L'esthétique de la traversée: Chaïbia Tallal, Maïssa Bey et Assia Djebar
Doctor of Philosophy
This study shows how the Moroccan painter, Chaïbia Tallal, and the Algerian novelists Assia Djebar and Maïssa Bey have creatively challenged the orientalist representation of the silenced, helpless, and oppressed Arab woman. They simultaneously take issue with the framework of her eroticized portrait, that of the seductive and passive odalisque, always ready to display her nude body to the voyeurism and ‘’controlling’’ gaze of the orientalist painters of the 19th century. In so doing, I argue that these three artists of North African origin offer a de-orientalizing gaze without falling, at the same time, into the trap of reproducing binary categories by merely reversing orientalist discourse. In other words, Chaïbia, Djebar, and Bey generate a renewed and sovereign gaze that refuses to perpetuate the othering of the Other by creating a radical alterity. The first chapter examines how Chaibia’s painting has been framed within the narrative of the ‘’naïve painter’’ which fails to acknowledge, on the one hand, the transgression of her abstract aesthetic which celebrates the liberation of the body of the woman and on the other hand, to highlight her hybrid identity through the fusion of modern Western abstraction and Islamic art. The second chapter focuses on the novel of Maïssa Bey, Cette fille-là (2001), which offers an important reflection on the act of writing as a form of resistance that enables the disoriented female narrator, Malika, to recompose her fragmented identity and to unveil a plural and sororal subjectivity. The last chapter focuses on the historian, filmmaker, and novelist Assia Djebar who has been the target of harsh criticism, following her election as one of the Académie Française’s Immortals in 2005, for portraying Algerian women as helpless victims in need of rescue from the West. However, I argue that in her novel, La Femme sans sépulture (2002), which recounts the story of Zoulikha from Cherchell, a female heroine of the Algerian war of resistance, Djebar refuses to confine the identity of the Algerian woman to the victimhood complex. Djebar offers therefore a recasting of the Algerian struggle for independence through the prism of postcolonialism, which promotes dialogic encounters rather than propagate, as some French intellectuals maintain, the intrinsic and insurmountable difference between the West and the Rest.