Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Political Engagement: The Palestinian Confessional Genre

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Political Engagement: The Palestinian Confessional Genre

Article excerpt


The personal struggle and creative achievement of Fadwa Tuqan (1917-2003), one of the most celebrated poets in the Arab world, signify the plight of the Palestinian people in the twentieth century. Her autobiography, A Mountainous Journey, An Autobiography, integrates the personal and collective struggle within the context of Arab-Muslim history. This article will explore the established poet's shift to the confessional genre as the Palestinian Muslim woman writer investigates the historical events that befell her people. Inspired by "Poets of Resistance," I argue that the underpinnings of Tuqan's investigation of the Arab-Muslim tradition proffer an authentic, commanding voice that constructs an alternative history, challenging the dominant patriarchal paradigms. What emerges is a singular feminine voice that forges an identity that goes beyond the nightmare of history. In both the poetry and personal memoir, Tuqan's career and groundbreaking voice signify an early empowerment of women agents in the cultural production of the Arab-Muslim world.

Keywords: Fadwa Tuqan, Palestinian literature, Arab-Muslim tradition, gender and Palestinian literature, confessional genre, Palestinian identity

A Mountainous Journey, An Autobiography1 by Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan (1917-2003) was first published serially in 1978-79, in the Arab Israeli magazine al Jadid. Autobiography is a personal account of the coming of age of this accomplished Palestinian poet, who is among the most celebrated contemporary women poets in the Arab world. The text traces the poet's personal struggle against oppression in her conservative Muslim, environment, tradition-bound literary journey, and her triumph at finding her voice. A deeply intimate and private persona emerges. Poetry is equated with freedom and liberation, song and dance, love and mystery. The biography of the private self, moreover, is integrated into the public history of home and "school," city and country. A dialectic concept of history emerges; the personal and the collective intertwine. Oppression/resistance; submission/rebellion; male patriarchy/feminine voice; colonial/anti-colonial; and occupation/liberation constitute the framework from which the private individual and the patriotic poet operate. Tuqan's resonant voice is packed with dates and significant events about the poet's personal life and Palestinian history from the early 1920s through 1967, as they have informed the poet and her people. Resistance is the fundamental means through which Tuqan interrogates the Muslim Arab tradition of the period to overcome the rigid rules of home, society and state. As I will argue in this article, Tuqan's singular feminine position is an early secular voice for the Muslim Arab woman in the twentieth century. This article will trace the dynamic odyssey of Fadwa Tuqan in An Autobiography to illustrate her shifting stance to political commitment, the confessional genre, the construction of history and the reframing of resistance.

The Personal History

Autobiography relates the personal, poetic, and literary journey of Fadwa Tuqan. As the seventh daughter of one of Nablus' most conservative, landed families, Tuqan had to contend with her tradition-bound, Muslim family and city. An eyewitness account, the narrative is organized in short sections that move between the personal life and the public history. Tuqan states that her story is one of "struggle, deprivation, and enormous difficulties" {Autobiography 11). The Arabic word for difficult (5 'aba) appears in the Arabic title of the autobiography. The reviewed literature suggests that Tuqan's struggle for liberation from the traditional Muslim Arab culture reflects the plight of Muslim Arab women in general.

From a young age, Fadwa Tuqan had to contend with the obstacles of her social, religious, and literary traditions. Forced to wear the veil and forbidden to attend school, she was kept in the house. …

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