Wedded to the Land? Gender, Boundaries, and Nationalism in Crisis

By Prodromou, Elizabeth H. | The Middle East Journal, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Wedded to the Land? Gender, Boundaries, and Nationalism in Crisis


Prodromou, Elizabeth H., The Middle East Journal


Wedded to the Land? Gender, Boundaries, and Nationalism in Crisis, by Mary N. Layoun. Durham, NC and London, UK: Duke University Press, 2001. xii + 190 pages. Notes to p. 210. Bibl. to p. 220. Index to p. 225. $54.95 cloth; $18.95 paper.

Wedded to the Land? Gender, Boundaries, and Nationalism in Crisis is a tightly organized, elegantly written, and analytically nuanced study of the relationship between nationalism, culture, and gender. Written by Mary Layoun, Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin, the book utilizes a combination of textual deconstruction and historical contextualization that is the methodological hallmark of works in literary criticism and comparative literature; however, Layoun's lucid prose and attention to historical detail (along with a rich, interdisciplinary bibliography) make Wedded to the Land? easily accessible to and valuable for scholars of political science, anthropology, and history. Furthermore, the cohesion and unity that derive from Layoun's combination of two chapters of theory and three chapters of case studies, make the book a remarkable resource for both research and teaching purposes.

Layoun introduces the book with a convincing explication of the logic of emphasizing "...gender and culture as fundamental elements of nationalism..." (p. 15) conceived as narrative. In particular, nationalism qua narrative is organized by a rhetoric and grammar that defines the membership and boundaries of the nation, orders the relationship between nation and state, and legitimates the role of the state. Exploring nationalist crises in terms of the logic of narrative, categories of gender, and expressions of culture offer penetrating insights into the internal contradictions, irregularities, and alternatives in the organizational structure of nationalism. Nationalist crises are thereby illuminated as profound reconsiderations of the importance of territory for identifying the limits of the nation, as well as for delineating the (frequently informal and oftentimes invisible) boundaries within nations. Equally important, Layoun's introduction hints at her conclusion, namely, that gender and culture are crucial to imagining future experiences of the "extra-national" (p. 17), where political community is defined by active citizenship" (p. 168) in a democratic system.

The book's core is the three case studies, each comprising a chapter, dealing with distinct moments of nationalism in crisis originating in violence and resulting in conditions of exile and/or diaspora - in the Eastern Mediterranean. Drawing on an impressive amalgam of oral testimonies, songs, literary fiction, poetry, public monuments, newspaper articles, and cinema, Layoun explores the cultural responses to and gendered dimensions of the displacement of Greek refugees from the Turkish territories in Asia Minor as part of the population exchange under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923; the internally displaced or, alternatively, the controlled occupation of Greek Cypriots in, respectively, the Republic of Cyprus and Turkish-occupied Cyprus, after 1974; and the expulsion of the network of political and military members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Beirut after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Layoun's treatment of the "Great Catastrophe," the defeat of the Greek armies in Ottoman Asia Minor, elucidates the complexities and differences in interpreting the disaster, as readings of murals, oral testimonies, and newspapers are juxtaposed against the legal (yet inconsistent) terminology of the Treaty of Lausanne. Layoun's account of the responses to and by Asia Minor Greeks transferred to Greece (particularly when contrasted with the choice by some Asia Minor Greeks to remain behind in the newly created Turkish state) offers fascinating insights into the highly subjective weighting of territory, ethnicity, and religion in defining homeland and belonging.

The case study of the 1974 crisis of nationalism in Cyprus, generated by the Greek military junta's coup against the government in Nicosia and the Turkish invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus, utilizes literary fiction (primarily, short stories and poetry) to illustrate the contingency in efforts to construct a hegemonic narrative of the Cypriot nation. …

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