EN 2011 Lecture Notes - Lecture 8: Etel Adnan, Mimesis, Palimpsest
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War and Gender
July 18 Strife and Possession
Part I: Introduction to Etel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose
Part II. Mimesis and Hierarchy: Introduction to Guy deMaupassant’s
short story, “The Deaf Mute. “ Lecture Notes by H.Donner
Etel Adnan, with complete simplicity and sincerity, takes us to the source of the still current middle-
eastern conflict which fills newspaper s with headlines and images of violence so horrific that it hurts my
eyes. She was and is a feminist using her pen to create a palimpsest across men who seem to have
become one armed body incapable of reason and love. She creates a palimpsest of love across a text
filled with lust for power and violence bent on the annihilation, the total eradication, of an enemy.
Adnan conceived this novel when she heard of Marie Rose Boulos, a woman who befriended
Palestinians and was for this reason executed by the militia of her Christian compatriots, and sworn
enemies of the Palestinians. She too was a Christian. She was a social worker and agitated for peace
with leaflets. She should not open her Mouth...against War. She did and was executed by the militia.
Though a feminist critique is discernible throughout the novel, feminism is not its goal.
Rather, Adnan attempts to uncover and expose mimesis. Mimesis traps the men in a state of war –
hating what is weak and defeated and feel threatened by the smallest loss of power. Sitt Marie Rose, by
contrast, brings the ancient message of Isis or Mary that is of peace and healing, a thread running
through the world religions that has been perverted by the four men and their priest who captured her.
Sitt Marie defiantly defends the Palestinians. “The Palestinians will act as leaven in the Arab psyche.
You’re tearing their throats out. …But things are on the move. They are moving in Rabat, in Algiers, in
Karouan…” she links them to a “river”. When a stream flows into a river, it’s love and it’s violence…it is
the process of History.” She still hopes that Mounir, the least violent of the men, might cease in the
madness. But Mounir cannot betray the men. He cannot prevent nor can he wish to prevent her
execution. “Mimesis” holds the men together in a “fascist” sense, that they would lose strength if but
one failed to cohere. For this reason, they cannot listen to her pleas; they cannot even bear to hear her.
Mimesis is a literary and philosophical theory proposed by Rene Girard, in his work, The Scape Goat.
Though she does not refer to him, Adnan’s text inverts mimesis, as the reader follow Sitt Marie Rose and
places her-himself in her suffering. We love her, and pity the deaf children (she is the principal and
teacher) that will be orphaned. In other words, her execution does not cancel the power of love that
the men feared.