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I finished your magnum opus [Kitab at Tugra] two days ago, with tears in my eyes, and I’ve been intoxicated since, in the most Faridian sense of the word. Among other things, no one (REPEAT: NO ONE) has ever written so wondrously about love and sex in Arabic the way you did in the last two chapters of the novel, i.e. — making the Arabic language make love as it has never done before. Ibn al Farid should feel so comfortable, and so privileged, and so sexy in your company. But that’s not your major achievement, No Sir. You managed to write a perfect (REPEAT: PERFECT) Arabic novel, on so many levels. Very few writers have done that, and to enter the Hall of Fame with a first novel is nothing short of miraculous. Your meticulous attention to what turns a text into a stunning novel is absolutely amazing, and your masterful control of all the aspects of your text is something that should be taught in writing programs. But above all, I think, your major achievement is in being what Foucault would call “a discourse initiator” — someone who single handedly changes a discipline, and in this case the discipline of the Arabic novel. You are my al Jabarti of the Arabic novel. — Anton Shammas in a private e-mail Continue reading

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Late February. “Some day soon,” I wrote, referring to festive demonstrations in Tahrir Square after Mubarak finally stepped down, “people taking to the streets spontaneously to celebrate (a thousands- or hundreds of thousands-strong, heterogeneous group of people exercising the right to use their own public space without being subjected to tear gas bought with their own money) will be the norm in Egypt.”
5 August. On the way to Bab al Louq, my taxi passes a throng of Central Security officers at the site of “the Revolution”, their unassuming black caps spattered with the bright red berets of Military Police. Facing the stalling cars, soldiers line the edge of the main traffic island, the kernel of the by now dreaded Sit-In. Like well-fed orks from two different clans of Arda — army conscripts, all — both Central Security in black and Military Police in desert camouflage are shielded, armed and ready to strike. In and around the sickly myrtle trucks parked everywhere — those evilmobiles forever associated with the violent appropriation of public space, now bolstered up by army deployments — there are many, many more of them: why this desperation to deprive the young, the socially and politically conscious and the ethically inclined of using public space they are entitled to by birth?
***
Craning his neck dramatically the way taxi drivers do, to look at nothing in particular, my driver suddenly remarks, “Something’s up” — no kidding! Later that night, I will find out about the needlessly vicious disbanding of an open-air iftar outside Omar Makram Mosque; earlier in the day a symbolic funerary march in honour of the Martyr of Abbassiya was likewise violently blocked from entering the square: and a good portion of the public have wholeheartedly supported the use of force: “Hit hard with ‘the electric’ to scare the enemy,” one participant in the iftar testified to hearing Military Police personnel bark urgently at each other as they charged.
As it is, I am thinking, the business of collective self-expression is left to that all-male adolescent mob leisurely crammed, for lack of anything better to do on a Ramadan evening, behind the rails of the pavement, shrieking and running idiotically while they fawn over the soldiers from afar. Individual rights are not an issue, not even for the revolutionaries of a few months ago themselves.
Grunting an expression of sympathy to the driver, I listen to him vent his impatience: “They should calm down, for God’s sake. The army took Mubarak to court to please them — what more do they want? Can’t they let the country get on?” He is referring to protesters; it strikes me that it is they, not the menacing usurpers now literally overrunning Revolution, that bother him. “Who would have dreamed of seeing Mubarak and his sons behind bars,” he says, echoing a huge majority of Egyptians. “The army has been good, they should let justice take its course.”
***
I too have seen justice, I am thinking: the Historical Moment everyone is so excited about. I have seen the grotesque spectacle of an octogenarian, seemingly drugged, brought into a court room lying down (no doubt only to be acquitted in due course). It was a patently unnecessary pose, as it seemed to me, which served to strip Mubarak of what rags of dignity he might still have on. With the faux patriarch were his two prodigal sons, once scourges of the economy and democratic process simply by virtue of being the strongman’s progeny. In this Society the head of state is idolized regardless of his credentials, and his sons have absolute impunity: Society gives it to them voluntarily, as it voluntarily cleans religion not only out of spiritual but also out of moral substance, marginalises or casts out its best human assets, turns political opposition and intellectual activity — culture, into CV-building exercises, morally and materially liquidates difference, and relinquishes people’s basic birthrights.
They are standing at attention in white prison garments invented solely for cronies of the official mafia, the two prodigal sons, surrounded by some of the top brigands in the torture-reliant extortion gang known as the Ministry of Interior. Between a distinctly unimposing judge bumbling his Arabic grammar and Mubarak’s singularly eloquent lawyer, scores of more or less ridiculous ambulance chasers jockey for a few minutes of rhetoric. One of the two sons holds a Quran. Looking impassive as ever, his hair freshly dyed, Mubarak desultorily picks his nose.
For this, while no one is allowed to loiter in Tahrir Square, the martyrs died.
***
I too have seen the patriarch and the prodigal sons, the brigands and those who protect them, and I have seen the so called revolutionaries shedding tears of joy over the Historical Moment. But it is the iftar, ending with electroshock batons and “the enemy” running on the asphalt, that I keep thinking about. I think about the iftar and the significance of the trial, the capacity of even the most highly educated and politically conscious people to say that they are grateful to have lived to see it happen, adding — in the same breath — that events reflect a vendetta between Mubarak and powerful figures in the army (not, it is to be surmised, the will of either the revolution or the people). The motherland, then, remains unchanged:
Emotional response is one thing, political analysis another. Moral responsibility is lost somewhere in between.
I think about the iftar and I think about those who died, how we will always have their blood on our hands — the Optimists especially — and how the grotesque spectacle of the unnecessarily prostate octogenarian is the lie by which we convince ourselves that we have avenged their deaths; vengeance, of course, being the object, not the rights they died standing up for.

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كتابنا

يوم حلمتَ باسمينا متجاورين على غلاف واحد قلتَ لي إن هذا غير مسبوق في ثقافتنا وإنه، فضلاً عن كونه أَقيَم من الحب، حلٌّ لوضعنا المستحيل. ولأن خيالك لم يتسع لاحتمال أن يصبح الوضع ممكناً فيما ظللتَ تعصر ليمونتك في حلقي… إلى آخر قطرة، جعلتَ “كتابنا” حجةَ تَجَاوُر ربما كان أفضل لك أن يبقى هو الآخر حلماً. ذات يوم أغضبك فصل أنا كتبتُه لكنك لم تَردّ عليه بفصل كما اتفقنا. أنا كنتُ قد صدّقتُ أن غير المسبوق هذا الذي أقدمنا عليه، حل وضعنا، بالفعل أصلب من ليمونة جفّت وتجعدت ولم يبق إلا أن تُلقَى في سلة المهملات. ولأنني منذ ذلك الحين تذكرتُ لحظةً مرت، وأنا أسمعك، أيقنتُ فيها أنك رغم كل ما تقوله لا تتكلم – لم تتكلم، لا تستطيع الكلام – قلتُ لنفسي إن “ثقافتنا”، مثلاً، مجرد صوت بلا معنى يخرج من فمك. وعرفتُ: لا شيء عندك قيّم في الحقيقة، لا الحب ولا الغلاف. لحظة واحدة مرت، لكنني سأتذكرها. لهذا فقط – ربما – لم أنبس، لم أحدّثك عن خيبة الرجاء. واكتفيتُ بإزاحة المشروع عن “سطح المكتب” مؤقتاً بانتظار فصول كان يتأكد لي أنها لن تُكتب من كتابنا. مع أنني يا أخي أأكنتُ مستعداً لإعادة صياغة أي شيء. لو أنك فقط تكلمت. لكنك فضّلت الخرس والتذاكي. وأنا حذفتُ “فايلات” الكتاب

وجه المثقف

أراك تمسك هذا الكتاب كأنه لم يعبر إلى يديك قارةً ومحيطاً على حساب عاشق آخر بليد يعمل تحت مسمى الصداقة في خدمتك. تقلّب الصفحات وأنت تسحب فوق رأسك، مثل “بالاكلافا” أو نقاب، وجه المثقف: ربيب المكتبات وصديق الأساتذة، المهم حضوره حيث يحضر المهمون. وقبل أن تبحث في الكلام عن دليل على أنه ليس من تأليف كاتب كبير، قبل أن تعيّن الثغرات وترى أصداءك أو أصداء غيرك في عبارات تحسها مسروقة ومستهلكة، أراها على وجهك، هي نفسها: الفرحة التي استمرأتها منذ ابتدأت، بأن شخصاً – الموجود، ربما أحسن الموجودين – وقع في حبك بما يكفي ليستلهمك. وأرى الرفض ذاتَه يخالطها في البراري الضيقة حول عينين ليس سواهما خلف القماش: أنت لست ملهِماً، لا. لا تريد أن تكون مملوكاً لشخص. حتى قراءتك الآن مدفوعة فقط بالفضول. كل ما في الأمر أن صوتاً آخر قرر أن يبروز لك صورة منزوعة عن حقيقتك… صورة هم، من ورائها، الرابحون؟ – في هذه اللحظة، وقبل أن تجيب عن سؤالك، قبل أن يسأل أحد من يكونون هم هؤلاء وقبل أن تضم الكتاب إلى غنائم روّضت نفسك على احتقارها عبر السنين، وتعود دونما تدري تستفز أو تستجدي كاتباً لن يكون كبيراً للقتال في معركة امتلاكك، تلك التي لا تخرج منها أبداً خاسراً، لتترك خلف ظهرك قواداً آخر أو عدواً كنت تفضّل أن يكون قواداً – اسمع: بالنسبة لهذا الكاتب، أنت لست سوى جسد لم يرد أن يُقاوِم شهوة عبوديته. هو كتب لأنه كان رباً قادراً ذات يوم، ولأنه أحبك بعد أن رأى عبر الزجاج كل الحبال الذائبة التي تربط أجولة زبالتك. أما الذي أنجزتَه والكتّاب الكبار والعشاق البلداء ووجهك هذا، أنت كلك على بعضك بكل أهميتك: بالنسبة لهذا الكاتب، كل هذا ليس أكثر من “بارفام” كان يحجب عنه رائحتك، أو حكاية فتاة فقيرة تركت حبيبها لتتزوج من ثري عربي

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