"How Syrian Intellectuals Shape Cultural Politics in a Communal Context: The Case of Fateh Al-Mudarris Center for Arts and Culture in the Israeli-Occupied Golan Heights" - Munir Fakher Eldin, Birzeit University
In 1987 the first real public sculpture appeared in the Syrian town Majdal Shams, in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Although foreign to the cultural identity of the place, it has almost instantaneously become for many the most authentic representation of the political identity of the community and the land. It told the public about an epic struggle against colonialism, and for progress, modernity, and nation-building, that had started with the anti-French revolt of the Druze leader Sultan Pasha al-Atrash in 1925 and went through local men and women who chose either fighting and martyrdom or education and intellectual struggle. The dualities of the traditional and the modern, the local and the national, the pastand the future, structure the visual themes of the sculpture: the communal leader carrying a sword; the old freedom fighter and mother in local traditional dresses; the intellectual dressed in westernized urban style; the young freedom fighter dressed in the Palestinian fedayin style of the 1960s; the school kids carrying backpacks and wheat. The sculpture conveyed a unity between these opposites an identity achieved in time, paradoxically, through disconnection from the past, and through social and cultural change. Moreover, it seems as if the political (national) identity of the community is fulfilled and materialized in a new culture represented by the intellectual-artist. The political identity of the place becomes also its cultural identity, and vice versa, and the new becomes the authentic. Rather than imagining a romantic interchangeability between cultural and political identity, and between the intellectual and his people, however, the paper explores the complex interplays between cultural and political representations, and the role of local artist-intellectuals in them. Since its celebrated public acceptance or even beginning (as many in the community see it) in the 1980s, fine art, contemporary art made in the Golan has raised a series of controversies about the role of modern community institutions (namely independent versus foreign-funded NGOs), education, human rights and democracy, and not the least, of course, cultural identity. The paper will discuss in particular the establishment and activities of an independent and self-funded community institution called Fateh al-Mudarris Center for Art and Culture named after the famous Syrian astrist Fateh al-Muddaris. The center developed out of a volunteer-based initiative and in rejection of funding from a local NGO that came with top-down technocratic mannerism and dictates about morally and politically proper artistic production. To support itself, the center opened a café and managed to achieve a very positive reputation within and outside the community. Although its original motto was art is for arts sake, its activity-choices continue to be deeply political and controversial. The paper discusses several examples of this, among them the refusal by the religious authorities, in two different villages in the Golan Heights, to install in public places two sculptures produced by members of the group one of a nude women, censored under moral pretext, and another of the ancient mythological hero, Gilgamesh, censored under religious identity pretext (Gilgamesh being, presumably, the historic archenemy of monotheism and the Druze religion). The paper is based on an oral history research conducted in 2004 and ongoing personal communication and friendship with the concerned artists as well as other activists in the community. By problematizing cultural and political representations in the context of the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan, I aim to question formalistic sociological understandings of the problem of communalism found in the writings of renowned Arab thinkers such as Tayyib Tizini and Azmi Beshara among many others.
"Beyond Sumud: Palestinian Film and the Resistance of the Everyday" - Nadia Yaqub, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
1948 Palestinians have worked to create an identity for themselves that is not
defined solely, or even mostly by their status as a dispossessed people. In
the writings of Samira `Azzam and Ghassan Kanafani from the 1950s and early
1960s one finds narratives exploring the
humiliation of refugee life, the disaffection of young Arab intellectuals, and
the derogatory connotations of the very word "Palestinian". If
agency was narrated at all, it was situated in the past within the 1948 war or
the repression of a nascent Palestinian resistance by the Jordanian regime. In
the post-1967 era, however, political and historical agency came to be narrated
through stories of military and political action in the present. As was the
trend internationally at that time, Palestinian writers (with Ghassan Kanafani
foremost among them) situated their narratives squarely within the independent
Palestinian national liberation movement that arose after the 1967 war and
endured until the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. While agency was written
into these literary works, usually within the framework of political or
military work by their protagonists, these narratives were nonetheless
structured primarily around the notion of claims-making. That is, the lack that
characterized the Palestinian lived experience of dispossession,
disenfranchisement, and occupation, as well as protagonists' work towards
redress continued to be central themes.
The political landscape has changed immensely both regionally and globally since the PLO period. While Palestinians continue their political struggle for redress in the face of ongoing and escalating dispossession, the political context in which this struggle is carried out is quite different. There no longer exists an international network of peoples seeking liberation from colonial or imperial powers on nationalist grounds. Rather, the world's population is increasingly divided along lines of citizenship: those who live and work as legal citizens of the places they reside, and those who are denied that status and the privileges it entails. This new political landscape demands a different type of storytelling, one that questions the problematic notion of citizenship as an exclusionary status by focusing on the human. Such narratives do not focus on making claims, although claims-making may be woven into the fabric of these texts. These new narratives, which in the Palestinian context are currently being produced in film as well as literature, instead allow their protagonists to engage in multiple speech acts as a means of expressing a new subjectivity, one that is characterized by the same type of expansive dignity and social justice notion of freedom that has characterized the nonviolent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
In this paper, I will argue that in response to this need a new type of Palestinian filmmaking has emerged during the last decade, one in which Palestinians narrate for themselves a subject position that is defined by an insistence on living lives that are not defined by conflict and dispossession. Instead, they focus on everyday concerns which, though affected by the political and military conflict nonetheless, are themselves (rather than the obstacles and conflict) the focus. In these films sumud (steadfastness) with all its connotations of bare survival in the face of violence, has been replaced by living in a fully human sense, within a context of culture and community. Through a careful reading of the everyday as both subject matter and structural feature of a new Palestinian cinematic language, I will demonstrate how such films use a poetics of the everyday to develop the themes and narratives originally employed by Ghassan Kanafnai, the most prominent of Palestinian post-1967 storytellers, in new ways that are responsive to the current political period.
"Dhu'l Nun Ayyoub in Russian Translation, 1968-1967" - Elizabeth Bishop,Texas State University
Critics note different aspects of the contribution of Iraqi novelist and critic Dhu'l Nun Ayyoub. Sabry Hafez positioned him between Arabs' experience and the conventions of nineteenth-century Russian literature; Christopher Bürger concurs, placing Ayyoub in the context of: "the first Arabic novels, those which attempt to evoke the problems of oriental society in the framework of an imported genre." Offering his al-makassa (makala kissa} as "the transition between the article and the story," Bürger notes that such "often have the appearance of political or sociological articles," while according to Hafez, the precedent of Russian literature justified aspects of Ayyoub's literary form—specifically, the lengthy preambles "that made many of Ayyoub's works in particular, closer to the literary essay than the short story." Roger Allen compares Dr. Ibrahim (an Iraqi who had become totally corrupted by the West) with Ivan Turgenev's portrayal of a younger generation in Fathers and Sons (1862). Edward Said's review of Frances Stonor Saunders' Cultural Cold War challenged her to address "the struggle between East and West over influential postcolonial countries," including those of the Arab world. If critics of the West read Ayyoub in terms of Russian literature, this presentation will turn the discussion to the East by noting themes which dominate Dhu'l Nun Ayyoub's work in Russian translation, as well as his reception in the Soviet Union among readers who knew Turgenev well. I will address an overview of Iraqi prose which Ayyoub published in the USSR, short stories which were best-known in Russian translations, and critics' responses to his oeuvre as a whole, and place all three in the context of Soviet government files regarding Ayyoub and his political work.
"Towards an Intellectual History of 1967" - Yoav DiCapua, University of Texas at Austin
In 1950 `Abd
al-Rahman Badawi, who was known at the time as "the first modern Arab
philosopher", announced that he had devised a new philosophy for "our
generation." Khalid Muhammad Khalid wrote Min huna nabda (From Here
we Begin), a scathing attack on the clergy and a call for religious reform.
Suhayl Idris, a young Beiruti intellectual, left for Paris and returned in 1953
as a devoted existentialist. He founded the powerful literary magazine al-Adab
and contributed greatly to the transformation of Beirut into the capital of
Arab thought. Literary critic Mahmud Amin al-`Alim and mathematician Abd
al-`Aziz Anis published Fi'l-thaqafa al-misriyya (On Egyptian Culture),
accusing the Arab intellectual establishment of exemplifying a detached, "ivory
tower" attitude. They believed in the so-called "Arab masses" and ushered in a
Marxist-inspired aesthetics of social realism. Iraqi poet Abd al-Wahhab
al-Bayyati committed himself to an exploration of the Arab human condition in
the wake of colonialism. Inspired by Albert Camus, he believed in
self-liberation and "rebellion against reality." These were some of the best
minds of Arab thought during the era of de-colonization. They were secular
cultural optimists, members of the "proud generation" who sought to re-invent a
new Arab subject: proud, modern, independent, self-sufficient, and, above all,
By the 1967 many members of this generation experienced intellectual life as a process that involved alienation, suppression, statelessness, besiegement, material poverty and disillusionment with the political process. But what were the causes and precise mechanisms underlying the rise and fall of this promising group? Were their designs for a new era superficial? Was their cultural vision inapplicable? Where they, as some suggested, suppressed by new forms of Western domination? More importantly, which global circumstances shaped their ideas and guided their actions? Was the 1967 phenomenon unique to Arabs or was it representative of a much larger global process, namely, the collapse of the first generation of Third-World projects?
In as much as these questions are being asked at all, the mainstream responses of scholars like Fuad Ajami, Adeed Dawisha, Hisham Sharabi and many others, is that the 1967 war defeated the unitary political aspirations of Pan-Arab nationalism and thus left the so-called "Arab masses" without an ideology and hence a future. This antiquated explanation is in urgent need of revision. As part of a new book project, I wish to explore in depth the collective biography of this generation by way of tapping into hitherto unexplored intellectual experiences such as "Third-World Internationalism" and Decolonization. Such an approach might explain why, for instance, existentialism became a dominant tradition of Arab thought during this era. It would also level a critique against the excessive scholarly focus on Arab nationalism as the main intellectual phenomenon leading to the 1967 war. In other words, by taking the post-colonial intellectual generation on their own terms, and contextualizing Arab thinkers against global developments such as decolonization, Third-Worldism and the Cold War, I hope to compose the first full-fledged intellectual history of 1967.
"Contempt: State Literati vs. Street Literati in Contemporary Iraq" - Yasmeen Hanoosh, Portland State University
There is a reciprocal exchange of contempt between Iraqi state literati and anti-state literati, which for decades has redounded to the ideological polarization of the Iraqi literary corpus. My paper will retrace the origins of the schism between state-sponsored literature and street literature—literature of the peripheries, or literature whose writers were silenced or exiled during the second half of the twentieth century. To elucidate the phenomenon of contempt in literary Iraq today, I interrogate the ideology of "freedom" in the current literary/intellectual scene and the proliferating discourses on it in light of the current political unrest in Iraq and adjacent Arab states. Under the broad rubric of the "art of freedom," and its correlate "modernity," which have been the quest of generations of Iraqi intellectuals despite the interruptions of despots, my presentation will examine some current impasses that have augmented the blatant exchange of contempt among Iraq's literati. These impasses include the discrepancy between conceptual freedom and freedom as a cultural or political practice, the marginalized role of female intellectuals, sectarian intellectualism, media and self-censorship. Examining the role of conceptual freedom and contempt in literary production also necessarily invites the discussion of the binary shape of contemporary Iraqi literature as a product of "inside" and "outside" sensibilities and cultures.
"Disciplines, Ethics, Literature: Translations and Transformations of Adab in Colonial Egypt" - Michael Allan, University of Oregon
In La Renaissance orientale, Raymond Schwab details the explosion of a "new humanism" in the 1870s. He notes the publication of Theodor Benfy's Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaften Orientalischen Philogie in Deutschland in Munich in 1869, the inclusion of the volume "Bibliothèque Orientale" in the series "Chefs-d'oeuvre de l'Esprit humain" in Paris in 1870, and the appearance of Max Müller's edited series "Sacred Books of the East" in England in 1875, as just a few examples of the increasing breadth of literary study. And across the Mediterranean, the scope of Schwab's "new humanism" expanded well beyond the reflections of European scholars and extended to the forging of modern literary culture. In Cairo, the 1870s was a decade that witnessed the emergence of two formidable literary institutions: on the one hand, the national library, Dar al-Kutub, which was inaugurated in 1870, and on the other hand, Dar al-'Ulum (Teachers College), which offered a modernized curriculum for literary studies in 1871. Drawing together the role of comparative grammar and the rise of literary institutions, my paper considers how the Arabic term 'adab' comes to be understood as 'literature' within discussions of comparative and world literature. Looking at the writings of Jurji Zaydan and Mustafa Sadiq al-Rafi'i, I examine early commentaries on the shifting connotation of adab in histories of Arabic literature, and arrive at an understanding of literature that is less an attribute of a text than a disciplined reading practice (reinforced through institutions, practices and publics). Noting the genealogy of this reading practice ultimately leads to provincializing the scope of world literature and considering practices, populations and imagined futures purged from its domain.
"System Failure/Please Update: The Writing and Political Practices of a New Arab Generation" - Tarek El-Ariss, University of Texas at Austin
and scholars both in the Arab world and beyond have dismissed a new generation
of middle class Arab men and women with access to technology and conversant
with Western popular culture as being complicit with colonial discourses and
practices. Postcolonial theory and critiques of secularism and neoliberalism
especially cast this new generation as consumerist and apolitical, thereby
failing to explore the complexities of its cultural production. This dismissal
has led to the inability to predict and theorize Arab uprisings, which have
succeeded in mobilizing people from across the social and political spectrum.
Drawing on theoretical frameworks by Jacques Rancière and Giles Deleuze among others, this paper investigates processes of simultaneity and bricolage at work in political and literary practices taking shape at the intersection of the virtual and the material, and visual and writing modes. Focusing on a series of authors and activists (Wael Abbas, Bradley Manning, Rajaa Alsanea, and Ahmad Alaidy), I examine the hyper-circulation of images and videos, leaked cables and classified material, and blogs and novels as forms of hak (hacking), fadH (exposing), and tawafan (flooding) that infiltrate and undermine theoretical paradigms, literary canons, and social and political regimes. My investigation reveals a shift from traditional political and literary models to a new set of practices and movements with a wide range of linguistic and aesthetics registers and political effects. Exploring models of "hacking" and "exposing" serves to redefine the relation between literature and politics and to move beyond questions of hegemony, resistance, and the politics of representation, which have traditionally determined the engagement with contemporary Arabic literature and thought.
"Twittering the 'nahdah'?" - Boutheina Khaldi, American University of Sharjah
As our attention is focused on the power of cyberspace in shaking up regimes and ousting others, we tend not only to marginalize the power of resistance forces that have been fighting hard against corruption and abuse of power, but also the power of early movements and intellectual achievements in the media that could have been no less significant had they made use of the present cyber activism. While gathering information on the interchangeable space, private and public, in Arab intellectual life, I was struck by the powerful messaging in Mayy Ziyadah's short articles, articles that may fit the blog space and deserve to be central to forums of discussion. Monopolizing the public sphere of her time, including the post, the press, the lecture hall, and the telephone, along with her salon, Mayy Ziyadah was able to forge an impressive discourse. But, one may ask: how far could she make use of the internet had she been with us today? How pleased she would be by the growth in tact and sacrifice among youth versus cronies' greed? What would she have done had she been using facebook, twitter, and text messaging?
"Translating the Nahdah: Reflections from the Debate on Women's Education in the 1870s Beirut Press" - Elizabeth Holt, Bard College
In 1873, the Reverend Henry Harris Jessup of the American Protestant mission to Beirut published a remarkably understudied volume entitled *The Women of the Arabs.* Charting the work of the missionaries in women's education in the region, Jessup devoted an entire chapter of his book to translations from 1870s Arabic journals and newspapers publishing in Beirut. An invaluable resource for translators working on texts from this period, Jessup's capable translation conveys the rather different English prose of his time, presenting a range of strategies for approaching this moment's mix of a turath-infused literary Arabic, and the more direct Arabic style that was emerging with the nineteenth-century Arabic press.
"From landscapers of heritage to journalists of the street: Why are there Palestinian artists at all?" - Kirsten Scheid, American University of Beirut
What impact do Palestinian artists have on local understanding of Palestine's political and cultural trajectory, and how has this been changed by recent watershed events? This paper sketches out a preliminary analysis of the ways Palestinian art-making has been affected by the political changes introduced by the "peace process" (1993) and the tandem events of al-Aqsa Intifada (2000) and September 11, 2001. Both events caught the artists by surprise and changed the socio-economic structures that make their work possible. In other words, they gravely refashioned the possibilities for artist-audience interaction. I conduct my analysis by looking the careers of three artists active in Ramallah – the capital of Palestine's political and economic transformation. The artists belong to three different generations: Suleiman Mansour, (born 1947) is considered the "grandfather of Palestinian art" today; Jawad El-Malhi (born 1969) has a well-established international career; Amer Shomali (born 1982) runs a graphic design company that systematically produces "street art," with the goal of "turning the streets into a newspaper." The importance of this cross-generational analysis lies in the fact that each generation was itself launched by a particular set of political circumstances that positioned it in unprecedented relationships to the Palestinian populace and firmly ensconced their initial production within predominant interpretive themes. While the middle generation was released by its UNRWA training and camp living from the taboos elitist artists applied to their spokesperson artwork, the newest generation has revealed its immediate predecessors' own elitism and inability to cope with new forms of popular leadership. It is as if the structure of art-making that is peculiar to the condition of an occupied people whose activism is both global and local actually produces an elitist intellectual role for its artists. In this paper I treat artists as Gramscian intellectuals in the sense that their visual, sensual, formal technologies give them the capacity to reorganize (potentially at least) the positions viewers may occupy as subjects in relation to the entities represented. My argument will be based on interviews as well as visual and discourse analysis in order to document the artists' own understanding of the changes in their relation to audience and networks of production and circulation.
"The Foreignness of the Vernacular: Arabic Literature, Revolution, Theory" - Shaden Tageldin, University of Minnesota
One moment in ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ Kīlīṭū's Lan Tatakallama Lughatī (2002; Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language), a theoretical exploration of the changing role of the Arab literati in times of politicoaesthetic revolution, from the ʿAbbāsid era through the nineteenth century, never fails to provoke my students—to the excitement of identification or the anger of repudiation, first, but then always, slowly, to reflection. Kīlīṭū is introduced to an American woman who speaks Arabic—and not just any Arabic, but the most intimate registers of the Moroccan colloquial—without "a blemish." He is alarmed; Arabic, he writes, is "slipping away" from him, as this foreigner "storms into his language, invades and captures it." Kīlīṭū describes the uncanny experience of watching the "foreign" assume the absolute guise of the "native." What is provocative about his analysis, I argue, is the double death blow it deals to the "foreigner" and the "native" in their respective approaches to Arabic and to Arab subjectivity, both literary and political. Kīlīṭū not only suggests that recent U.S. investments in deep foreign-language acquisition—which aim to teach the non-native speaker of a language to "go native"—remain complicitous with colonial praxis, but also intimates that the Arab "native" is more "foreign" than it knows. Unwittingly, I suggest, he captures the paradox of the 2011 revolution in Egypt and of vernacular politics and literature in the Arab world more generally. The vernacular, the ʿāmmiyya of literature, folds the "foreign" into the "native": an unabashed "impurity," it often is counterpoised to the false "purity" arrogated by standard or classical Arabic (fuṣḥā). Yet the vernacular is often also taken to be the "purest" expression of the "native"—the true voice of the majority and thus of the "nation," of local lived reality, hence the very antithesis of the "foreign." So too the vernacular of politics, as media coverage of the 2011 Egyptian revolution would attest. I contend that to forget the operations of the "foreign" in vernacular language, literature, or politics is to misunderstand this recent revolution. Here, I argue, under the cover of a radically "grassroots" bid for liberation and social justice, lurk the converging logics of the neocolonial Egyptian state—from Jamāl ʿAbd al Nāṣir to Ḥusnī Mubārak—and neoimperialist U.S. foreign policy. This paper will recover the impingements of "foreign" powers, both internal and external, on a political movement perhaps too uncritically celebrated as the expression of the "purest" populism. From the political it will return to the literary, exploring the implications of such a recovery of the "foreignness" of the vernacular for a retheorization of Arabic literature within world literature, as of Arab politics within global geopolitics, at times of revolution.
"Hakadha yatakalim al-udaba al-shabab: The Emergence of the ‘Sixties Generation' in Egypt" - Yasmeen Ramadan, Columbia University
In late 1969, the journal al-.ali.a dedicated a number of issues to the discussion of the emerging literary generation in Egypt. The series Hakadha yatakalim al-udaba. al-shabab, which began as a group of ‘testimonies' by approximately 30 writers (between the ages of 18and 35) and a number of articles by prominent critics, became a reoccurring feature in the journal, sparking intense debates and controversies between writers, critics and intellectuals,‘old' and ‘young'. The features sought to understand what this new ‘generation' of writers represented, who they were and what role they aspired to play in the fraught political, economic and cultural arena of late sixties Egypt. Some raised questions about their relationship to the previous generation, debating whether it was one of antagonism or understanding, cooperation or rejection, while others went as far as to question the very existence of a new movement or generation, in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the emerging group. This paper seeks to examine the emergence of this new ‘generation' of writers, later referred to as the ‘sixties generation', through an exploration of the debates that unfolded on the pages of al-.ali.a. (I will also show the way in which these debates resonated with those taking place on the pages of other literary journals of the time such as Galiri 68). How did these young writers understand themselves and their position vis-à-vis their predecessors? Did they define themselves as a new ‘generation' and if so what was their understanding of this term? Did it extend beyond a biological notion of generation, to encompass the social, political and aesthetic? What legitimacy was gained by such a definition and how did it help these writers carve a space for themselves within the literary sphere.
"From Flying Carpets to No-Fly Zones: Libya's Elusive Revolutions, According to Ruth First and Hisham Matar" - Barbara Harlow, University of Texas at Austin
most recent uprising – following the largely peaceful popular overthrows of the
repressive governments in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt in the first months of
2011 – is said to have to begun on February 15, when "fourteen black-robed
lawyers demanded the release of Fathi Turbil, a fellow lawyer hauled in for
questioning by Abdullah Sanussi, Qaddafi's intelligence chief and
brother-in-law" (NYB March 10, 2011). Two days later, on February 17, the
judicial insurgency became a massive popular uprising against the more than
40-year dictatorship of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Quickly as that uprising
spread, however, from Benghazi in the eastern part of the country to al-Zawiya
in the west, Libya's notorious leader marshaled his superior military resources
to brutally quell the opposition forces. How would the "international
community" and its institutions, especially at the United Nations, respond?
"From Flying Carpets to No-Fly Zones" proposes to examine the complex and contested situation of Qadaffi's Libya within a changing international order, from the 1969 revolution as narrated by South African historian and anti-apartheid activist Ruth First in Libya: The Elusive Revolution (1974) to its narrative reconstruction by exiled Libyan writer Hisham Matar in the semi-autobiographical novels In the Country of Men (2006) and Anatomy of a Disappearance (2011). Special attention will be paid to contextualizing this historiography within the current debates emanating from international law – including international humanitarian and human rights law – regarding the disposition of multilateral forces, regional commitments, and the "responsibility to protect" (R2P) in responding to this latest of Libya's "elusive revolutions." Should Libya, that is, have been suspended from the United Nations Human Rights Council? Referred by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court for investigation? What are the stakes? And what to make of the eventual historical and precedent-setting outcomes, the global implications – and yes, even the inevitable "unintended consequences".
"From the Nahdah to the Naksah: al-Barudi and al-Baraduni Confront the Classics" - Suzanne Stetkevych, Indiana University
"From the Nahdah to the Naksah" proposes
to investigate the ways in which modern Arab poets have formulated their
contemporary cultural stance through poetic engagement with their classical
forbears. Rather than adopting the persona of the Abbasid master poet as a
"mask" through which to speak, as the Free Verse poets so often do, the Neo-Classical
poet al-Barudi and the modern Yemeni `amudi poet al-Baraduni employ the
classical poetic tradition of mu`aradah (contrafaction) to wrestle with
the poets of the past and at the same time to wrestle with their own
contemporary issues of Arab cultural identity in the colonial and neo-colonial
periods. The paper examines how al-Barudi's contrafaction of al-Mutanabbi's
Mimiyyah reconfigures the classical court panegyric qasida into a
(proto-)nationalist call for resistance to colonial oppression--a sort of
Nahdah manifesto. Turning then to al-Baraduni's Letter to Abu Tammam, his1971
contrafaction of Abu Tammam's renowned Ba'iyyah to al-Mu`tasim on the conquest
of Amorium, the paper examines how, in the wake of the Arab 1967 defeat, the
modern poet creates a poetic dialogue between himself and his illustrious
predecessor to express a complex of conflicting emotions toward the Abbasid
Golden Age and the poet who formulated it. Al-Baraduni presents himself, as
modern Arab spokesman, as answerable to the past, to the Arab heritage, as he
works through the crisis of defeat in emotions ranging from anger, shame, and
jealousy, to pride and hope.
Building on the recent work of such scholars as Yaseen Noorani, Muhsin Jassim al-Musawi, and Akiko Motoyoshi Sumi, as well as my own earlier work, "From the Nahdah to the Naksah" attempts to show how essential the reading of poetry is to a nuanced understanding of Arab cultural and intellectual history.
"The Path to Arabic Modernism: Two Perspectives from the 21st Century" - Jaroslav Stetkevych, University of Chicago
I intend to
discuss in my contribution two aspects of the cultural-literary effort of the
Nahdah: one characterized by the cultural forgetfulness resulting from
uninhibited optimism of the validity of progress, by a sense of values
remembered, and by concealed pessimism; the other characterized by
psychologically construed regression, by dispensation from memory and imaginary
projection, and by doubt-ridden, equally concealed, optimism.
My cases to be considered will be the Egyptian Rifā‛ah al-Tahtāwī and the Syrian-Levantine, post-Ottoman al-Fāriyāq (Ahmad Fāris al-Shidyāq)—with their respective historical offshoots and ancillaries as they reach our present day.
"No Public, No Republic: Re-performing the Patron-Poet-Public Relationship in Colonial Arabophone Culture" - Samer Ali, University of Texas at Austin
Celebrated poets of the Arabic literary tradition, such as Abu Tammam, al-Buhturi and al-Mutanabbi, built their careers, developed their reputations and seeded their legacies by carefully serving two types of audiences: The patrons who supported and protected them and the adab public who admired them, enjoyed their art and transmitted their corpus in life and in perpetuity. For much of the pre-modern period, this was a relatively productive eco-system that supported poetic triumphalism, contingent upon a common Arabic idiom and norms of adab sociability between rulers, poets and their publics. With the rise of European power and patronage in the colonial era, Arabophone rulers had fewer resources to patronize poets and non-Arabophone colonizers held greater promise of playing the role of patron. How did poets adapt to this new eco-system? What happened to the vital role of the adab public? This paper will examine two poems that will help us think through various experiments in the colonial era: The first is a praise ode (madih) by Shidyaq (d. 1887) composed for and delivered to Queen Victoria; the second is a poem by Hafiz Ibrahim (d. 1933) composed in 1906 upon the shooting of Egyptians by British officers, hunting in Dinshaway. The incident gave off the appearance that Egyptians were sitting ducks (or pigeons, in this case). In the first ode, Shidyaq draws much of his voice from the imagined and hoped-for patronage of the Queen, paradoxically courting the English monarch in Arabic. In the second, Ibrahim gingerly recognizes the brute power of the colonizers and their puppets, but sings of his people’s aspirations and dignity.
"Al-Nahdah: Understanding the Epistemological Violence of Modernity" - Stephen Sheehi, University of South Carolina
In the early 20th century, a strange subgenre of photography flourished in provincial capitals such as Beirut, Cairo, and Jerusalem where the emerging middle class posed for portraits dressed up as Bedouin, belly dancers, Arab warriors, water-carriers and peasants. My presentation asserts that indigenous Middle Eastern self-Orientalizing was inspired less by Orientalist imagery or mimicry of the West than by specific ideological planks of capitalism and modernity. If the Arab photographic archiveincludes self-Orientalizing motifs and tropes, Arab Romantics such as Amin al-Rihani served as interlocutors in metabolising and claiming Orientalist motifs as a technique of self-empowerment. For all its rejection of the positivist and rationalist virtues ofthe "Arab Renaissance," Romanticism’s self-Orientalizing re-enacts the epistemological violence perpetrated by the ruwwad al-nahdah, reformers, literati and thinkers in preceding century.
That is, the rise of Arab Romanticismwas a reaction to the hegemony of an epistemology of modernity that was laid down during al-nahdah al-‘arabiyah. Romanticism problematized Arab modernity’s conception of self, society and identity as defined byOttoman Arab intellectuals and reformers. Self-exoticizing of Romantics was an attempt to reinvest cultural and ontological value into "traditional culture" that had been otherwise demonized as backwards by nahdawi reformers. But, at the same time, its "avant-garde" posturing was as much a product of modernity as the activism of the nahdah pioneers (such as Butrus al-Bustani, Mustafa Kamal, and Muhammad ‘Abduh), which those like al-Rihani, in fact, explicitly admired.Rihani’s protestations against the "monominds" of the modern age and the parochial, jingoistic nationalism were couched in a positivist paradigm of identity and history, progress and nationhood that would find the force of progress in the otherized, Orientalized Self.
"Elegiac Humanism in Wartime and Postwar Lebanese Culture" - Ken Seigneurie, Simon Fraser University
What are the articulations between the realms of culture and politics in the Arab world? In light of the changes sweeping over the region, it behooves us to study how cultural discourses embody and inflect political convictions. This paper will trace the emergence and development of a cultural discourse in Lebanon since the late 1970s. At that time, against the backdrop of a dominant aesthetic of ideological and sectarian commitment (al-adab al-multazim), a young generation of writers (Hasan Daoud, Hoda Barakat, Rashid al-Daif among them) and filmmakers (Burhan ?Alawiyya, Maroun Baghdadi, Jocelyne Saab among them) began bringing into question the politics of redemptive self-sacrifice that is today mistakenly identified almost wholly with an Islamic "culture of martyrdom." Their work, which eventually found echoes in popular culture, was characterized by a contemplative and self-critical ethos. At the heart of this new aesthetic lay the reappropriation and thematization of an ancient topos and its associated structures of feeling: "stopping by the ruins" (wuquf ?ala al-a?lal).
In this paper, I’ll trace the outlines of this new aesthetic through selected examples of Lebanese wartime and postwar novels, films and popular culture. I’ll argue that it evokes in the beholder an elegiac relationship to the past that is sharply at variance with the dominant aesthetic of commitment. The use of ruins imagery in this aesthetic, in effect, breaks the implicit logic of martyrdom whereby past injustice warrants present violence in the name of attaining a utopian future. Instead, the new aesthetic evokes a properly tragic, i.e. irrecuperable, past and correspondingly open-ended future. I argue that this elegiac sense of the past promotes a properly humanistic view of human identity, which is to say it evokes a sense of human identity that is uncircumscribable and therefore endowed with dignity. The conclusion of this paper will trace the fortunes of this aesthetic of "elegiac humanism" from its peak in 2005 to its present marginal status, arguing that historical conditions have since encouraged a return to aesthetic forms related to redemptive self-sacrifice.
"The World of 'Firsts' and 'Bests': Arab Intellectuals, the Father, and the Novel" - Ala Alryyes, Yale University
My paper will address the situations of two young intellectual heroes of foundational narratives: one, fictional, the young revolutionary Fahmy in Mahfouz’s Palace Walk; the second, real, Raja Shehadeh, the autobiographical subject of his Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine. I taught both these narratives in my class on the Arabic Novel. No argument, of course, needs to be made for the foundational value of Mahfouz’s novel. Shehadeh’s autobiography, though less known, is of signal value, depicting as it does the important though less-known situation of a samed, or steadfast, Palestinian intellectual.
Both heroes—and both narratives—highlight Oedipal struggles between fathers and sons, struggles that have underpinned European modernity but that have seen the sons on the losing side for far too long in the Arab world. My title’s reference to "Firsts" and "Bests" refers to Mikhail Bakhtin’s typology of the novel, in which the novel, which narrates the personal experience of individuals, stands against the older epic genre, one whose world is "the national heroic past: it is a world of ‘beginnings’ and ‘peak times’ in the national history, a world of fathers and founders of families, a world of ‘firsts’ and ‘bests.’"
To teach the Arabic novel is to confront questions about belatedness. There is no doubt that, fascinating and "original" as the novels available for a syllabus, they are almost all instances of a genre that was well-developed in the West before the rise of the Arabic novel. Yet, at least in these two narratives, to be belated is to engage newly with the novel’s relation to the epic and to offer fresh insights on the novel itself.