Arab-American Autobiography and the Reinvention of Identity: Two Egyptian Negotiations

By Hassan, Wail S. | Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, Annual 2002 | Go to article overview

Arab-American Autobiography and the Reinvention of Identity: Two Egyptian Negotiations


Hassan, Wail S., Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics


This article examines two Anglophone autobiographies by Egyptian immigrants in the United States, Ihab Hassan's Out of Egypt: Scenes and Arguments of an Autobiography (1986) and Leila Ahmed's A Border Passage: From Cairo to America--A Woman's Journey (1999). The two texts are read as Egyptian negotiations of Arab-American identity in the U.S., in the context of modern Egyptian history and Western perceptions of Arabs, Islam, and Middle Eastern politics. The two texts display radically different strategies of negotiating identity that reflect divergent currents in American cultural politics in the second half of the twentieth century.

**********

 
   My story began in Egypt, continues in America. But how 
   tell that story of disjunction, self-exile? In fragments, I 
   think, in slips of memory, scraps of thought. In scenes 
   and arguments of a life time, re-membered like the scattered 
   bones of Osiris. 
 
   Ihab Hassan 
 
   And I am now at the end point of the story I set out 
   to tell here. 
 
      For thereafter my life becomes part of other stories, 
   American stories. It becomes part of the story of feminism 
   in America, the story of women in America, the 
   story of women of color in America, the story of Arabs in 
   America, the story of Muslims in America, and part of the 
   story of America itself and of American lives in a world 
   of dissolving boundaries and vanishing borders. 
 
   Leila Ahmed 

The question of autobiography as a genre with an ambivalent relationship to historical fact and narrative convention has preoccupied U.S. and French theorists since the early 1960s, when autobiography began to command the attention of literary scholars as a legitimate genre. (1) There are at least two reasons for the canonization, in postmodern culture, of autobiography, which had previously (especially in the reign of New Criticism) been regarded as inferior to enshrined literary genres (Morgan 3-4). One reason is the "generally perceived autobiographical turn in the literature [of the 1970s and 1980s], both in Europe and the United States ... particularly ... among those contemporary novelists who appear to be playful practitioners of fictional games or who--from the perspective of their ethnic or marginal backgrounds seem to be in search of their ethnic identity within a dominant white culture" (Hornung and Ruhe 9). Another related reason is the development of feminist and minority criticism, which have questioned the traditional literary canon and brought to the attention of scholars women's and minority writing, especially previously unknown or uncanonical texts, many of which are autobiographical, such as women's letters, fiction, and diaries, and African-American slave narratives. Thus, at a time when postmodern thinkers like Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault pronounced the "death of the Author"--as part of the poststructuralist critique of the transcendental subject of the Enlightenment--not only avant-garde white male novelists, but also those marginalized by gender, race, and/or ethnicity have shown their vital signs through autobiographical writing (Morgan 11-12, Hornung and Ruhe 9).

I propose to examine two Angolphone autobiographies by Egyptians who have emigrated to the United States, Ihab Hassan's Out of Egypt: Scenes and Arguments of an Autobiography (1986) and Leila Ahmed's A Border Passage." From Cairo to America--A Woman's Journey (1999). They are narratives of permanent immigration, of transitioning into a U.S. minority. Rather than engaging in debates over the definition, demarcation, and "policing of the borders" of autobiography as a genre, (2) or even attempting to define a poetics of Arab immigrant autobiography, the more urgent question concerns the kinds of cultural, historical, and discursive intervention that such autobiography makes in the United States. That is, I read these two texts not so much as variations on a literary tradition or canon of autobiography, or as test cases for particular theories and definitions of a genre, but as Egyptian negotiations of Arab-American identity in the U. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Arab-American Autobiography and the Reinvention of Identity: Two Egyptian Negotiations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.