Date of Award

Spring 6-5-2015

Document Type

Honors Project

University Scholars Director

Dr. Jeff Keuss

First Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Kimberly Segall

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Dr. Christine Chaney


postcolonial, avant-garde, heather raffo, iraq, feminism, kristeva


In her one-woman play, Iraqi-American playwright and actress Heather Raffo performs the testimonies of nine resilient Iraqi women, emphasizing their diverse experiences of the American occupation and life under the Baathist regime. Near the end of the play, one of the soliloquies breaks down into incoherence: an instance of poetic rupture. There is revolutionary potential latent in this avant-garde technique, and by applying it to her urgent and immediate postcolonial context Raffo simultaneously enacts and demands a response of justice to the injustices attested to throughout. Through the poetic rupture of Layal’s textual/psychological breakdown, Raffo undermines the system that, by imposing norms and taboos, unjustly constructed and allotted power and privilege in the first place.

To understand how the breakdown at the end of 9 Parts of Desire serves as a call to justice requires a journey through the connections between postcolonial, postmodern, gender, and spatial theories. Judith Butler, Susan Friedman, Chandra Mohanty, and Riverbend help elucidate the element of performed identity/feminism, and Simon Gikandi, Jacques Derrida, and Julia Kristeva reveal the revolutionary power latent in avant-garde texts. Butler argues that identity is always performed; Friedman, that we are all hybrid beings; Mohanty, that we must advocate for transnational feminism thoughtfully and critically; and Riverbend, that Iraqi feminism predates the American occupation. Gikandi highlights ways in which postcolonial texts adapt modernist avant-garde techniques; Derrida lays out the deconstructionist framework of différance from which Kristeva draws; and Kristeva unpacks the political rupture constituted by poetic deviations like Raffo’s. Raffo does not allow her audience to sit with the stereotypes, taboos, and norms that have been consciously established to enforce an oppressive agenda against Iraqi women, but rather breaks down the system in which they are stable.


A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the University Scholars Program


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