The Politics and Poetics of Madness in Ḥasan Blāsim’s "The Madman of Freedom Square"

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Journal Of Arabic Literature


Iraqi writer Ḥasan Blāsim’s debut collection of short stories, Majnūn sāḥat al-ḥurriyyah (The Madman of Freedom Square), is centrally concerned with states and expressions of madness arising from the traumatic violence that consumed Iraq during, between, and after the first and second Gulf wars. The experiences of refugees and their search for asylum are frequently highlighted. Focusing on select stories, this article identifies and explores four types of madness in Blāsim’s fiction: contained madness, a structural dichotomy between madness and sanity that is established through a nested narrative structure in which a fantastical inner story is framed and retold by an apparently reliable external narrator; madness of the body, in which a traumatized character experiences a transformation, or disintegration, of his human form; gendered madness, in which madness is a response to patriarchal violence and oppression; and destabilizing madness, a subversion of contained madness in which the boundaries between sanity and madness, reality and fantasy, become indistinguishable. Drawing on theories of literary madness advanced by Shoshana Felman and others, the article argues that Blāsim’s iterations of madness and trauma serve to expand reality, rather than distort it, ultimately depicting the horror of wartime Iraq and the lives of its refugees in a way that rational storytelling simply cannot capture.

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