“The Language of the Eyes”: Speech Acts and the Gaze in a Monologue by Badīʿah Maṣābnī

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
Author: Marlé Hammond1
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  • 1 SOAS University of London
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The script of a short film from 1932 by the cabaret star Badīʿah Maṣābnī features the voice of a woman holding forth on the subject of women’s eyes and the effects they have on male onlookers. The characteristics of the text, a monologue entitled “Lughat al-ʿuyūn,” or “The Language of the Eyes,” are analysed in the light of speech act theory, with a view toward understanding the dynamics of gender and subjective agency that permeate it. Special attention is paid to the gaze, both the gaze emanating from the depicted women’s eyes and the gaze of the presumably male spectator. Structures of gender and agency as they apply to eyes in the film script are then compared to formulations of the beloved’s eyes in the classical Arabic poetic tradition, as well as to depictions of eyes in a contemporary colloquial poem by Bayram al-Tūnisī. The comparisons reveal the relatively subversive nature of the film. The piece concludes with reflections on the film’s feminist impulse.

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