البعد الإثنوجرافي للعمل الروائي: شهادﺓ / The Ethnographic Dimension in Fiction: A Testimony


Miral Al-Tahawi



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الطحاوي, ميرال; al-Tahawi, Miral

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Research Article

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Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

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[In this interrogative statement, a young woman novelist from al-Sharqiyya governorate (Egypt), author of al-Khiba' [The Tent] (1996), reflects on her experience of growing up as a "bedouin" and her efforts to both understand the position of the nomadic life style vis-à-vis the central government and its literary establishment on one hand, and on the other her determination to express her own ethnic and regional specificity in a narrative discourse. Miral al-Tahawi recognizes that the bedouin way of life-with its chivalric values, genealogical awareness, and free spirit-is on the wane. The nomads have in fact become subjugated to the center and the differentiating features of their identity have been reduced to traditions strictly guarded and customs ceremoniously exhibited, while the economic basis of their social existence has eroded. Reflecting on her own cultural heritage, she thinks of the tokens of bygone ways of life: antique swords and jewelry, photographs of tribal chiefs and a collection of songs, proverbs, tales and folk epics. It is this "dramatic closure" of a life style that the novelist tries to inscribe in her fiction, as she says, while turning her back to the modish narrative trends and allowing her sensibility to absorb the legends and folklore of her people. However, this decision had to materialize on the level of experience, as she notes. The woman's angle, which is part and parcel of al-Tahawi's identity, offered grounds for drawing on her lived experience and the anthropological specificity of her group. She started by the title and a sketch of it: a tent-allowing her imagination to visualize what takes place beneath it. The personal anxieties of the author as well as the fears of a people on the edge who are becoming engulfed by more powerful external forces are projected in the novel, as the author confesses. The heroine in the novel is a "prisoner" who in trying to escape and rebel, becomes "deformed."]

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