- The Writing SubjectsHalide Edip and Assia Djebar
We pay tribute to the Algerian historian, filmmaker, and novelist Assia Djebar (nee Fatima-Zohra Imalayen), who died on February 6, 2015. She was seventy-nine years old. Author of seventeen novels and short story collections, she published her first novel, La soif (Thirst), in 1957. Her best-known work is her semiautobiographical L’amour la fantasia (1985), which Didem Havlioğlu and Rachel Rothendler analyze in their contributions to this issue.—The Editors
Despite their physical distance from each other in terms of time and place, the Turkish Halide Edip (1882-1964) and the Algerian Assia Djebar (1936-2015) wrote in surprisingly similar ways. They share a multicultural and multilingual education and position as writing subjects. As Muslim women writers in the modern literary world, they traverse political, literary, and linguistic borders. This essay explores their autobiographical writings, Djebar’s Fantasia (1993) and Edip’s Memoirs (Adivar 2004), where they contest colonialism, nationalism, and patriarchy.
Who is the Muslim woman writer? The last few decades have witnessed a number of invaluable studies that examine the question, working mainly in a framework of ethnic, national, and linguistic origins (see Badran and cooke 2004; Brookshaw 2013; cooke 2001; Fernea and Bezirgan 1977; Havlioğlu 2010; Malti-Douglas 1991; Mehta 2014). As for Djebar, there has been much thought-provoking research on her writings in the context of postcolonial literature.1 Studies on Edip, on the contrary, have remained in the domain of national literature, and she is typically read in the context of Turkish literature.2 This essay reads Djebar and Edip through their Islamicate aesthetic heritages to examine how they challenge orientalist discourse and local patriarchies. [End Page 291]
Trapped between imperialism, colonialism, and Third World nationalisms, Djebar and Edip might have been doomed to silence.3 However, their writing liberated them from their prescribed “double prisons.” They gave voice to others who had been silenced and forgotten. How did they escape their prisons and rewrite history?
Djebar’s and Edip’s alternative discourses stem from Islamicate literary aesthetics that contest colonial and national binary constructions, linear and progressive plotlines, and the authoritative narrative voice. Instead, they opt for fragmentation, multiple voices, and alternative uses of language, replacing the native with “foreign” as the original. In their works the difference between self and other or public and private are intentionally blurred, as each is the reflection of the other.
Djebar and Edip wrote outside colonial, national, and patriarchal discourses. Their self-constructions are based on a fine balance between acceptance of and resistance to their literary heritage.
Her Story Is History
Djebar’s and Edip’s personal stories retell their national histories. The “personal” is not a single self but a combination of self and others. The individual is not dissolved into the collective but rather finds value in the interaction between self and other. They refer to themselves in the third person, replacing the single authoritative voice of the narrator with the voices of silenced women throughout history. These intertwined stories are necessary parts of their identities as Muslim women writers.
One of the builders of modern Turkish history, Edip was a soldier alongside men in the War of Independence against the Western occupation. In Memoirs she proposes an alternative narrative to that of the nation’s father, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. His Nutuk (Speech) deals with the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, with himself as hero (Atatürk 1989). He even calls some individuals who participated in establishing the Republic of Turkey traitors, including Edip for supporting the American colonization of her country.
That her image could change from being the “daughter of the republic,” the voice of the War of Independence, to a “traitor” is curious. The friction between Edip and Atatürk dates back to their time in Ankara, when they worked together closely. Edip’s expulsion from this core team has been a subject of interest. Some claim that she opposed initiatives such as the language and dress reforms as transgressive.4 She left the country in 1925 with her husband, Adnan Adivar, and lived in London and Paris; she also spent some...