Re-membering Syria’s Traumatic Past: Gender, Poetics, and Loss in Manhal al-Sarrāj’s As a River Should

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
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  • 1 Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Arabic Literature, Pennsylvania State UniversityPAUSA
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In a system where the state maintains a monopoly over historical interpretation, aesthetic investigations of denied traumatic memory become a space where the past is confronted, articulated, and deemed usable both for understanding the present and imagining the future. This article focuses on Kamā yanbaghī li-nahr (As a river should) by Manhal al-Sarrāj, one of the first Syrian novels to openly break the silence on the “1982 Hama massacre.” Engaging the politics and poetics of trauma remembrance, al-Sarrāj places the traumatic history of the city of Hama within a longer tradition of loss and nostalgia, most notably the poetic genre of rithāʾ (elegy) and the subgenre of rithāʾ al-mudun (city elegy). In doing so, Kamā yanbaghī li-nahr functions as a literary counter-site to official histories of the events of 1982, where threatened memory can be preserved. By investigating the intricate relationship between armed conflict and gender, the novel mourns Hama’s loss while condemning the violence that engendered it. The novel also makes new historical interpretations possible by reproducing the intricate relationship between mourning, violence, and gender, dislocating the binary lines around which official narratives of armed conflicts are typically constructed.

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