Tanjil Rashid: In Time’s Late Hour

Al-Ma’ari’s Saqt Al-Zand (or “The Tinder Spark”, Syria, AD 1300. Source: sothebys.com

I am often susceptible to feelings of belatedness. “Is literary greatness still possible?” Susan Sontag asked around the turn of the millennium, and twenty years on, I’m not sure we have had an answer. Is it finally, as Cyril Connolly put it, “closing time in the gardens of the West”? I have always preferred the gardens of the East, but they may not be faring any better.

I am fully aware that this sentiment has been known to reactionaries for thousands of years, and quite often they’ve been wildly wrong. With me it is not by any means a political stance, and probably just a hyperbolic way of appreciating works of art and literature from a time before my own. The feeling is usually prompted by an encounter with a marvellous line composed in some distant time by an ancient poet or sage.

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Youssef Rakha: Sartre, My Father and Me

When my father’s body gave in at the age of 67, there was no cause of death as such. His health was undoubtedly poorly, he was addicted to a range of pharmaceuticals — but none of the vital organs had stopped functioning. Strangely, my mother and I saw it coming: there were tears on the day, long before we could have known it was happening. And when it did happen, the relief of no longer having to care for a prostrate depressive seemed to justify it. In the next few months there was oblivion. I had felt alienated from his dead body, I saw it wrapped in white cloth, in public, and I thought I was over the fact.

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Christmas Gift: Youssef Rakha’s Arab Porn *Remixed*

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Youssef Rakha. A stock photo of a woman in niqab is made up of versions of Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s iconic picture, her act of protest of 2011.

Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.
– Plato, BC 427–347

Always I have and will
Scatter god and gold to the four winds.
When we meet, I delight in what the Book forbids.
And flee what is allowed.
– Abu Nuwas, AD 756–813

The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life, he is sick, since objectively neither has any existence; by asking this question one is merely admitting to a store of unsatisfied libido to which something else must have happened, a kind of fermentation leading to sadness and depression.
– Sigmund Freud, 1937

The revolution is for the sake of life, not death.
― Herbert Marcuse, 1977

Eros is an issue of boundaries.
– Anne Carson, 1986

Scene–1

“Hi, I’m writing a piece on Arab porn and would love to get your input…”

“Why would I be relevant to Arab porn?”

“Porn meaning explicit web content, or sexual self expression in general.”

“I see. Well, okay. I’d like to read what you’re writing but I don’t want to contribute. Not because I’m against the idea. I just don’t feel like revealing anything at this point, or I don’t have anything to reveal. I don’t want to explain myself or my sexuality or whatever.”

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Mina Nagy: A Portrait of the Artist as an Agoraphobe

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Istanbul by Ayhan Ton. Source: instagram.com/ayhanton

There is no escaping the fact. Since 2011, I haven’t been in downtown Cairo except twice, heavily sedated and only for as long as it took to run my unavoidable errand. With the help of medication, my condition had improved enough for me to go there frequently when the protests started in January that year, instead of being confined to Heliopolis as usual. After I was shot with a pellet gun and had to run away from hospital on the first day of protests, for a few weeks I returned to the hotspots of the revolution, but tear gas, shooting and all kinds of attacks often forced me (along with everyone else) to run for my life. This fucked it all up again, in time. Protest hotspots became indistinguishable from vast, crowded spaces too far from home. And, succumbing to my terror of both, I confined myself to Heliopolis.

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Saudamini Deo: My Heart Doesn’t Want

Rajasthan in four cities

1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India map of Rajputana. Source: Wikipedia

 

1-JODHPUR

My great-grandfather, a feudal landowner in West Bengal, had a troubled marriage with my great-grandmother, who finally left him in 1927 and came to live with her mother in Jaisalmer. Her mother, my great-great-grandmother was one of the few female doctors in the country at the time and was employed with the royal family of Jaisalmer. My grandfather grew up in the royal household but left home one unsettled morning. He left just a note: my heart doesn’t want.

He wanted to be a classical musician. Failure meant that my mother and uncle grew up in dire poverty in the dirty back alleys of the blue city. No one knows what happened to my great-grandfather or the house or the land. I have never seen a photograph, only an image narrated to me by a distant relative: a man on horseback with leather boots and the eyes of a snake.

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Brad Fox Does the Holy Quran

Detail from Umayyad Quran, before AD 725. Source: nybooks.com

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a train compartment from Casablanca to Marrakech with a Moroccan transport engineer, a Dutch-Italian couple, and a professor of Islamic culture back from Saudi Arabia for his summer holiday. The professor was talkative, repeatedly offering to buy everyone coffee and sandwiches. In a combination of fusha and a bit of English he went on about how people needed to know that Islam is not al-Qaeda and Da’esh, but love and friendship. At one point he asked us if anyone objected to him reciting a bit of the Qur’an. No one did, so he closed his eyes, pressed his fingertips together, and began reciting, quietly, beautifully. Afterward he asked the Dutch-Italian couple if they could feel the beauty of the language. Then, in the same voice and incantatory style, he said (in fushaI am going to a new city. I will arrive and look for a restaurant and a place to sleep.  He turned to them and asked if that felt different, but they couldn’t understand the question, and no one translated it, so we never got an answer. 

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They Killed for Love: Michael Lesslie in Conversation with Maan Abu Taleb

José Luis Cuevas, Macbeth, 1987. Source: 1stdibs.com

One of my favourite insults to the person of Macbeth comes towards the end of the play, when the aggrieved Macduff calls out to him: “Turn, hellhound, turn!” It is a testament to Shakespeare’s prowess that even after we’ve witnessed all the atrocities committed by Macbeth, the line jars. “He’s not a hellhound!” one feels like shouting back. The insult agitates us. By then we had already tried to alienate ourselves from Macbeth and his deeds, but we’re too intimate with the depths of his anguish to do so, an anguish not mysterious and beyond our grasp, like Hamlet’s. Macbeth is well within our understanding, his dilemma is laid bare for us to ponder and weigh.

The suggestion that in reading Macbeth there are things to be learnt about Bashar al Assad, Saddam Hussein, or al Qathafi, is often laughed to scorn whenever I dare mention it in polite company. It is generally assumed that the characters of these men do not rise to the complexity and elevation of a Shakespearean villain, as if villainy excludes finesse. I am told they are mere butchers, with no depth of feeling or capacity for insight. Yet it is exactly that, insight, that I feel the likes of Saddam have, and which allows them to reign in terror for such elongated periods. One can hate Saddam and everything he stood for, but can we in good faith dismiss him as a brute, or deny his sophisticated methods of intimidation? A viewing of the Al Khold Hall footage – where Saddam solidified his grip on power by effectively staging a play, one where murder was unseen, like Macbeth, but real – demonstrates Saddam’s credentials as a connoisseur of terror. His methods of breaking the wills of men require nothing less than a terrible talent.

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Matthew Chovanec: On Its Own Fucked-up Terrain

Matthew Chovanec reviews Yasser Abdel Hafez’s The Book of Safety, for which Robin Moger won the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize in 2017

Rohan Daniel Eason (copyright One Peace Books), from a children’s illustrated Kafka. Source: wired.com

Arabic novels are so frequently described as Kafkaesque or Orwellian that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the two authors were themselves Arab. It is a small wonder that noone has yet tried to uncover their secret Arab origins by etymologizing their names (قفقاء and الروال) in the way that the Turks have for Shakespeare. It is true that both of their names have become literary shorthand for a type of writing dealing with dystopia, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. It is also true that Arab societies have continued unabated to live through dystopias, oppressive bureaucracies, and the horrors of totalitarian society. But the label flattens out what is particular and new about so much excellent Arabic writing, and suggests that everything you need to know about the daily experience of living in a dysfunctional and cruel system can be captured by the term  “nightmarish”.

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Robin Moger Does An-Nifarri

Adonis/Dennis Bouchard. From “A”, an exhibition retracing twenty years of visual works by the poet Adonis, Galerie Azzedine Alaïa, Paris, 2015. Source: worldliteraturetoday.org

who are you and who am I

he stayed me 

and he said to me   Who are you and who am I   and I saw the sun and the moon and the stars and all the lights ashine     and he said to me   There is no light in my sea shines on without I have seen it   and each thing came to me until no thing was left  and kissed me between my eyes and saluted me  and stood in shadow     and he said to me   You know me and  I do not know you   and I saw all of him clung to my robe  and not to me  and my robe leant  and I did not   and my robe leant and he said to me   Who am I   and the sun went down and the moon  and the stars fell and the lights were put out  and the dark covered all things but him   and my eye did not see and my ear did not hear  my senses ceased  and each thing spoke  it said   Allahu Akbar   and each thing came to me  a spear in its hand  it said to me   Flee   and I said   Where to   and it said   Fall into darkness   and into darkness I fell and I saw myself     and he said to me   See none but yourself ever   Come out from darkness never   And should I bring you out from it I would  show you myself   You would see me  and should you see me you would be  most distant of all

night

he stayed me 

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Youssef Rakha: Three Times Cairo

One: Instagram Dreams

Sleep-deprivation is like being high. I know because I was high for a long time, then I started sleeping irregularly. It’s supposed to have something to do with lack of sugar in the brain, which is also the theory of what LSD does to consciousness. Things grow fluid and dreamlike, but at the same time there is a paranoid awareness of motion and a heaviness in the heart. Colour and sound become a lot sharper, and time feels totally irrelevant. Normal speed is fast but fast can pass for normal. A moment lasts for days, days can fit in a moment. Talking and laughing are far more involving, especially laughing. The grotesque animal implicit in each person comes out, sometimes messing up the conversation. And then it’s as if you have no body. As in the best music, an uncanny lightness balances the overriding melancholy. There is joy in flying when you don’t need to move. All through this, what’s more, every passing emotion turns into an epic experience.

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Bethlehem, 2002: A Diary by Carol Sansour

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Natela Grigalashvili, from “Village of the Mice”. Source: instagram.com/natela_grigalashvili/

Nadim wakes up

We play for a while

Then go downstairs to feed him

We find sido Tony already there

Anxious going around waiting for someone to prepare breakfast

Shaved, dressed, ready to go nowhere


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The Fituwa: Salah Eissa’s Raya and Sakina in Robin Moger’s Translation

1928 Print. Source: periodpaper.com

The following excerpt is from Tales from the Nation’s Archive: Raya and Sakina’s Men: A social and political history, the late Salah Eissa’s vast and discursive study of the lives and the worlds of the notorious serial-killers Raya Bint Ali Al Hammam and her sister Sakina, and their husbands Hasballah Saeed Maraei and Mohammed Abdel Aal.

Raya and Sakina and their husbands were arrested in Alexandria in early 1921 on suspicion of murder and it soon became clear that they had been responsible for the disappearance of a number of women in the neighbourhood of Labban where they ran an illegal (unlicensed) brothel. They were thought to be guilty of the robbery and murder of at least seventeen women, many of whom had worked for them as prostitutes. They were hanged in 1921.

Public attention focused on the sisters: the combination of their gender and the violence, sexual promiscuity and general unashamed degradation of their lives generated a fascination which fed into the many films and plays that dealt with their murders.

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Tam Hussein: The Knockout Outside Time

Tam Hussein reviews All the Battles, Maan Abu Taleb’s remarkable debut in Robin Moger’s translation, published by Hoopoe Fiction earlier this year

Source: mearsonlineauctions.com

There are things All the Battles by Maan Abu Taleb is not. It is not a cliched story based on a Rocky film. It is not an Arab version of Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club in which the protagonist discovers fighting in order to feel “alive”.  Whilst Abu Taleb’s first novel is ostensibly about boxing, it is really a meditation on masculinity in the Arab world today.

Had All The Battles been about boxing, it would have been an implausible story. No practitioner of the sweet science, however good, can turn professional in a year; but this is what the novel’s protagonist, Said does. An advertising executive by chance, this bored individual discovers boxing at the venerable age of twenty-eight. After a few fights he packs in his job – only to be mullered by a seasoned British boxer in Dubai.

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Krupa Ge: Eating Others’ Words

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Source: i.pinimg.com

My upbringing in Madras in the late 1980s and 90s led me to picnics in the beautiful country that dotted Enid Blyton’s books – just as it did many children of my generation and the generations before me. The Famous Five and The Secret Seven offered a generous serving of scones, marmalade, pears, fresh cream, crumpets and whatnot… And like any self-respecting EB-reading child, I nurtured a not-so-secret yearning to eat scones at tea one day.

When I finally tried them, surprisingly later in life, at a charming café in Madras, I was utterly disappointed. Perhaps it was the weight of all that expectation, perhaps I wasn’t a scone person, I could never figure out which.

Scones disappointed me, but I kept looking for food in my books. As I grew up and my taste took a turn towards writers closer to home, and to cultures similar to mine, I not only enjoyed local tastes in my mouth as I savoured the words that leapt out of the pages, but also actual dishes. That’s when it hit me: food, just like books, was political; perhaps that’s why we vacillate from wanting books banned to foods banned, once every few months here.

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Matthew Chovanec: When the Moist Summer Breezes Blow

Matthew Chovanec reviews Darf Publishers’ new edition of Mohammed Hussein Haikals Zainab, translated by John Mohammed Grinsted

Lower Egypt in 1885. Source: egyptianstreets.com

Darf Publishers out of London are reissuing the “classic” 1913 novel Zainab by Mohammed Hussein Haikal in John Mohammed Grinsted’s English translation. This is part of their effort to bring world literature into English. They have previously released a wide range of titles from Arabic-speaking countries as well as others in Africa, with a special focus on Libyan literature. Any effort to translate and publish more work in English is admirable, and Darf should be commended.

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James Graham Ballard: What I Believe

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Source: jgballard.ca

I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.

I believe in my own obsessions, in the beauty of the car crash, in the peace of the submerged forest, in the excitements of the deserted holiday beach, in the elegance of automobile graveyards, in the mystery of multi-storey car parks, in the poetry of abandoned hotels.

I believe in the forgotten runways of Wake Island, pointing towards the Pacifics of our imaginations.

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Joseph Schreiber: And I Will Tell You Something

You said: I’m still here. I just don’t know what to say. But two weeks later, you were gone. And now I sit, words turned stale upon the page. Seems I’ve been here for months, rending sentences into syllables. Senseless. Torn and patched in vain.

I’m still here and you’re still gone.

You said: I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to live. But we didn’t want to hear, for fear your fear would unmask our own. We left you to your silent pain—let it erode the edges of your reserves, like waves, ceaseless, beating the shore—bruising, breaking your brash, butch swagger. Leaving fragments and splinters of you.

Bewildered, bipolar & blue.

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Seth Messinger: Laâbi, Maghreb, Anfas

Olivia C. Harrison and Teresa Villa-Ignacio’s Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics, published by Stanford University Press this year, is a new way into the Middle East and North Africa

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Source: diptykblog.com

There would be little point in writing a conventional review of Souffles-Anfas. A collection such as this is about far more than the curatorial choices made by the editors, and should be celebrated simply for existing at all. To that end praise and congratulations should flow to the editors and to Stanford University Press for backing the publication. There can be no more apt reason for university presses to exist than to publish manifestoes and articles from a quintessential little magazine that endured less than seven years before being suppressed and shut down by an increasingly intolerant Moroccan government. On the other hand one of the journal editors recounts that the need to write so afflicted a contributor that he submitted a short story to an automobile club magazine simply to have an audience. Any collection of writings about the Middle East and North Africa that includes such a story demands an even larger, international audience.

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Fernando Sdrigotti: Not Edition One

“The first image he told me about was of three children on a road in Iceland, in 1965. He said that for him it was the image of happiness and also that he had tried several times to link it to other images, but it never worked. He wrote me: one day I’ll have to put it all alone at the beginning of a film with a long piece of black leader; if they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.”

Chris Marker, Sans Soleil

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Bill Evans by David Redfern, 1965 (Getty Images). Source: londonjazznews.com

Perhaps it is a matter of starting with black leader, if it can be done against the pecuniary concerns of printers and the aesthetic concerns of editors. Would it work? For here I face a problem of a different order. I am not trying to capture an image of happiness anyway. And yet the black might help with something else. Who knows. What I will try to do is after all pretty much the same thing that Sandor Krasna attempts in Sans Soleil. To write about things that might seem random to the reader/viewer—strange, wanton connections and trajectories that nevertheless relate to  personal history. Krasna, the fictional cameraman in Marker’s film, hides behind images to reflect on memory, his memories. I am going to hide behind a jazz album.

I am not writing about Paris Concert Edition One in order to trace an arbitrary history. Why Bill Evans’ album, then? I could blame the fact that Paris is a marked city for any Argentine writer, a city embedded in an aspirational aura; something akin to joining a club (cue Cortázar, Saer, Borges at times). I could blame my previous life as a musician, my years studying jazz: years of longing for a vanishing point, a way to get out from Rosario, the provincial town were I was born. Days of longing for something global—I thought I’d make a claim to something global through music. Or I could blame the fact that I later lived briefly in Paris, I managed to tick that box before I was expelled by my own restlessness, but not before I managed to take enough notes—enough for several books, several clichés. But I am not writing about Edition One simply because I need to start somewhere, either. I could have started anywhere.

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Mina Nagy: Interview with Promising Young Writer

Roger Ballen, from "Shadow Chamber". Source: lannassignment2.wordpress.com/

Roger Ballen, from “Shadow Chamber”. Source: lannassignment2.wordpress.com

Literary Magazine Interviewer: First question. Do you see yourself as a “promising young writer”?

Promising Young Writer: That depends. Do you mean “promising” or “young”? You can easily apply both to me, or dismiss them. It’s a matter of perspective.

LMI: Let’s see, then. How old are you and what have you written that’s promising?

PYW: Well, I’m 28. So far I’ve written two books of poetry and one of short stories. I don’t like to evaluate my own work. It depresses me. And you can’t be objective about it. But it’s easy to say that I like only two poems in my first book, the rest belonging to the realm of lame beginnings. Maybe I will have a view of my two later books after some time. I guess it takes time to see your own writings as external objects so you can evaluate them as you evaluate other things. Actually, I admire and hate my own work with equal force, and that applies to everything related to myself. I also finished my first novel, the first part of a trilogy. I’m in the process of publishing it now.

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