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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Market Intelligence by Rudy Descas

HUNGARY. Budapest. Szechenyi thermal baths. 1997.

Martin Parr, Budapest, Szechenyi thermal baths, 1997. Source: magnumphotos.com

“So this Senator’s son runs a corporate training development and implementation business—they create slick interactive slideshows, the kind that large corporations force their workers to watch at their desks for a few hours every year, what Human Resources calls mandatory compliance training. And if the workers don’t sit there, watch the slides, and take the little quizzes along the way, the compliance system sends an alert to their boss who’ll be forced to tell them in person, hey, this is mandatory, so, for real, sit down and watch it and take the quizzes or I can’t sign off on your next paycheck. Companies make their workforce do a bunch of these each year, depending on the worker’s role, things like how to avoid fraud, waste, and abuse; how to avoid sexual harassment lawsuits; how to promote diversity in the workplace; how to handle awkward conversations.”

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Youssef Rakha: On Fiction and the Caliphate

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Youssef Rakha, Palavas-les-Flots, near Montpellier, France, 2017

Towards the end of 2009, I completed my first novel, whose theme is contemporary Muslim identity in Egypt and, by fantastical extension, the vision of a possible khilafa or caliphate. I was searching for both an alternative to nationhood and a positive perspective on religious identity as a form of civilisation compatible with the post-Enlightenment world. The closest historical equivalent I could come up with, aside from Muhammad Ali Pasha’s abortive attempt at Ottoman-style Arab empire (which never claimed to be a caliphate as such), was the original model, starting from the reign of Sultan-Caliph Mahmoud II in 1808. I was searching for Islam as a post-, not pre-nationalist political identity, and the caliphate as an alternative to the postcolonial republic, with Mahmoud and his sons’ heterodox approach to the Sublime State and their pan-Ottoman modernising efforts forming the basis of that conception. Such modernism seemed utterly unlike the racist, missionary madness of European empire. It was, alas, too little too late.

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