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Love, Mobile Phones and the Codification of Intimacy in Contemporary Yemen

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This article explores practices of ‘remediation’ of love poetry via the mobile phone among countrymen (qabaʾil) of the Yemeni highlands. Qabaʾil respond to rejection in love and to failed marriage by venting their passion through poems of the qasida genre. The romantic discourse of qasidas is inherently conservative and provides a cathartic function and a rationalization of loss. This romantic discourse overtly contradicts dominant ideals of manliness and Islamic morals, yet can be publicly expressed because it is mediated in poetry. The remediation of this discourse via the mobile phone has produced a new poetic genre: the risala. By sending risala poems through mobile phones, the qabaʾil establish a direct contact with women and shape a discourse of intimacy which can set the premises for future conjugal choices. The romantic discourse of the risala is thus generative and constitutes a motivation for action. The analysis of the link between the qasida, the risala and mobile phones demonstrates how ‘new’ media can refashion ‘older’ media, and how discrepant emotions can be distributed in distinct discourses through different media.

Affiliations: 1: University of Milano-Bicocca


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