Stilts, Hair: Discrete Autobiography by Noor Naga

TAIWAN. Wuri. 2003. My niece (left), on a new suspension bridge.

Chien-Chi Chang. Taiwan, 2003. Source: magnumphotos.com 

Stilts

  • The house sat on stilts. These were the marshlands of South Carolina, where even the birds slept on tall, lanky wooden sticks to keep their plumage dry. When mama wasn’t looking, Tito and I snuck down to wade knee deep in the muck. We terrorized the egrets out of their stroll. We trapped in buckets the legged tadpoles that were not yet grown enough to jump. They drowned each other while we watched. With gummy feet they stepped on each other’s open eyes and threw their bodies against the high, plastic walls for hours. When mama finally came looking for us, we let the live ones go. But even back upstairs it was not quite an inside. The wood hummed with mites. There were spiders knitting in the cupboards. There were ants in the bathroom, lizards blinking from the walls, and once, out of a bag of rice, there bloomed a cloud of baby moths. The kitchen spun with their dizzy dust-magic until the first one fried itself on the bulb. It fell dreamily. I was six when mama found my first diary, filled with pencil drawings of all my animal friends. I gave each of them small droopy genitals like mine.

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Youssef Rakha: Who the Fuck Is Charlie

The mere idea of contributing to the Charlie Hebdo colloquy is a problem. It’s a problem because, whether as a public tragedy or a defense of creative freedom, the incident was blown out of all proportion. It’s a problem because it’s been a moralistic free-for-all: to express solidarity is to omit context, to forego the meaning of your relation to the “slain” object of consensus, to become a hashtag. It’s a problem above all because it turns a small-scale crime of little significance outside France into a cultural trope.

Charlie Hebdo is not about the senseless (or else the political) killing of one party by another. It’s about a Platonic evil called Islam encroaching on the  peaceful, beneficent world order created and maintained by the post-Christian west. Defending the latter against the former, commentators not only presume what will sooner or later reduce to the racial superiority of the victim. They also misrepresent the perpetrator as an alien force independent of that order.

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Marcia Lynx Qualey: A Review of the Newest Arabic Novel (Remix)

Arab Muscle Dancers, 1898, by B. W. Kilburn

Insert Title Here, by Our Arab Author, translated by So-and-so. Such-and-such publisher. $12.99.

What do you know about how people live in Cairo or Beirut or Riyadh? What bearing does such information have upon your life? We in the West hear about the Middle East all the time, but for most of us it remains unknown and unknowable. More complicated still is that, as I learnt at the weekend, forms like the novel and short story were alien to Arabic culture before the first decade of the 20th century: the genres are, themselves, imports.

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Angelus Novus: A Letter from Hilary Plum

Dear Youssef,

A few days after you proposed that I write you this letter, a man was killed, his execution public enough that despite the five thousand miles between us we both could look on. This man, a journalist, had once been captured in Libya, then released, then was captured anew in Syria in 2012, this captivity ending in death. He was American, from New England as I am, he and I earned the same degree from the same university, enough years between us that I did not know him, though we each or both passed years among the low mountains and rising rents of Western Massachusetts, the grave of Emily Dickinson (called back, May 15, 1886) that even if one never bothers to walk behind the hair salon and the Nigerian restaurant to visit it serves as heart, destination of a pilgrimage one imagines.

The video his killers posted online may or may not in fact include the moment of his beheading, but confirms beyond doubt its occurrence. Here, we call the group who killed James Foley ISIS: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; or Iraq and al-Sham; or simply—months pass and the name grows more ambitious—the Islamic State. We’re told that the caliphate they envision stretches from the coast of Syria to Iraq’s eastern border. I had thought that Foley was taken from an internet café, but an article I just glanced at says something about a car being stopped, how men with Kalashnikovs forced him out of the car. If I were to tell the story in a novel, he would be in an internet café, sending as though it were nothing the story of one land and its wars to another, to a land whose replies are silent until the missile drops out of the sky.

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Youssef Rakha: The Importance of Being Lars

Nymphomaniac’s Message for the Arab Spring

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As an Arab you’re probably expecting me to lay into Nymphomaniac. It’s a film that must seem, if not offensive to my cultural sensibility, then irritatingly irrelevant to the poverty, underdevelopment, and upheaval that surround my life.

In most cases dropping the word “white” in the same paragraph as “Islam’s respect for women” is all it would take to slam Lars von Trier in this context. It would be a politically correct slur, too. I could even draw on Edward Said’s hallowed legacy to point out that the only time non-Europeans appear in over four hours of action, they’re portrayed as dumb sex tools. Not only self-indulgent and obscene but also Orientalist, etc..

But the truth is I actively delighted in Nymphomaniac, and I didn’t have to stop being an Arab for that to happen. To be accurate I should say I would’ve welcomed a von Trier film anyway, but this one showed up when it was needed—and it duly exploded on arrival.

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Youssef Rakha: On Fiction and the Caliphate

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By Youssef Rakha

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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حوار محمد شعير في الأخبار البيروتية

خمسة كتب لا يسهل تصنيفها: بين رواية وشعر وأدب رحلات وتصوير فوتوغرافي. هكذا يبدو يوسف رخا (1976) «خارجاً على دولة الأدب» على حدّ تعبير القاصّ هيثم الورداني. يفرح رخا بالتوصيف: «فيه بلاغة. لأنّ الأدب بالفعل تحوّل إلى دولة أو مؤسسة فيها كل الملامح القمعية». يحاول صاحب «أزهار الشمس» كسر حالة التخصّص في الكتابة. «لا أجد فرقاً بين القصة والشعر. حتى حين أكتب للصحافة. المهم أن يكون لديك شيء تقوله. أن تجد إيقاعاً مناسباً للكتابة وتترك فراغات يملأها القارئ». بدأ رخا الكتابة بمجموعة قصصية هي «أزهار الشمس» (1999). ثم توقف خمس سنوات، كان يكتب خلالها نصوصاً بالإنكليزية، قبل أن يعود ليكتب «بيروت شي محل» (كتاب أمكنة ـــــ 2005)، و«بورقيبة على مضض» (رياض الريس ـــــ 2008)، ثم «شمال القاهرة غرب الفيليبين» (الريس ـــــ 2009). تنتمي الكتب الثلاثة إلى أدب الرحلة. وأخيراً، أصدر رخا نصوصاً نثرية وشعرية في«كل أماكننا» الذي صدر منذ أيام (دار العين ـــــ القاهرة). لكن لماذا كانت فترة الكتابة بالإنكليزية؟ يجيب: «بعدما صدرت «أزهار الشمس» كنتُ أشعر بأنّ هناك كتّاباً أكثر مما ينبغي في الثقافة العربية». في تلك الفترة، سافر إلى بيروت لكتابة نصّ لمجلة «أمكنة»، فإذا به يكتب نصاً ليس قصة أو قصيدة أو رواية، بل ينفتح على كل ذلك، ويستفيد أيضاً من منهجية الصحافة. نص بيروت أراد من خلاله رخا فهم الحرب الأهلية اللبنانية، وهو ما قام به قبلاً صنع الله إبراهيم في روايته «بيروت بيروت»، فما الفرق بين العملين؟ يجيب رخا:

استمر في القراءة

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