Rana Haddad: from “The Unexpected Love Objects of Dunya Noor”

 

The customers of Café Taba were tapping their feet on the floor, up and down, following the beats of the hakawati’s song.

The hakawati gulped his third glass of tea, and then continued to sing in his alluring voice, which gave his audience goose pimples, making even the stoniest hearted of them almost want to cry.

No one knew why.

None of the audience could take their eyes off him, nor could they stop listening to every word and every syllable he uttered even though they were sure that he knew nothing about love. He was clearly too young and too vain and had never suffered. Even Dunya was sure of it. None of them could fully or even partially understand the theories he was trying to peddle through the vehicle of his songs. How could Fear be the opposite of Love? Wasn’t Hate its eternal enemy and opposite? The hakawati was talking nonsense, trying to be clever, they were sure of that. Even Dunya who thought of herself (relatively speaking) as an expert on the theories of love and its manifold manifestations did not understand. But none of them really cared whether he was right or wrong because what they loved about him most of all were not his stories, or his theories, nor his rhymes—but the voice in which he sang them. Perhaps in Europe or America people could follow their hearts, some of the men reasoned. But here, in the conservative Republic of Syria, Fear was the master. Fear held everything and everyone under its sway, and everyone respectfully bowed their heads to it.

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𝐹𝑜𝓊𝓃𝒹 The Hieroglyphs of Suffering

I do not often weep: for not only do my thoughts on subjects connected with the chief interests of man daily, nay hourly, descend a thousand fathoms “too deep for tears;” not only does the sternness of my habits of thought present an antagonism to the feelings which prompt tears—wanting of necessity to those who, being protected usually by their levity from any tendency to meditative sorrow, would by that same levity be made incapable of resisting it on any casual access of such feelings; but also, I believe that all minds which have contemplated such objects as deeply as I have done, must, for their own protection from utter despondency, have early encouraged and cherished some tranquillising belief as to the future balances and the hieroglyphic meanings of human sufferings.  On these accounts I am cheerful to this hour, and, as I have said, I do not often weep.  Yet some feelings, though not deeper or more passionate, are more tender than others; and often, when I walk at this time in Oxford Street by dreamy lamplight, and hear those airs played on a barrel-organ which years ago solaced me and my dear companion (as I must always call her), I shed tears, and muse with myself at the mysterious dispensation which so suddenly and so critically separated us for ever.  How it happened the reader will understand from what remains of this introductory narration.

— from Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey

1886

Youssef Rakha: The Importance of Being Lars

Nymphomaniac’s Message for the Arab Spring

 

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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