Anna Iltnere: Cosmopolitanism

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From a manuscript of the Four Gospels in Boharic Coptic and Arabic, copied in Cairo in 1205. Source: ibiblio.org

What do you think “cosmopolitan” means in the contemporary world? I asked five writers and one artist from multiple backgrounds, with roots spreading across different parts of the world. If I could travel in time and ask Diogenes of Sinope in ancient Greece, he would most probably repeat what he famously said around 2400 years ago: “I am a citizen of the world (kosmopolitês)”.

Traveling back to 2019, novelist Chloe Aridjis reminds us that animals too are citizens of the world. Artist Ganzeer describes a cosmopolitan place without a single culture forcing itself as the hegemonic umbrella, while memoirist Jessica J. Lee highlights the strong power inherent to connecting distinct ways of being. Scholar Helen M. Rozwadowski warns against a cosmopolitanism that misses the multiplicity among cultures, peoples, and environments. For Youssef Rakha, editor of тнє ѕυℓтαη’ѕ ѕєαℓ, a cosmopolitan space is the only space to be, while for writer Fernando Sdrigotti it’s a chance to forget oneself for a while while one is lost in difference.  

 

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Youssef Rakha: The Strange Case of the Novelist from Egypt

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By Youssef Rakha

About mid-way through his Nobel Prize lecture, read by Mohamed Salmawy at the Swedish Academy in 1988, the acknowledged father of the Arabic novel Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) made the point that Europeans “may be wondering: This man coming from the third world, how did he find the peace of mind to write stories?” It’s a remark that has remained with me, not so much because it implies, absurdly, that no one from a third-world country is supposed to have either peace or mind enough for literature—it particularly annoys me when, addressing his European audience, Mahfouz goes on to say they’re “perfectly right” to be posing that question—but because this presumption of deprivation or lack, of writing being something over and above ordinary living and working, seems in a way to underlie the Egyptian novelist’s collective self-image. And, especially now that Egypt is barely surviving institutional collapse and civil conflict—something that despite war, regime change, and the turn of the millennium, never happened during the 94 years of Mahfouz’s life—as a person who lives in Cairo and writes novels in Arabic, it is an idea I am somehow expected to have about myself.

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