Anxiety in the Border Zone: Transgressing Boundaries in Leïla: revue illustrée de la femme (Tunis, 1936-1940) and in Leïla: Hebdomadaire Tunisien Indépendant (Tunis, 1940-1941)

Mamelouk, Nadia Nadja, Department of French Language and Literature, University of Virginia
Dramé, Kandioura, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia
Arnold, Albert, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia
Krueger, Cheryl, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia
Thompson, Elizabeth, Corcoran History Department, University of Virginia

An examination of a Tunisian periodical in French, Leïla (1936-1941), published under French colonization reveals anxiety in a border zone, or middle terrain, where boundaries are tested and transgressed by Tunisian women and men in a search for new identities and a national culture. Feminist and nationalist voices come together in a forum in the first series of an irregular-appearing monthly magazine (Dec. 1936-Nov. 1940), which is transformed into a cultural weekly newspaper (1 Dec. 1940-8 July 1941) under the Vichy regime. I compare the two first issues, showing the changes that take place over time because the historical moment defines Leïla’s parameters and affects the meaning of its articles. I then place Leïla in its historical context to demonstrate the constraints that the founder, Mahmoud Zarrouk, and his editorial "team" faced and to show what was possible for Tunisians.

I make use of Walter Mignolo's concept of "border thinking" to delve into anxieties about changing roles. I propose that the women's magazine created a space in the print culture for Tunisians to speak for themselves. Nonetheless, I argue that elite efforts to redefine the role of Tunisian women in the home and society resulted in the artificial construction of a "New Muslim Woman" that served nationalist objectives, just as colonial feminist discourse created a negative representation of La femme musulmane that reflected Western stereotypes and misconceptions that served colonial objectives.

Finally, I propose that when the theme of women's emancipation disappeared in the second series, a group of critics stepped in to develop a cultural criticism that laid the foundations for a national culture serving the Independent Nation. I theorize a phenomenon I refer to as ''whirlwinds," which swirled around specific scandals connected to the control of cultural production, especially in the domains of literature, theater, and music. I argue that these whirlwinds caused critics to spin their wheels on hopeless, contentious points, but at the same time pushed them to clearly define problems and propose solutions in order to encourage groups and individuals who contributed to a Tunisian national culture, thus keeping border thinking alive.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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