From the Editors
[The following interview was conducted with Jadaliyya Co-Editor Sinan Antoon on the relatonship between the Arab uprisings and literature. The interview was originally published on the Kenyon Review Blog.]
1. How do you think literature may or should respond to this spring’s events? What role (or roles) would you say literature has played, and how might those roles change?
Literature always responds to history, of course, but works hastily written under the pressure of responding often risk being pedestrian, but there are exceptions! The revolts are still ongoing and unfolding and we are all still processing their effects, but they have definitely energized all citizens, including writers. The challenge is how to represent these moments in their complexity and in beautiful forms.
Contrary to all the brouhaha about Twitter and Facebook, what energized people in Tunisia and Egypt and elsewhere, aside from sociopolitical grievances and an accumulation of pain and anger, was a famous line of poetry by a Tunisian poet, al-Shabbi. Poetry, novels, and popular culture have chronicled and encapsulated the struggle of peoples against colonial rule and later, against postcolonial monarchies and dictatorships, so the poems, vignettes, and quotes from novels were all there in the collective unconscious. Verses were spontaneously deployed in chants and slogans and disseminated in clips. The revolution introduced new songs, chants, and tropes, but it refocused attention on an already existing, rich and living archive.
Institutionally and structurally, the revolts further exposed how the state had neutralized certain intellectuals and writers and used them to legitimate its projects. The revolts reignited debates about the relationship between cultural production and state power. The revolts have already debunked the old cultural discourse and are threatening the dominant cultural elite, many of whose figures were at the service of state culture for a variety of reasons.
2. How have these events come to bear on your own writing, reading, and translating?
I have been immensely moved by the courage and determinations of people who face bullets unarmed and are willing to sacrifice their life for freedom. I have written a few articles in Arabic and English and lately a few poems in memory of the fallen protesters in Syria. Watching the revolts unfold took me back to the many poems and writings (in Arabic) about previous struggles and revolts throughout the 20th century. I re-read and I translated a few as an act of solidarity and to illuminate the rich tradition of cultural resistance in the Arab world to Anglophone readers.
3. As a writer deeply engaged both with US literature and literature of the Middle East, what are your hopes now for these literatures and for their relationship?
As to your third question, I’m not that optimistic that much will change on the American side of the equation. Publishing, by and large, is overdetermined by corporate interests and their ideologies. The first deal to make the news after the revolts is about a book by the Egyptian Google executive who was active on Facebook in the run-up to the revolts, Wael Ghoneim. It’s the predictable choice of the mainstream. A middle-class Anglophone corporate executive who will heap praise on Mark Zuckerberg and comfort readers that, somehow, the technological advances of the west toppled these dictators (supported by the west) and not the blood and hard work of organizers and activists.
To inject some optimism I should say that I hope there will be increased interest in the modern and contemporary culture and literature of the Arab world. These revolts have debunked the orientalist myth that portrayed these cultures and societies as static, despot loving, eternally fundamentalist. Now we know how vibrant and dynamic they are. One way to discover how rich and versatile they are is to read their stories and listen to them sing of life and liberty. Some small and university presses have been doing that already. This is an opportunity for others to do the right thing!
If you prefer, email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hot on Facebook
Israeli citizenship and Jewish nationality, […] in accordance with the Law of Return, constitutes a form of property, since it legally legitimizes an expectation of the right to Palestinian land based on Jewish heritage.click | email | tweet
Jad NavigationView Full Map, Topics, and Countries »
Jadalicious / جدلشس
The Confiscation of Armenian Properties: An Interview with Ümit Kurt http://t.co/3sPTtpku7V
yesterday at 10:08 PM
Job Opening: Associate Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University http://t.co/qgfdRKT4m1
yesterday at 4:05 PM
Notes sur l'élection présidentielle algérienne http://t.co/9XtMaj4tS7
yesterday at 1:54 PM
Last Week on Jadaliyya (April 14-20) http://t.co/O7nQz2CAzv
yesterday at 1:46 PM
What you missed . . . Last Week on Jadaliyya (April 14-20) http://t.co/P0AAMvJIgL via @jadaliyya
yesterday at 1:23 PM
Latest EntriesView All Entries »
- The Confiscation of Armenian Properties: An Interview with Umit Kurt
- ICAHD Finland Interviews Jadaliyya Co-Editor Mouin Rabbani
- Notes sur l'élection présidentielle algérienne
- New Texts Out Now: Reinoud Leenders, Spoils of Truce: Corruption and State-Building in Postwar Lebanon
- Arabian Peninsula Media Roundup (April 22)
- Jadaliyya Co-Editor Bassam Haddad on NPR’s Worldview, Addressing Syria’s Presidential Elections
- On Power Cuts, Protests, and Institutions: A Brief History of Electricity in Beirut (Part One)
- Turkey Media Roundup (April 22)
- Egypt Media Roundup (April 21)
- Last Week on Jadaliyya (April 14-20)
- Three Poems by Ahmad Shamlou
- Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid: A Profile from the Archives
- Let Us Now Praise Murderous Men; Lebanese Presidential Candidates, Considered
- قراءة في مضامين تدريس اللغتين العربية والعبرية في الجامعة العبرية
- على أرض الصحفيين ما يستحق الحكي
- من قصة النقل المشترك لمدينة بيروت: باصاتٌ ومترو في محطة الأحلام
- غزة والبحر
- Stasis Shift: Guernica Interviews Jadaliyya Co-Founder Bassam Haddad
- On the Struggle of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
- On Not Despising the Present: Some Notes on Faris Giacaman’s 'The Sadness of Post-Militance'