Fearful Symmetries

Essays and Testimonies Around Excision and Circumcision


Editor: Chantal Zabus
Often labelled ‘rituals’ or ‘customs’, male circumcision and female excision are also irreversible amputations of human genitalia, with disastrous and at times life-long consequences for both males and females. However, scholars and activists alike have been diffident about making a case for symmetry between these two practices. Fearful Symmetries investigates the sociological, medical, legal, and religious justifications for male circumcision and female excision while it points to various symmetries and asymmetries in their discursive representation in cultural anthropology, law, medicine, and literature.
Experts have been convened in the above fields – SAMI ALDEEB ABU-SAHLIEH, DOMINIQUE ARNAUD, LAURENCE COX, ROBERT DARBY, ANNE–MARIE DAUPHIN–TINTURIER, TOBE LEVIN, MICHAEL SINGLETON, J. STEVEN SVOBODA – along with first-person testimonies from J.K. BRAYTON, SAFAA FATHY, KOFFI KWAHULÉ, and ALEX WANJALA. The volume covers various genres such as sacred writings, literary and philosophical texts, websites, songs, experiential vignettes, cartoons, and film as well as a vast geographical spectrum – from Algeria, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Kenya, and Somalia to the then Congo and contemporary Northern Zambia; from Syria to Australia and the United States.
In addressing many variants of excision and circumcision as well as other practices such as the elongation of the labia, and various forms of circumcision in Jewish, Islamic, and African contexts, Fearful Symmetries provides an unprecedented, panoptical view of both practices.


EUR €90.00USD $112.00

Biographical Note

CHANTAL ZABUS is Professor of Postcolonial Literatures and Gender Studies at the Universities of Paris 13 and of Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle, and a Senior Scholar at the Institut universitaire de France. She is the author of Between Rites and Rights: Excision in Women’s Experiential Texts and Human Contexts (2007); The African Palimpsest (1991; revised edition 2007); Tempests after Shakespeare (2002). She has also edited Le Secret (with Jacques Derrida, 1999), and Changements au féminin en Afrique noire (2000). Perennial Empires: Literary Declensions of the E-Word (with Silvia Nagy–Zekmi) is forthcoming in 2009.

Table of contents

Preface and Acknowledgements Introduction: Why Not the Earlobe? Section 1: Symmetries Sami A. ALDEEB ABU-SAHLIEH: Male Circumcision/Female Circumcision: Is There Any Difference? Section 2: Anthropological Wormholes Michael SINGLETON: Homo Hierarchicus versus Mulier Aequalis. (Un)acceptable Asymmetry? Anne–Marie DAUPHIN–TINTURIER: Pleasure and Body Adaptation: An Approach to Gender in Northern Zambia Section 3: On Autobiographies Chantal ZABUS: ‘Beyond Circumspection’: African, Jewish, and Muslim Autobiographies Around Circumcision Tobe LEVIN: Nura Abdi and Fadumo Korn: No to ‘Pudendal Desecration’ Robert DARBY and Laurence COX: Objections of a Sentimental Character: The Subjective Dimensions of Foreskin Loss Section 4: Interviews and Testimonies Koffi KWAHULÉ: Men’s Business Alex WANJALA: After the Kenyan Harvest Dominique ARNAUD: Will the Third Millennium Be Circumcised? Jerry K. BRAYTON: My Circumcision Story. As Told to J. Steven Svoboda Safaa FATHY: Cutting and Film Cutting / Ashes Autobiographical Vignettes Malian Songs Against Excision Afterword Stephen SVOBODA and Robert DARBY: A Rose By Any Other Name? Symmetry and Assymmetry in Male and Female Genital Cutting Notes on Contributors Notes for Contributors