The Politics and Poetics of the New Man’s Body Image in the Modernist Novel: A Sufi Comparative Study – 5in10 with Cyrine Kortas
Cyrine Kortas is a Tunisian postdoctoral fellow at MECAM centre, majored in English literature. She is an associate professor at the Higher Institute of Languages, Gabes, Tunisia and a researcher at the LAD lab unit at the faculty of arts and humanities Sfax. She is also a non-permanent member of the London Centre for Interdisciplinary Research.
Her research interests include: comparative literature, feminist and gender studies, as well as teaching literature in EFL classrooms. Her recent publication is an exploratory research entitled “An exploratory practice study on the use of film adaptation in the Tunisian literature classroom”, in press for SALT: Studies in Applied Linguistics and TESOL. Among her publications, “A Feminist Dialogic Reading of the New Woman: Love, Female Desire, and Family in “The Virgin and the Gypsy,” by D. H. Lawrence and “The Tragedy of Demetrio” by Hannah Mineh” in the International Journal of English and Comparative Literary Studies, Vol 3, No 4 ISSN : 2709-4952 (print) ISSN : 2709-73900 (online)
Her project at MECAM is influenced by one of her publications: The Image of the New Man in Post-War Short Stories “The Man who Loved Islands” by D. H. Lawrence and “The White Rose” by Hanna Mina in 2020.
How do you explain your work to someone who may not be an expert in the same field of inquiry and comes from another geographical context?
My project at MECAM aims to demonstrate that modern Maghrebi literature has been influenced by a diverse range of trends and schools of thought. To limit it to Francophone, colonial heritage would be undermining its potential as a universal literature.
It is within this scope that I intend to establish a comparative study between D. H. Lawrence as a pillar figure of Modernism in England, Mohamed Khaldi in Tunisia, and Abdallah Alraoui in Morocco. What these authors have in common is a unique mystical and spiritual style that has been crafted to address existential issues of self and belonging. Hence, another objective of the project is to provide a different reading to issues of gender, mainly masculinity, when applying a Sufi approach. The latter will enable me not only to address thematic and aesthetic matters traced in the narratives, but also accentuate on their political aspects.
What intrigued you when you started your academic journey? What were formative encounters and challenges?
I have always been fascinated by D. H. Lawrence and felt that early critics did not do him justice, especially when I traced echoes of his literary and philosophical insights in other literatures, such as Arabic literature in general and Maghrebi one in particular. Notions such as “blood consciousness” and “the individual and the cosmos” resonate in the selected works. I believe that these texts offer a different perspective on gender roles and paradigms providing a criticism to the oppressive role society exercises on individuals. Not only women, men are also victims to their very patriarchal system.
Hence, my intention is to focus on the new masculinities these narratives harbour, aiming at providing a holistic view on gender studies. The special focus on the body is to highlight it as a site of struggle for self-realisation. It is the very battlefield of various power paradigms that do limit masculinity to a single reading.
How does your work relate to imaginations of future and how does it deal with questions of disparities?
I understand literature as a means of forcing change and providing space for considering alternatives. The selected novels for my project provide an alternative to societal expectations that have long limited men to a stereotypical presentation of the powerful and rational. These representations prevented other masculinities from rising to the surface. In our contemporary world, we need to move out of cattle presentation and permit previously marginalised voices to rise, when considering gender dynamics.
Hence, by bringing these texts together, I hope to accentuate that it is a shared experience of masculinity that has incorporated a spiritual dimension in its struggle for self-realization. Love and sexuality become means and aspects of this new self that is immersed in a mystical experience that allows the male characters to reach a certain consciousness, a certain truth.
What is the role of humanities and social sciences in times of upheaval? And what may be the task and the public of a scholar?
These are tumultuous times in terms of political, economic, and environmental concerns. It is during these periods in particular that humanities and social sciences can contribute to find balance and bring the pieces of the puzzle together as they are tacitly connected and invested in the understanding of the human self and nature. The ethical, epistemological as well as aesthetic prowess of humanities and social sciences permit them to provide alternatives.
It is in this scope that the role of the public scholar is materialised as they are the ones bringing matters under scrutiny with their discussion of what may be socially, politically and culturally considered a taboo. It is their role to provide imagined alternatives. As a researcher in the field of literary studies, I see my role as a bridge between art, art analysis and society, when showing that art, particularly literature, is a mirror to our world, its illnesses, aspirations, and harbour of alternatives.
Can you recommend a book, text, film, or exhibition that effectively addresses questions and imaginations of the future while dealing with inequalities in interesting ways?
If I am to suggest a book and a film on the very issue of disparities and the role of art in imagining futures, I would list Amira Ghoneim’s Yellow File, a 2019 publication that won the author international acclaim. At the eve of the Tunisian revolution, across key cities, Tunis, Sousse and Nabeul, the novel’s events unfold to present a modern tragedy. Putting forth a typically Tunisian setting in terms of colours and flavours as well as concerns and worries, Ghoneim pens the inner labyrinth of her male character who struggles between a failed love and the expectations of society that entails him to remain strong and unmoved despite the losses and unfulfilled dreams. In a stream-of-consciousness like novel, Ghoneim underscores the paradigms of power and ideology that define the Tunisian man.
The film I find in line with the novel is Hedi, a 2016 production by Tunisian director and scriptwriter Mohamed Ben Attia. It was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival. The film centres on a young man named Hedi going through an existential crisis as he came to question all his old beliefs when he met Rim, a well-travelled and independent woman. His love affair made him revolt against years of submission to a conservative education that expect him to be a subservient child. I find these two texts perfectly exploring the nuances of the self in relation to meta narratives of religion, tradition and ideology. Interestingly, they address the issue of the New Man in the Tunisian context and the paradigms that define it.
The Politics and Poetics of the New Man’s Body Image in the Modernist Novel: A Sufi Comparative Study – 5in10 with Cyrine Kortas, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 31.10.2023, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/49169