Youssef Rakha: You Will Still Hear the Scream

Reading “Correction” in Cairo

Thomas Bernhard by Michael Horowitz, 1976. Source:

“If one disregards the money that goes with them,” says the narrator in Wittgenstein’s Nephew, a more or less real-life avatar of the writer Thomas Bernhard, “there is nothing in the world more intolerable than award ceremonies.” Berhard goes on to describe his experience with literary awards and how they “do nothing to enhance one’s standing”—also the subject of a dedicated little book of his, My Prizes: An Accounting—revealing the depth of his contempt for the institution, for Vienna’s “literary coffee houses”, which have a “deadly effect on the writer”, and for the compromises and dishonesties required by the writerly life:

I let them piss on me in all these city halls and assembly rooms, for to award someone a prize is no different from pissing on him. And to receive a prize is no different from allowing oneself to be pissed on, because one is being paid for it. I have always felt that being awarded a prize was not an honor but the greatest indignity imaginable. For a prize is always awarded by incompetents who want to piss on the recipient. And they have a perfect right to do so, because he is base and despicable enough to receive it.

For a Third World writer inevitably enraged by the tastes, biases and ulterior, including politically correct motives of Third World award juries, the effect is one of liberation. So even in grand old Austria this happens! It is also one of recognition. Here, dead since 1989, is someone who not only knew the truth but wasn’t afraid to say it, going so far as to integrate it into the fabric of his art.

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الحدوتة التي أحكيها: شهادة يوسف رخا، صيف ٢٠١٧


Youssef Rakha, Self Portrait on Kismet’s Birthday, 2018

الحدوتة التي أحكيها عن نفسي… لا يهم إن كانت حقيقية وإلى أي حد، لكن الكلام لن يكون مجديًا في غير كونه حدوتة.
أليس جميلًا مثلًا أني تفاديت فخ الزَفّة العائلية التي تقيمها طائفة المثقفين لأعضائها وخرجت من وسط البلد بسلام؟ في هذه المرحلة عندي استعداد صادق للتصالح، ليس بمعنى التنازل عن رؤيتي أو كتابة ما لا يرضيني نزولًا على الرائج لكن فقط القبول بحدود المتاح من نجاح برحابة صدر والامتنان العميق لما أمكنني إنجازه بغض النظر عن الاحتفاء. سبع سنين كاملة مرت على فراغي من أكثر مشروع شعرت بضرورة إتمامه: كتاب الطغرى. فربما يصح لي أن أحكي…
الحدوتة تبدأ سنة ٢٠٠٥.  في ٢٠٠٥ انطلقتْ صحوة ما في المجال الأدبي أو الثقافي في القاهرة. وفي ٢٠٠٥ ذهبتُ إلى بيروت. الصحوة جاءت أحداث ٢٠١١ لتُخمدها كالقضاء. والغرام الذي نشب في صدري من ناحية لبنان تحول إلى ما يشبه العداء، مع الوقت. لكن، وبفضل أشياء مثل أمكنة في الإسكندرية وزوايا في بيروت ثم دار رياض الريس مرورًا بمحيي اللباد وجماعة أخبار الأدب، في ٢٠٠٥ جاءت رِجلي مرة ثانية وعدت إلى نشرالكتابة.

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Youssef Rakha: Cairo Glass (Ongoing)

“Now, if you’ll only attend, Kitty, and not talk so much, I’ll tell you all my ideas about Looking-glass House. First, there’s the room you can see through the glass—that’s just the same as our drawing room, only the things go the other way. I can see all of it when I get upon a chair—all but the bit behind the fireplace. Oh! I do so wish I could see that bit! I want so much to know whether they’ve a fire in the winter: you never can tell, you know, unless our fire smokes, and then smoke comes up in that room too—but that may be only pretence, just to make it look as if they had a fire. Well then, the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way; I know that, because I’ve held up one of our books to the glass, and then they hold up one in the other room.

“How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they’d give you milk in there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn’t good to drink—But oh, Kitty! now we come to the passage. You can just see a little peep of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door of our drawing-room wide open: and it’s very like our passage as far as you can see, only you know it may be quite different on beyond. Oh, Kitty! how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking-glass House! I’m sure it’s got, oh! such beautiful things in it! Let’s pretend there’s a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let’s pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It’ll be easy enough to get through—” She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.

Text from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

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

Youssef Rakha, Mosaic. 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


“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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Youssef Rakha: Nawwah

Youssef Rakha, Masr Station, 2007

And verily We had empowered them with that wherewith We have not empowered you, and had assigned them ears and eyes and hearts—Quran, xlvi, 26

My instructions are to deliver the corpse to Nastassja Kinsky. We are to meet at nine tomorrow morning in the lobby of the Cecil Hotel, just off the seashore in downtown Alexandria. The corpse is a lightweight microelectronic bolt that looks like a miniature coffin; Nastassja Kinsky is an agent of the Plant. If I revealed what the Plant is, I would die.

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I Saw a Man Hugging a Fridge: Twelve Poems by Youssef Rakha in Robin Moger’s Translation

HAITI. Gonaives. 1994. U.S. invasion.

Alex Webb, Gonaives, Haiti, US invasion, 1994. Source:

First song of autumn

Joy of my days, come

watch me run

I’ve bought white shoes

and see-through eagle’s wings

I am the clarinet’s mouth

and you the ransomed player

Kneel and guzzle me, set

the sea’s taste in my throat

and make my breast a wave

upon whose mane the sun

sows jewels

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الأسد على حق: ألن جينسبرج ترجمة يوسف رخا

Allen Ginsberg at Human Be-In 1967 (Album cover for Dharma Lion), uncredited. Source:

كن صامتًا من أجلي، أيها الإله المتأمل
عدت إلى بيتي لأجد في الصالة أسدًا 
وهرعت إلى بئر السلم أصرخ: أسد! أسد
السكرتيرتان الجارتان، عقصت كل منهما شعرها الأدكن. وبصفقة ارتدت نافذتهما مقفلة
أسرعت إلى بيت أهلي في باتيرسون، ومكثت نهارين    

هاتفت طبيبي النفسي، تلميذ رايخ 
كان قد حرمني من الجلسات عقابًا على التحشيش 
حصل” – هكذا لهثت في أذنه – “في صالة بيتي أسد.”    
للأسف، لا مجال للمناقشة،وضع السماعة 

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