Sana Abdi is an Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Connecticut College. She earned her Ph.D. in French from the University of Virginia. Her current book project Arabic at the heart of French: Linguistic and Literary Expressions considers the ways in which Arabic, textually and intertextually, permeates the French verse in North African contemporary poetry. Her main research interests include Postcolonial North African literature in French and Arabic, stylistics, and translation. Her secondary scholarly interest concerns the impact of nineteenth century France on colonial and postcolonial North African literature and cultural practices.
What is the importance of studying the nineteenth-century today? How does thinking about the nineteenth century help us think about the twenty-first century?
My research seeks to unearth the various ways in which nineteenth century France and twenty-first century North Africa impact each other. On the one hand, my work lays bare the enduring impact of French colonial discourse. Having sought to alter the colonized perception of themselves, their literature, their history, and their cultural heritage, this discourse still participates in shaping aspects of postcolonial identities today. On the other hand, my research looks at the significance of reclaiming nineteenth century French literary forms and themes by postcolonial writers who adapt them to their own Arabic and Muslim context.
If you could stumble across the secret diary of any nineteenth-century figure, whose would it be? What would you hope to read?
To me, nothing is more deliberately hermetic than Stéphane Mallarmé’s life and poetry. Thanks to his correspondences, we know that he considered his unfinished manuscript Igitur to be the culmination of his craft. For that reason, I would love to read his unfiltered thoughts, hopes, and fears pertaining to that specific project.
What nineteenth-century fashion trend would you like to bring back, and why?
The Tunisian Kaftan was an outfit worn by brides in the capital, Tunis, up until the nineteenth century. It was not an affordable garb as it was cut in velvet, silk, or brocade, beaded, and richly embroidered in gold. The Moroccan and Algerian Kaftans are still worn, celebrated, and innovated upon today, and I find it a shame that the Tunisian version of this piece is lost to time.