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  • 2023AlAmmarPHD

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Indexing Futility: Neopatriarchal Trauma, Expressions of Grief, and Constitutions of Subjectivity in Contemporary Arab Women’s Fiction

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date21/03/2023
Number of pages286
Awarding Institution
Award date7/03/2023
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis identifies futility as a subtending structure and critical target of Arab women’s contemporary fiction, manifesting as recurring sociopolitical crises and failure of lasting change in normative gender relations. The six texts I analyse, spanning a broad historical and geographical range, have been selected from a wider body of Arab women’s fiction in English and Arabic. I contend that they constitute articulations of a Benjaminian historical materialism, arresting a traumatic present that was foretold by past failures and which foretells future failure. Thus, this thesis argues against conventional views of trauma narratives as redemptive tools of sociopolitical transformation. My project stands at the intersection of literary trauma theory and scholarship on Arab women’s literature, extending both fields through a Freudo-Lacanian reading of Arab women’s fiction as an index of futility and shared articulations of neopatriarchal trauma.

The Introduction and Methodology trace key theoretical developments in psychoanalysis, literary trauma theory, and the formation of the Arab social subject. Chapter Two explores duelling narratives where male narrators construct female protagonists in symbolic terms and (re)write their stories. Conversely, protagonists highlight embodied trauma in order to emphasise subjectivity. Chapter Three illustrates how mourning and melancholia elucidate responses to traumatic loss while providing an innovative lens for identity and empathy. Finally, the Coda locates the root of neopatriarchal trauma in the failed self-realisation of the modern Arab male. Theorising the Arab intellectual as a woman registers the scope of disharmony between theory and praxis, which epitomises the intellectual’s melancholic anxiety. I argue that this space between thought and practice is where futility resides. The Arab intellectual as a woman lays bare what is always-already lacking, the traumatic Real at the core of the modern Arab male which manifests in compulsive returns to atavistic norms and leads to the perpetuation of trauma.