Thursday, June 11, 2009

Arab Erotics: Salwa Al Neimi

I've been reading Salwa Al Neimi's Proof of the Honey. Al Neimi is an author living in France, but born in Damascus. Her book is edgy and controversial because it is an example of erotica written in Arabic, a nice break from my usual fare of scholarly tomes about ancient Judaism and Christianity. The very first lines jump off the page, inviting you to read further:

Some people conjure spirits. I conjure bodies. I have no knowledge of my soul or of the souls of others. I know only my body and theirs.

And I content myself with that.

I conjure them and I see myself with them once again--ephemeral travelers in an ephemeral body; they were never more than that.

It is not just about sex, although it is very much about sex, but freedom of sexual expression, language, and Arabic culture; especially how the configuration of these intersections shift from place to place and over time in very complicated ways reflected in the main character's life, her interaction with men and women, and her fascination with legacies of Arabic erotica. Perhaps the most controversially liberating aspect of it is that she cites and quotes Islamic authors from across the centuries to contemporary figures (even Khomeini) who have had very varying perspectives of sexual behavior.

It has been banned in many Arab countries (which is probably why I wanted to read it--an exercise in understanding desire in itself), and those in which it is not banned it became an instant best-seller (according to the front flap). She appears to have been prescient of this dynamic:

"All writers these days dream of having their books banned so they'll become famous" (46).

I leave with a final quotation on sexual jurisprudence:

The only innocents are those whose crimes have not yet been discovered.

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