Forms of Dissidence: Genre, Narrative Structure, and Authority in Syrian Prison Literature

By R. Shareah Taleghani
Submitted to Session P4383 (Generations of Dissent: Cultural Production, Oppositional Aesthetics, and the State, 2016 Annual Meeting
Human Rights;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Decades prior to the 2011 Syrian Revolution, the genre of prison literature (adab al-sijn or adab al-sujun) emerged into prominence in the field of Syrian cultural and literary production. As a genre, the proliferation in publication of works of prison literature coincided with the emergence of local human rights organizations and increased prevalence of the language of human rights by those opposing the authoritarianism of the Asad regime. Defined here as any text that is composed in, about, and through the experience of political detention, prison literature can be read as testimonial literature, as counter narratives to the Syrian state’s official version of history, and as a series of creative interventions against the political oppressions and human rights violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime.
This paper will examine the ongoing debates genre about prison literature and demonstrate how particular works of prison literature, including texts by Hasiba ‘Abdalrahman, Rosa Yassin Hasan, and Faraj Bayrqadar present innovative narrative forms that not only challenge the authoritarianism of the Syrian regime but also call into question the generic conventions and limitations of human rights discourse, particularly the documentary inclination in human rights reportage. As will be shown, particular works of prison literature interrogate the construction of the speaking subject in human rights documentation and reflect and, at time, defy, the idea of what Joseph Slaughter refers to as “legibility” in the relationship between narrative and human rights law, This paper will focus on the varying ways works of prison literature transgresses traditional conceptions of genre, and in doing so, challenge the generic conventions of human rights as well as the notions of state authority and authoritarianism.