A Woman at Point Zero

Fedwa Malti-Douglas writes, in her 1995 study Men, Women, and Gods: Nawal el Saadawi and Arab Feminist Poetics that ‘[n]o Arab woman inspires as much emotion as Nawal el Saadawi. No woman in the Middle East has been the subject of more polemic. Certainly, no Arab woman’s pen has violated as many sacred enclosures.’ [1] The metaphor is apt, for enclosures of all kinds have been a dominant concern for El Saadawi throughout her written work: the enclosures of the house, of religion, of the family, and most powerfully that last enclosure of the female body, the hymen, symbolic of a woman’s honour or disgrace and too often the determiner of her fate. The image of violation – of pen wielded as weapon – also moves beyond cliché, for violence and its aftermath is El Saadawi’s great subject, both the symbolic violence of repression and the specific traumas which she herself has witnessed (and experienced). Violence, and in addition justice, are the poles of meaning in her work; and these two forces pull within her fiction, both providing its power and demonstrating its limitations.

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