A Postcritical Reading of Agency in Contemporary British Muslim Women’s Fiction

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This thesis studies five novels written by British Muslim women writers. Four of these novels have at their centre female characters who identify themselves as Muslim immigrants: Brick Lane (2003) by Monica Ali, Minaret (2005) by Leila Aboulela, My Name is Salma (2007) by Fadia Faqir, and Home Fire (2017) by Kamila Shamsie. The fifth narrative is This Green and Pleasant Land (2019) by Ayisha Malik, which is not about a female protagonist per se, but in which women play vital roles, especially in relation to issues of identity and cultural representation. I observe a tendency in the current body of criticism to read these novels instrumentally – as realist documents, or as interventions in contemporary political debates, whether reinforcing or challenging existing images of Muslim women. I argue that this approach is well-intentioned but ultimately reductive, resulting in an effective ghettoizing of the texts and their authors. Inspired by the interpretive approach of post-critique, which is advanced by Rita Felski, and by her use of Actor-Network theory, developed by Bruno Latour, I aim first to provide readings of the current criticism around the novels, analysing them from a postcritical perspective. I understand these texts instead to carry artistic autonomy which transcends the dichotomy of being either politically and socially useful or damaging to real Muslim communities. While the agency of the novels and their writers has been generally understood in the context of the message they supposedly deliver to their readers about Muslim woman, I stress that there are nuances to such agency that are overlooked. Employing Latour’s concept of Actor Network Theory as proposed by Felski, I want to bring to the surface the multiple kinds of agencies these narratives exhibit, and to do so while resisting the temptation to judge those agencies in terms of their utility to Muslim communities.
Postcriticism, Rita Felski, Muslim British women writers, World Literature
Alrashidy, Fahimah. A Postcritical Reading of Agency in Contemporary British Muslim Women’s Fiction. 2023. University of Reading, PhD dissertation.