Affective geographies : Virginia Woolf and Arab women writers narrate memory
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Affective Geographies engages a cross-cultural group of writers who long for lost places and pasts but express that longing critically. The writers articulate affective memories to contest linear and politically legible narratives about place. I focus on nostalgia and forgetting to theorize a memory practice in which authors navigate ambiguous, ongoing loss. I construct an associative canon of women writers like the contemporary Arab authors Miral al-Tahawy, Leila Ahmed, Hoda Barakat, Ghada al-Samman, and Jean Said Makdisi and the British Modernist Virginia Woolf. Scholars who read these authors globally often shy away from explorations of affect, particularly nostalgia or sentimentality. I advocate, however, for a comparative reading that emphasizes the authors’ aesthetic and affective resonances despite the differences in their contexts, audiences, and publication histories. Each writer uses personal experience, ambivalent feelings, and complex memory structures to claim and re-narrate their own histories, pushing back against dominant political narratives and becoming sources for critical reflection. Female writers in particular use affective memory to contest gender-based distinctions in the political and domestic spheres. In Chapter One, I describe how autobiography and memoir projects from Leila Ahmed, Virginia Woolf, and Leonard Woolf introduce ambivalent feelings about the past to leave their narration of complex histories open. I develop a theorization of ambivalent nostalgia in order to compare three disparate authors with diverse relationships to colonial and domestic histories. In Chapter Two, I argue that Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Miral al-Tahawy’s Brooklyn Heights reconfigure the negative connotations of female memory, most notably sentimentality, as a practice of empathy and community formation rather than an exercise in backwards-gazing. I demonstrate that in both novels, the act of walking through city space provokes a dynamic and embodied form of memory. In Chapter Three, I explore how Woolf and Hoda Barakat resist medical discourses that seek to pathologize experiences of desire, longing, and female narration. Finally, Chapter Four details how forgetting can become an essential tool for narration, allowing the writer to shape and renegotiate her past.