Spatial Attractions: The Literary Aesthetics of Female Erotic Experience in the Colony

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This article examines the aesthetics of representing female sexuality within colonial narratives of the West-East encounter. I consider two literary works whose female characters challenge the gendered metaphors of empire that predominated in a tradition of colonial literature and its postcolonial rewriting: the short story La femme adultère by the French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, and the novel Wāáat al-ghurūb by Egyptian writer Bahā áāhir. In each text, the standard heterosexual troping of imperial conquest as a male activity directed at or against a feminized other is inverted to place a European woman's sexually aroused body at the center of the drama of colonial contact. Reading these two texts against the grain of the aesthetic formulas that they employ to contemplate the political stakes of cross-cultural intimacies in a colonial setting, I argue that the phenomenological immediacy of how the female protagonist in each is shown to experience the eroticism of colonial space introduces a break in these formulas. The loss of narrative plausibility in each text that follows from these erotic interludes, I propose, ultimately testifies to the irreducibility of the body to either enforcing or disputing the epistemologies of the colonial project.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-269
Number of pages17
JournalCambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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