Civil War and the Disembodied Self: Hoda Barakat's Ahl Al-Hawa

By Ghada Mourad
Submitted to Session P4998 (Disillusionment, Ambivalence, and Narrations of the Self, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
This paper investigates Hoda Barakat’s Ahl Al-Hawa (The Disciples of Passion) featuring a delirious male narrator and protagonist negotiating the disembodying effects of the violence of war. Rather than conceptualizing this novel in terms of a transgression of boundaries, I argue, through a psychoanalytic reading of this text, that modern subjectivity is wrested from the space unfolding between the self and the imaginary ego, the archaic and the modern, the androgynous and the masculine, madness and reason, hallucinated memories and the disorienting present.
As a confused and delirious patient, this novel’s protagonist creates a woman out of his imaginary. This woman—coming from the other side of Beirut and belonging to another religious community—is necessary for the achievement of the unified self he lacks; she functions as a salutary imago and a unified figure that brings back together his splintered self by mustering, to use Lacan’s terms, the “kaleidoscopic structure” the male protagonist lacks to fill his being of nothingness. The psychotic delusional mechanism of projection functions, according to Lacan, in such a way that “something whose source is within the subject appears without.” This woman provides the narrator with an image onto which he projects a totality to which he aspires, and with which he becomes able to interact with the outside world. Ultimately, the male narrator kills this woman, who is in fact his other and ideal ego, and with whom he entertains an intimate relationship. This murder, recalling the Freudian connection between aggressivity and self-destructiveness, is an evocation of the Lebanese Civil War. As the protagonist’s imaginary other actualized in his psyche and necessary for his transition and integration into the symbolic order, this woman embodies “the fictive redoubling necessary to become a self [that] rules out the possibility of strict identity,” as the protagonist ends up denying that he murdered her, and declaring that his mind is disintegrating. By posing the parallel between the quest for selfhood in the formation of identity and the quest for truth through literature, Barakat also offers a meditation on the ambivalence of the self, the violence of the civil war, and the impossibility of community.

Jacques Lacan, “Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis.” 27.
Judith Butler, “Psychic Inceptions.” 198.