[P4186] The Somatics of Reading Hoda Barakat

Created by Michal Raizen
Sunday, 11/22/15 4:30pm


In her 2004 collection of essays, The Stranger's Letters, Lebanese author Hoda Barakat reflects on the "connecting and binding contract" through which individuals perceive themselves as part of a community. Barakat likens this contract to a panoply of bird calls and notes that the contract dissolves in one of two situations: "when one loses the memory of song (or vice-versa), or when the song-catchers move to another forest." Barakat, who left for France with her two young children during the final year of the Lebanese Civil War, demonstrates a preoccupation with the creative process as a search for a language with which to represent the unspeakable traumas of the war and the scars of those who lived through the attrition. We are anchoring our discussion of Barakat's oeuvre in the concept of somatics, a methodology and reading practice that emphasizes the transformative potential of individual and collective attention to embodied forms of memory and grief. Broadly speaking, somatics constitutes a mode of ethical self-fashioning, a deliberate intervention into attitudes and behaviors that have become entrenched in the "human sensorium," to borrow a phrase from Charles Hirschkind. The papers on this panel detail Barakat's use of the body to navigate personal and collective traumatic histories. She engages her readers through a variety of senses, most notably sound and touch. In critical analyses of the multi-sensorial in her novels and other literary works, we argue that Barakat reinvigorates the much-overlooked somatics of historical consciousness, time and ritual. She proposes what we term a "politics of memory" that asserts the individual's ability to narrate his or her own history in the face of official narratives. Finally, this panel addresses the pedagogical possibilities imbedded in Barakat's work: How can we, as teachers of Arabic literature, help our students develop reading practices that incorporate Barakat's multi-sensorial, multi-vocal, and multi-generational breadth of expression.





Drew Paul

(University of Tennessee, Knoxville)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;