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9 - The Female Body and the Seduction of Modernity in Ali and Nino

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2017

Chase Dimock
Affiliation:
earned his PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014.
Carl Niekerk
Affiliation:
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Cori Crane
Affiliation:
Duke University, North Carolina
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Summary

WITH JUST THE TITLE OF HIS NOVEL, Ali and Nino, Kurban Said constructs the first of several binary oppositions that structure the themes and plot of the story. Upon the characters of Ali and Nino, Said stages other cultural dichotomies that characterize turn-of-the-century Baku, including Orient/Occident, Islam/Christianity, tradition/progress, ancient/modern, and male/female. It is this final dichotomy, the gender binary, that Said returns to time and time again in the novel to personify aspects of these other oppositions that are not as readily comprehended on their own. He infuses these binaries with gendered affects, emotions, and desires so that the readers can understand their magnitude. In the tradition of other narratives like Aeneas and Queen Dido of Carthage in Virgil's Aeneid or Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra that tell the history of the clash of two nations through the conventions of a love story, Said characterizes the themes of cultural ideology, religion, and nationalism in gendered terms. Yet, with the relatively cosmopolitan setting of Baku, Azerbaijan, where Occident and Orient meet and supposedly opposite cultures live in some degree of harmony, Said adjusts the features of this narrative convention. His story is not about the inevitable tragedy of two individuals from two irreconcilable cultures, but it is instead about the ambiguity of maintaining identity when those individuals fall in love and share spaces and traditions.

By placing the narrative perspective with Ali, Said's novel inverts the power and gender dynamics commonly associated with European novels about East/West conflicts by granting the Oriental subject interiority and control over the narrative. The Orient is given the male perspective, complete with the gendered expectations of a budding patriarch whose identity as man, Muslim, and Easterner comes into question as he is seduced by the charms and graces of the exotic, “modern” West personified by the alluring and intelligent Nino. It is my aim in this essay to explore how Kurban Said continually infuses modernity and Western ideology and culture with the seductive language of femininity. I argue that the female body becomes both the symbol of and the space upon which the question of modernization in the Orient is debated.

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Approaches to Kurban Said's Ali and Nino
Love, Identity, and Intercultural Conflict
, pp. 168 - 188
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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