Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Transnational Perspectives: War, Power, and Violence in the Work of Etel Adnan

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Transnational Perspectives: War, Power, and Violence in the Work of Etel Adnan

Article excerpt


This paper seeks to investigate how national literature transcends local borders and interconnects with images and realities of war, power, and violence in a transnational context. The current study attempts to position the contemporary Arab-American writer and poet, Etel Adnan (1925), within a transitional milieu that engages questions regarding what type of associations may be made among the themes under study and how dialogue between nationalism and literature does meet from the lens of a transnational perspective. Drawing upon a wide range of transnational theories and criticism, borderland theory, and Anglophone Arab feminist writing, I attempt to examine how Adnan questions, mediates, and reflects upon her transnational experience in light of what scholars such as Pries (2001), Ramazani (2009), Parker and Young (2013), Smith and Guarnizo (1998), and Jakubowicz (2012) have negotiated in this field. Through a selection of Adnan's genres and literary styles, the paper focuses on how issues of transnational ethnicity, culture, race, history, politics and multiple belongings intersect in the transnational landscapes that signify the vitality of contemporary Arab-American women's writing and give voice to the peculiarities of female subjectivity beyond borderlands. In this sense, the paper will bring to light the emerging transnational literary discourse and variations of its expressions and forms that resist the confines of national spaces and state borders.

Key words: Etel Adnan; Arab-American poetry; Transnationalism; Lebanon; War; Violence; Power


How can I write about Beirut? How can I collect it all in one volume: the years of pain; of watching a world collapse while trying to stave off that collapse; the layers of memories and hopes, of tragedy and even sometimes comedy, of violence and kindness, of courage and fear? (Makdisi, 1990, p.19)

How intricate can writing becomes without losing sight of realities, especially devastating and shocking realities? How perplexing is a narrator's struggle to voice his characters' ordeals and identify with their morbid fate? Moreover, how challenging is it to resolve the complexities of crossing different cultures, languages, and locations in order to create layers and layers of meanings and insights? When Makdisi (1990) wrote her memoir, Beirut Fragments: A War Memoir, during the fifteen-year Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), she negotiated similar provocative questions regarding how to constitute and configure the complexity of writing a text about Beirut where emotions contradict or rather betray each other while recording the absurdity of the war.

On being an Anglophone writer herself, Makdisi conjures in these introductory lines of her memoir the predicament many other Anglophone Arab-American writers and poets face. In fact, Makdisi found herself confounded by multiple dilemmas, including giving the fragmentation of a war-torn city a coherent structure, sustaining a Lebanese voice, and especially reclaiming the female struggle during and after war in a city about which Makdisi later described; "a lingering magic [. . .] that has kept me and so many others clinging to its wreckage, refusing to let go, refusing to abandon it?" More poignant is the case of other authors who have been forced to leave their homelands and who, like Makdisi, not only equate themselves with Beirut, its "wreckage," violence, and trauma, but also explore paths of rational cosmopolitan synthesis of the city without sacrificing the specificity of the experience or remain aligned "to the linearity of the narrations of national identities and the implied violence inscribed in those very national borders that have led to the war in Lebanon[...]" as Cariello M. observes (n. p.). Transnationalism is therefore a mode of expression that enables these wandering authors to adopt a new dialect into which to reinterpreting the self and venture beyond visible borders that divide the world into contradictory territories-of white and black, rich and poor, colonizer and colonized, privileged and less privileged-and at the same time transmits its narratives to a global audience. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.