Sabbah’s Legacy: The Evolution of the Image of Woman in the Muslim Unconscious
Taking Fatna Ait Sabbah’s two editions of La Femme dans l'inconscient musulman (1982 & 2010) as my point of departure, I analyze the image of the woman in several contemporary French and Arabic texts. Sabbah argues that buried in early Muslim pornographic texts lies an image of woman that reflects the unconscious view of her in the masculine imagination. In this image woman is positioned in opposition to the Muslim ethical system largely due to her subversive sexual desire. Sabbah’s texts raise key questions: Where a transformation of the feminine condition takes place, is it accompanied by a corresponding change in the image of the woman in the Muslim unconscious? How does the collective unconscious change? Is the unconscious always a reactionary force? Does contemporary literature reinforce Sabbah’s conception or depart from it? The novelists I have selected combine two pertinent attributes: they critique their own society and they examine female subjectivity, or in other words how a woman perceives her role, her identity and her consciousness. Through an analysis of heterodox texts, I focus particularly on how the Arab world sees itself. My first chapter compares Sabbah’s two editions, including her shift in tone and agenda, and the lacunae in her texts. In my second chapter I study Moroccan novelist Rajae Benchemsi’s Marrakech, lumière d'exil (2002) and Nawal el Saadawi’s Woman at Point Zero (1975) in terms of how the erotic and space function in both texts. I explore the women characters’ compliance with or resistance to Maghrebian notions of feminine and masculine space. I argue that the individual choices regarding space help define the characters’ identity. In my third chapter I examine the Sufi view of woman as included in Rajae Benchemsi’s La Controverse des temps (2006) and Ahmed Toufiq’s Abu Musa's Women Neighbors (2006). I point out that the Sufi view presents a counter-discourse to Sabbah’s description of the image of the woman in the Muslim unconscious. If Fatna Sabbah sees woman in early erotic and orthodox texts as reduced to an exclusively sexual essence, these texts present a spiritual dimension to woman’s identity, a dimension which in the context of Sabbah’s work, I argue, has a transgressive aspect. In my fourth chapter I analyze the mother figure in two novels by the Algerian writer, Boualem Sansal: Harraga (2005) and Rue Darwin (2011). I describe the distance between the representation of the mother in Sansal’s work and the image of the woman in the Muslim unconscious as described by Sabbah. I conclude that while the image of the woman as described by Sabbah continues to be present in contemporary texts, other images, remarkable for their diversity, have emerged.