-Rayyis lil-Kutub wa-al-Nashr.

Tal, K. (1996). Worlds of Hurt: Reading the literatures of Trauma (Vol. 95). Cambridge University Press.

Wedeen, L. (1999). Ambiguities of domination: Politics, rhetoric, and symbols in contemporary Syria. University of Chicago Press.