Indoors: Hipstamatic Tintotypes with a Poem

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Alexandria

For Mohab Nasr

All these years my friend

As though we’re here by mistake

Waiting until the roads clear

To drive unlicensed trucks

And face the border guards

With forced laughter and cash.

We dream of places that were they found

We’d be no good for, my friend,

Forced to mix with the statues

To swap their talk with them

To be jammed in among them

With frozen limbs, looking and not seeing,

Our heads bowed down at home

We excuse ourselves from going to the quarries

That we might try reproducing in secret,

Mourning our endangered line.

All these years plucking up the courage

To declare we are not statues

And then collapse in pieces from their plinths,

Dead with flattened heads,

With eyes bulging out like mother-of-pearl,

With holes in our bones.

How is it, my friend, after all these years

All we can utter is croaking?

Trans. Qisasukhra

Blueprints: a mini exhibition

blueprint |ˈblo͞oˌprint|
noun
a design plan or other technical drawing.
• something that acts as a plan, model, or template: a vague blueprint for fundamental land redistribution.
verb [ with obj. ]
draw up (a plan or model): (as adj. blueprinted) : a neatly blueprinted scheme.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from the original process in which prints were composed of white lines on a blue ground or of blue lines on a white ground.

Doll Love-من رواية التماسيح

لم تكن صفعة بالضبط، مع أن الذراع مرفوعة واليد مشدودة والكتفين قُطر دائرة. كأنها تهديد بصفعة كانت مون لتردها فوراً لو لم يختل توازنها تحت ثقل الصافع الواقف فوق رأسها الآن. بينما يستدير ليواجهها، تخبطت واهتزت حتى استقرت مقرفصة على ركبتيها فوق الكنبة؛ وانحسر فستانها الصيفي الطويل عن فخذ نحيف وأسمر. حينها نظرت إليه في عينيه من جديد. هي نفسها لا تدري إن كان شيء في النظرة قد اختلف، لكنه لم يعد مشدوهاً من أنها تفعل. فخذ نحيف وأسمر لكنه متورد ومغبش، وشعرها الطويل الكثيف كعدد لا نهائي من الضفائر الكستنائية المنمنمة  ملموم في ذيل حصان وهي تنظر إليه. هل تذكّر نايف الأسد؟ هل أثرّت الذكرى على طاقة دافقة في جسده كأنها الشهوة وهي ليست شهوة؟ فخذ متورد وشعر كثيف ورائحة ريحان أخضر من النوع الذي يوضع في الطعام، مع طاقة دافقة وشعرها وفخذ نحيف وأسمر. لم تجفل مون والكف تحوّط قفاها بحيث يستقر الإبهام على تفاحة آدم، ولا يبدو أنها انتبهت على الفور إلى يد نايف الأخرى تشد ذيل الحصان إلى أسفل وهو يعود يجلس بمحاذاتها، مفرود الصدر هذه المرة. فقط، مع ضغط الإبهام وميل رأسها إلى الوراء، تحشرج صوتها إلى أن كفت عن الكلام ثم سُمع أنين خافت تبعه لهاث – وشفتاها مزمومتان – كأنه لا يخرج منها.

من رواية التماسيح

THE NUDE AND THE MARTYR

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Some time in February, the literary (and intellectual) Generation of the Nineties started coming up in intellectual conversations about the Arab Spring. Some people theorised that, by stressing individual freedom and breaking with their overtly politicised forerunners, apolitical agents of subversion under Mubarak had involuntarily paved the way for precisely the kind of uprising said forerunners had spent whole lives prophesying and pushing for, to no avail.

Politicised intellectuals of past generations had always believed in grand narratives. That is why their collective message (anti-imperialist or socialist), evidently no less divorced from the People than that of the younger rebels and aesthetes who didn’t give two damns about the liberation of Jerusalem or the dictatorship of the proletariat, remained repressive and didactic; while allowing themselves to be co-opted and neutralised, they struggled or pretended to struggle in vain.

The Generation of the Nineties remained silent about social transformation as such, but they stressed daily life and the physical side of existence, including their own bodies, which they insisted on experimenting with — if only verbally, for the sake of a personal deliverance deemed infinitely more sublime than the sloganeering and safe, part-time activism to which the Seventies had descended. Then, stunning everyone, came the Facebook Generation.

And while it is true that protests since 25 Jan have had ideological underpinnings — the belief in human rights, for example, it is also true that their success has depended on the rallying of politically untested forces through the internet to day-to-day causes — the institutionalised criminal practises of an oversize and corrupt security force under police-state conditions, which affect everyone. By November, something else had permeated those same conversations, suddenly:

The photo of a barely adult girl, undressed except for shoes and stockings. Impassive face, classic nude posture, artsy black-and-white presentation. The title of the blog on which it was published: Diary of a Revolutionary [Woman].

It was seen as more or less unprecedented, an epoch-making Gesture, an Event to document and debate. When the picture appeared, the second wave of protests had only just begun in Maidan Tahrir, specifically along the Shari Mohammad Mahmoud frontier; it was as if, while the internet-mediated Crowd offered up nameless davids to the Goliath of Unfreedom, the Individual used the same medium to hand over her post-Nineties soul for the same Cause (it doesn’t matter how absurd or ignorant Alia Mahdi might turn out to be, she is the conscious subject of her revolutionary nudity). While some received bullets in the eye or suffocated on a markedly more effective variety of American-made tear gas, others muttered prayers before the digital icon of Alia Mahdi.

Despite its visual idiom (despite online Arab fora advertising it like a pornographic object of the kind they routinely promote as sinful and therefore desirable by default, obscenely equating the nude with the erotic with the scandalous, and despite otherwise truly insolent responses on Facebook), the image holds little allure. Change the context and it could be a parody of some vaguely pedophiliac Vintage Erotica, barely worth a second, amused glance.

Had Alia Mahdi appeared nude on an adult dating or porn site, had she sent the picture privately to a million people, had she shown shame or reluctance, no one would have tut-tutted or smiled, neither intellectuals nor horny prudes of the cyber realm. Here and now, Alia Mahdi as her picture is an icon for our times, inviolable:

A simulacrum of the Self on the altar of Freedom.

And freedom, perhaps the truest catchword of the Arab Spring, is the term that the model and de-facto author of the picture, like Generation of the Nineties writers before her, chooses to hold up to the world; she believes that exposing herself on the internet is part of a Revolution ongoing since 25 Jan and a new uprising against Egypt’s ruling generals. But this is a world that would rather deny Alia Mahdi’s existence even as it knows that she is there: paradoxically, it includes the Tahrir Sit-In, where protesters mobbed and beat up the young woman when she showed up.

Already, even at the heart of the Revolution, the pit has been dug, the errant body marked, the prurient stones picked off the ground — and the revolutionaries themselves, the potential Martyrs offering up their bodies, are happy to be part of that sacrifice. All that remains for the ritual is the public killing of Alia Mahdi, which judging by what they have had to say would gratify and vindicate not only Islamists who legally and otherwise demand her head but also older and wiser intellectuals who, never having considered taking off their clothes in public, have embraced her as a victim. The feminists’ latest bonanza of hypocrisy…

The Revolution accepts oblations of the mutilated and the maimed, it eats up the body of the Martyr, promising nothing — neither collective nor individual freedom, while the Nude is expelled from the Maidan. The last secular activists of the Seventies stand side by side with their political heirs — scheming theocrats not unlike frequenters of the aforementioned fora where Alia Mahdi is advertised as porn, but it is in the act of sacrifice itself, in the death of the body as an object and its transformation into the subject of its destiny, that there is any hope for religion in Egypt. The Martyr and the Nude are applied religion; whatever else may be said about the generals, the activists and Tahrir, political Islam and the Coptic Orthodox Church are not.