- Approaches to Teaching the Works of Assia Djebar ed. by Anne Donadey
New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2017. x + 188 pp. Notes on Contributors. Works Cited. Index. $40.00. Cloth. ISBN: 978-1603292955.
Assia Djebar, one of the most notable francophone writers of all time, offers a very rich and insightful ground for the classroom. Approaches to Teaching the Works of Assia Djebar, edited by Anne Donadey, comprises a wide range of entries to facilitate the teaching of Djebar's works, from historiographical, interdisciplinary, cultural, pedagogical, and linguistic perspectives. Part One, "Materials," contains a comprehensive bibliography and a section on editions and translations of Djebar's works and secondary sources. Part Two, "Approaches," which includes sixteen essays, introduces critical, theoretical, and pedagogical debates on the various interpretations of Djebar's works while highlighting the challenges and issues, but also the rewards, in teaching her texts. Postcolonial feminist theorist Gayatri Spivak gives a concluding overview on teaching Djebar, attesting that her works call for an "absolute reader" and that its most important stance is against identitarianism, since "if you cannot say yes to the enemy, you cannot practice freedom—this is imaginative activism" (157).
In order to better understand Djebar's complex and oftentimes ambivalent standpoints regarding patriarchy, orientalism, colonialism and post-colonialism, feminist stances, and multilingual structures, many contributing scholars propose to introduce students to the intertwining historical layers of Djebar's works by first giving them a solid historical, geographical, and cultural framework and access to source materials (Guyot-Bender, Budig-Markin). But because of the richness and multilayered nature of Djebar's works, which present particular challenges to students unfamiliar with Arab and Muslim societies, several other contributors propose an approach and reading strategies that would help to deconstruct images, myths, and preconceived stereotypical notions, in order to acquire intercultural competence and nuanced perspectives to such complex realities. Hanan Elsayed (focusing on Loin de Médine) proposes a break with the monolinguistic approach adopted in francophone studies by reading some excerpts from other accounts of early Islam, as the Islamiyyat, the twentieth-century corpus of prose texts in Arabic, or the multivolume Biographies of the Women of the Prophet's Household of the Egyptian Islamic scholar and author 'A'isha 'Abd [End Page E1] al-Rahman. Robert Mortimer's pedagogical approach to Les enfants du nouveau monde is to situate the text historically, bringing anti-colonial and feminist theory into the discussion. Najat Rahman proposes to discuss Djebar's literary style and strategies in L'amour, la fantasia to avoid the students' simplification of Djebar's gender narrative of seclusion and silencing, studying for instance the term aporia and giving ample gender examples—as Rahman contends—since aporia is defined as a conflict in meaning that cannot be altogether resolved, where one meaning cannot be privileged over another. Diya Abdo and Maria Bobroff (examining Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement first and then L'amour in the classroom) propose reading Edward Said's introduction in his seminal book Orientalism in order to emphasize how orientalism intersects with issues of gender, then watching Tania Kamal-Eldin's Hollywood Harems and Parminder Vir's Algeria: Women at War. Christa Jones proposes to discuss Oran, langue morte in conjunction with a mosaic of journalistic, historical, and literary materials, including interviews, letters, world press photographs, and documentaries. To discuss the use of myth in political propaganda, Annica Vonèche recommends reading from Roland Barthes' Mythologies and then comparing the Casbah as a myth with Zeynep Celik's Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations, Julien Duvivier's 1937 film Pépé le Moko, and Djebar's La disparition de la langue française. Carine Bourget suggests starting with a simple prereading activity to raise students' awareness about stereotypes of Muslim women. The whole class brainstorms and then elaborates on associations that first come to mind on hearing the words "Muslim women." The short stories in Femmes d'Alger are then read and studied to challenge these stereotypes by emphasizing several episodes that problematize and subvert a simplistic reading of Islam.
Several chapters focus on...