EN 2011 Lecture 5: EN2011, lecture 5 notes

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11 Sep 2018
Gender and Arms
July 24, 2014
The Voice of the Victim: Etel Adnan, Sitt Marie Rose
Lecture Notes by Henriette Donne
(Introduction, 1.Clash of Relgious Codes 2.Voices 3.Heroic myths-Western arms 4.Mimesis
5.Scape Goats, 6. Going to the Gendered Heart of the Conflict, 7. Loving the Alien Body 8.The Female
Tradition. Conclusion. Appendix, “Judith Butler and the War on Terror”
From childhood on I knew that the words Arab were associated with the middle east, war and
violence. And I also knew that oil had something to do with it. When I finally visited an Arab country
and experienced Arab kindness, hospitality, generosity and humor (especially amonst the women) I
found it impossible to believe that political carving of the map could create such deep division and
such seering emotion and leave so much destruction. Surely such questions are asked the world over.
I had to wait a long time, and experience a lot of frustrated hope for the Middle East and therefore for
ourselves, until I discovered Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose. Quoting Marie Rose’s words to her
interrogator, we recognize them as allegories of the Palestinian flight away from their conquered land
and their necessary reception by the Arab nations. Her words are the only ones that can and ought to
be spoken if there is true “caring”.
“Love is a violence, hidden deep in the darkness of our atoms. When a stream flows into a river, it’s
love and it’s violence. When a cloud loses itself in the sky, it’s a marriage. When a man and a woman
find each other in the silence of the night, it’s the beginning of the end of the tribe’s power…”
This novel persuades women to open their eyes not to consider war just a thing men do outside the
home, but to become aware that their ignorance or indifference is as great a destroyer as war, and
similarly absent feeling. Adnan never uses the term “human rights” or compiles lists of historic
grievances that demand “justice” and “justify” war. There are far too many rights and violations to be
compensated. Neither ends mimesis,” the terrible demand for equality of men in the grip of a deadlock
of the fire of hate. Neither protects the passive flesh of women, the innocent flesh of children, or the
numb flesh of men.
Sitt Marie Rose considers herself Arab, not European. Christian and Moslem Arab share post-colonial
and pre-colonial customs. As Arab woman, Marie Rose like Shadia (The Museum) is at home in a place
where public life is religious. In that public space in the “Arab” world, many shades of the religious
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orthodox, catholic, Jewish, Moslem, and secular even, exist, albeit “ghettoized”. However as a text, Sitt
Marie Rose, is not a book that would be valued by either an orthodox or conservative believer who sees
herself superior to other religions. It does not satisfy the notions of religion as “belief” in the
supernatural. It demands no articles of belief that are contrary to natural science. Intellectually, the text
demands a love of humanity and human hope in intellect and a morality that embraces the
stranger/enemy as vulnerable, a victim.
1) Sitt Marie Rose’s Interpretations of Religion clash of Codes
In Adnan’s book, two understandings of religion care are seen to clash. One understanding is tribal, one
the opposite, individual and universal. In the Middle Eastern conflicts, both are extreme: one extreme is
inflexible, one is extreme overflowing love.
Do you really love the Palestinians?”
She replies to her interrogator, once in love with her, Mounir:
“I have loved these thousands of men and women who fled like rats leaving a ship invaded by
stronger rats. During the years that they agreed to livei n the camps where we parked them,
they were treated like cowards. When they finally…organized…all the Arab states were leagued
to crush them..You think you’re acting independently, but you’ve actually been manipulated.”
“You deny their arrogance?” “And your own arrogance? Though, it is true you’re only following
the plans of the big powers to humiliate those who are already humiliated. That’s not so hard.”
The religion of the Chabbab militia in Beirut is only partially that of tradition, celebrated on special
occasions. But it has always been a defended tradition; therefore, intolerant Religious identity has
become the cause and justification of war, and refusal of shelter and neighbourly love. A mythologized
common ancestry (tribe) fosters amongst the militia members a belief in their religion’s superiority.
They see their wealth as proof of their virtue. The captor’s religion has become a hot wire, a lust for
Sitt Marie Rose believes that Arab Christianity, by virtue of its separation from dominantly Christian
lands, remained the “Christianity of the catacombs,” i.e. of a threatened minority. The assassination of
one Christian is avenged by the assassination of thirty Palestinian Moslems on a bus. (“Palestinian” and
“Moslem” are merged in their minds.) The Palestinians rise in protest. It is retaliated by the massacre of
the Palestinians in the thousands.
2) Voices.
Adnan uses a chorus of voices, even the voice of heaven, and the voice of the scorched earth. These
voices look back to the past to explain this aberrant form of religion itself which could not will its
followers lust for death. The presentation of events through voices and their different perspectives
follows the tradition of Greek tragedy. The voices combine to a chorus who advances the story.
However, the voices in the novel do not tell the audience how to react, what to feel. She can assume
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that we recognize voices that are burdened with hate and ill will, and those who are beyond fear. Some
voices suggest to be speaking for the sky and the earth that weep over Beirut, and see nature’s desire to
outlast the destruction.
3) Heroic myths Western arms.
To Adnan, tribalized Christianity is a blend of myth (young boys are inspired by the Crusades into the
“holy land”, turning Christ into a sort of tribal chief), a part of Christian Europeans and North Americans
(turning a blind eye to the other Europe or America with its “secular” constitutions, their Western
hardware, or their racism). Describing their trip to Syria, Mounir believes to be a Westerner,
representing the West at least, not an “Arab”. Forming into the into the Christian Chabab militia, the
civil war is one of “preservation” of their faith. To their priest, Buonas Una, the language of militarism
and religion are rolled into a tight knot. He praises
The nobility which binds us together, the devotion of young men show dying for their party,
their final act of love of their comradesWe have put this war under the sign not of politics but
of the divine. In this century no one has fought with holy medals on as many chests, the Virigin
on as many rifles…It’s an army of saints on the march, who pay with their lives for the sins of a
humanity that never stops crucifying Christ. (94-5)
A false understanding of biblical messages, a mixing up of fact and intentions has been made to fit and
support a ghetto and racist mentality of Beirut: boys raised by mothers doting on their sons. Their
education, by French priests, and the historic lore of a romanticized Christian knighthood, all play their
part in their sense of superiority.
Marie-Rose’s words run counterpoint to his:
They said to you, ‘Love thy neighbour’ and you eat each other… all that in the name of the love
of the clan…. I know that the only true love is the love of the Stranger. When you have cut the
umbilical cords that bind you together, you will at last become real men, and life among you will
have a meaning. (94-5)
The women do not necessarily agree with the violence, but they know that their men cannot hear
contrary views from their lips. A “sick sexuality” that is attracts less to sex than to “tearing, killing,
annihilating violence…while other peoples, virulent in their own obsession with cleanliness invent
chemical products, they seek a primitive and absolute genocide. In their fights they don’t try to conquer
lands, but to eliminate each other” and sometimes “persist in mutilating the corpse” in order “to
diminish the enemy’s body still more…”
Speaking of Sitt Marie Rose, the Chorus says: “It is not the first time that an Arab woman has shown
such courage before them, but their memories are rebellious. They see greater virtues in their cars than
in their women.” (66) She adds: “They only admit good qualities in their mothers because they
remember a well-being in them and around them, which they have never left, even if it were only to kill
birds and other men. The exclusive love of the mother sets the cycle of violence in motion again.” (67)
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