مي زيادة والنقد النسائي: قراءة في كتابها عن عائشة تيمور / Mai Ziyada and Feminist Criticism: A Reading of her Book on ʿAisha Taymur



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الروبي, ألفت كمال; Al-Rouby, Olfat Kamal

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Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

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[This study examines a silenced female critical voice in the history of modern Arabic criticism. The fame of May Ziyada (Mary Elias Ziyada 1886-1941) was associated in public consciousness with her literary salon that was attended by prominent Egyptian literati, thinkers and politicians (such as Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid, 'Abbas Mahmud al-'Aqqad, Shibli Shumayyil, Taha Hussein, etc.) in the early 1920s and 30s. Other women writers, who turned their attention to Ziyada, were not concerned with her critical writing but scrutinized the private aspects of her life. This study highlights an important aspect in Ziyada's critical writing; she devoted three works to the study of three female contemporaries and predecessors (Malak Hifny Nasif 1886-1918; 'Aisha Taymur 1840-1902; Warda al-Yazijy 1838-1924). This study examines Ziyada's criticism in her work on Taymur of which chapters were published in Al-Muqtataf (المقتطف), a journal issued intermittently in Cairo in 1923-24, later published twice as a book in Cairo in 1952 and 1956 and more recently re-issued twice in Beirut in the early eighties. 'Aisha Taymur's criticism represents a female critical achievement that pre-dates current trends in women's literature and criticism. This study revives Ziyada's texts that are no longer present in critical memory. The study addresses two issues: how Ziyada established a critical discourse different from male criticism and to what extent she was able to put women's writing on an equal footing-Ziyada's concept of literature did not differ from that of her male contemporaries-of Al-Diwan school-but she was able to expand her concept of literature to make room for the voice of the woman poet and writer. Her view was founded on her critical awareness of male bias that makes the self limited to man alone, and thus results in man's domination of the realms of thought and creativity. Ziyada aimed to seize the woman writer's right to express a distinct voice and, implicitly, that of the female critic who puts this voice on an equal footing. Ziyada undertook to accentuate the feminine features of Taymur's poetry and attempted to read these feminine characteristics despite her assertion that Taymur had complied with poetic traditions-that are masculine without a doubt-and her discussion of the reasons for this compliance, indeed for woman's silence in general. At the same time, Ziyada strove to introduce an idea whereby women's writing could become writing with its own specificities. Ziyada, however, who strove to contradict the hierarchical relationship between man and woman, defined the feminine features of Taymur's poetry, and of women's poetry in general, in a way that paradoxically emphasizes this relationship of hierarchy by underlining the characteristics of weakness, gentleness, timidity and the sense of feebleness as stable feminine traits linked with femininity. Ziyada was not able to evade dominant contemporary male concepts associated with woman and femininity as is clear in her use of the expression "female nature" which almost limits the distinction between man and woman to biology, thus reinforcing the association of the previous charactersitics as ones of women alone. In addition, Ziyada's insistence on her principle of "sympathetic criticism" (al-'atf al-naqdi), if only with the purpose of achieving objectivity, strenghened the patriarchal idea of the emotional woman and the rational man. Her falling in the trap of male worldview goes back to the fact that women's discourse of liberation, in general, was moving essentially under patriarchal protection at this early historical juncture. Ziyada, nevertheless, will always be considered the first to achieve a critical discourse with a female perspective, by her reading and analyzing woman's own production in an effort to arrive at its specificity. Through her criticism, a legitimacy was endowed to women's writing in terms of its importance in uncovering an alternative viewpoint based upon a consciousness of the female self.]

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