Dissertation Abstract

Sounding the Text: Listening to Gender in Mediterranean Culture in French

Committee: David Caron and Jarrod L. Hayes (Co-Chairs), Peggy McCracken and E.J. Westlake

“Sounding the Text” proposes a methodology called sounding: interpretative listening for sounds and measuring silences in cultural texts that articulates an ethics of committed listening. Sounding counters the silencing of marginalized Francophone voices within universalist France without presuming to speak for them. The Mediterranean serves to delineate the project and as an allegory for the ways in which globalized sound moves fluidly across national boundaries and between cultures.

This work makes four central arguments about listening to culture in French. First, analyses of Assia Djebar’s novella “Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement” (1979) and Leïla Sebbar’s novel Shérazade: 17 ans, brune, frisée, les yeux verts (1982) demonstrate that listening is not a given in any social exchange across either ethnic or gender lines: if no motive or desire to listen is present, voices go unheard and are, in effect, silenced. Second, Yasmina Khadra’s novel Les Sirènes de Bagdad (2006) serves as an exemplar of the destructive consequences of not listening to marginalized and/or brutalized peoples. Third, the concept of the citational hook (a term this dissertation introduces to describe, within cinematic or theatrical narrative, the interpretation of a popular song that imbues the lyrics with new and subversive or transgressive meaning) is advanced through analyses of sing-along performances to Anglophone rock songs in Marjane Satrapi’s film Persepolis (2007) and Wajdi Mouawad’s play Incendies (2003). Fourth, readings of the CD liner notes of Idir’s Identités (1999) and lyrics to his song “La France des couleurs” (2007), as well as the memoir Le Voile du silence (1991) by feminist singer-songwriter Djura, demonstrate how these musicians of Kabyle origin who live and work in France have created an altermondialiste culture within French world music. In the conclusion, sounding as both methodology and practice is revisited through the minimalist improvised jazz piece, “Starry Night” (2006), by Lebanese trumpeter Mazen Kerbaj. Taken in sum, these works demonstrate a cultural phenomenon named here the call to listen to the immigrant and postcolonial other, rather than to impose a French Republican narrative upon Francophone experience.