Resistances of Literature: Strategies of Narrative Affiliation in Etel Adnan's Sitt Marie Rose

Olivia C Harrison


Etel Adnan's novel on the Lebanese civil war, Sitt Marie Rose (1978), was written as a literary act of resistance to war. Based on a real event, the torture and murder of a Christian woman who betrayed her camp to defend the Palestinian refugees of Beirut, it denounces what Edward Said has called the "embattled identities" of postcolonial nationalism. Using Said's seminal essay "Secular Criticism" as its point of departure, this paper explores the ways in which Adnan's novel articulates a specifically gendered critique of filiation through a figure of affiliation: that of the Palestinian refugee. Marie-Rose's transgression of gender, national, and religious lines (as a Christian Lebanese woman who is sexually and politically involved with the Palestinians) paradoxically indexes the heterogeneity within the same, and advocates for the inclusion of the enemy other (the hostis that is the guest, enemy, and stranger) in the space of the nation. Yet as a literary text, the novel also complicates the militant message it has come to be equated with. Paying close attention to the discursive, narrative, and poetic strategies deployed in the text, I argue that the narrative form of the novel problematizes the very notion of resistance, pointing to the risk of reproducing filiative ties within affiliative communities. Following Jacques Derrida, I propose the notion of "resistances of literature", in the double genitive sense of the term: Sitt Marie Roseconstitutes an act of literary resistance; but it also resists discursive appropriation, leaving a remainder that cannot be excised to fit the frame of the national narrative.


Lebanese civil war; resistance; Etel Adnan; Edward Said

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