Note from the Editors, Beyond “One” or “Two”
Daisy Atterbury, Tarek El-Ariss, Mirene Arsanios
Makhzin’s second issue, Feminisms, emerges from 98weeks and its current research on feminism’s historical legacies and its contemporary valence in non-Western contexts. A bilingual magazine, Makhzin features writing in English and Arabic, and provides a platform for authors across the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.
The plural form, “feminism(s),” captures an inclusion that we know can never be fully accomplished. Feminisms is both one and many. It is an intolerant plural. It does not accept the erasure of difference in the service of the one. At best, it is a commitment to representing different voices and languages. The texts collected in this issue respond to Feminisms, enacting the multiple histories, struggles, and voices that constitute “feminism” as both concept and practice:
“I feel like a verb conjugated in another tongue,” says Afghani-American author Mina Zohal in multilingual prose. The Romanian writer Sînziana Păltineanu writes a tale about a woman who has lost her ability to speak. Disintegration, metaphorical in Păltineanu, is literal in Barb Smith’s poem, A Transcription of a Division, an account of a magician performing the sadly infamous “sawing a woman in half” illusion. Mutilated, the female body is re-assembled through language, which sutures but also rips apart, divides and reconnects.
On Makhzin’s website, Arabic and English are laid out along a dividing line that both separates and joins. This line stands for the possibility and impossibility of crossing from one shore to another — Walter Benjamin’s famous definition of translation. The one translation in the current issue, On Motherhood and Violence, is Iman Mersal’s powerful examination of guilt and selfishness, affects traditionally shunned from maternal representations.
Crossing languages, the texts assembled in this issue convey an understanding of feminism that conjugates gender and sexual identities (Lena Merhej, Barb Smith) with genderless and post-humanist readings of the body. Ashkan Sepahvand appropriates scientific jargon to dissect the body-apparatus, its material envelopes, and the cosmic origins of HIV. Shattering the unity of the self, the body in Sepahvand’s text becomes sap, minerals, and immaterial relations.
But a feminist issue wouldn’t be the same without a cunt. Lena Merhej explores nascent and impulsive sexualities through graphic drawings. Rheim Alkadhi’s take on migration is organ-based: the vagina delimits different geographical regions, ways of trespassing or inhabiting them. Syrian author Abbud Said also connects geopolitics and gender by telling the story of his mother against the backdrop of the current war.
Set in Beirut, Lina Mounzer’s piece plays with different planes of reality: a film set and a city, sex and political ideologies, remembering and acting. Mira Mattar’s We’re Good People dives into the crude minutia of gossip, and in another tone, Moroccan author Fatima al-Zahra al-Righaywi writes a letter to a male lover, lamenting yet accepting her desire.
Rola Hussein writes about two sisters who confront one another without uttering a word, and Istabrak Ahmad, a writer from Kuwait, takes up the betrayal of the father, Bill Cosby. Isabel Waidner’s experimental novella, GAUDY BAUBLE, draws a queer taxonomy of animal ceramics to elucidate a crime scene. And on a last cosmic note, British artist and writer Dalia Neis weaves the voice of Ibn Arabi and Spaghetti Westerns, personal observations on frontiers, the desert, the East and the West.
The collection of texts presented in this issue express distinctive voices and positions on feminism by connecting geography, gender, and the body. Most importantly, it brings these voices together and offers a feminist poetic that resists essentializing and easy definitions, but that shares a political consciousness. “Really, two? Doesn’t that make you laugh? A strange kind of two, which isn’t one. Let them have oneness, with its prerogatives, its domination, its solipsism: like the sun.” (Luce Irigaray, When Our Lips Speak Together)