About the conference

Upholding humanity in a post-human world?

Arabic Literature after the “Arab Spring”

The title of the 12th EURAMAL meeting tries to gather a number of tendencies that seem to crystallize in, and emerge from the study of, most recent literary production. They reflect the various ways Arab authors react to a world that is dramatically changing since the so-called “Arab Spring” and that is characterized by the complete disintegration of the Arab world, an abandoning of the project of the modern nation-states as it had been promoted ever since the late 19th/early 20th century, and with it an abandonment of the idea of creating a better, more humane world for the larger community that until recently one felt one belonged to. A novel like Aḥmad Sa‘dāwī’s prize-winning Frankenstein in Baghdad (IPAF winner 2014), for instance, displays a world wherein conflict, social instability, and political collapse all seem to be pointing to a new definition of the community, the national bond in which questions of ethics, violence, and the like used to be debated. The ubiquitous spread of violence and the ideological vacuum left behind after the breakdown of the idea of the nation have changed the world Arabs live in into a world where there does not seem to be any place for humanity any more. The spread of new technologies and media added, this world not only appears inhumane, but also post-human, a world of monstrosity in which mankind no longer controls its own destiny. Authors react to this with a writing of a new quality, they write with a vengeance, breaking down codes and inventing new ones, exploiting the techniques of crime fiction and imagining future worlds in monstrous science fiction scenarios, and in this way undoing (or ‘hacking’, El-Ariss) Arab modernity, exposing the master narratives that had been essential to everything that happened in the Arab world ever since the 19th / early 20th century Arab ‘renaissance’ (nahḍah), and the corresponding humanist project as a failed utopia. While in its early days the ‘Arab Spring’ often was seen as a ‘new/second nahḍa’, the enlightened reformist period now appears as a bygone era, or at best as a legacy, an unfinished project.

The new experiences and the conclusions drawn from them are manifold and will be discussed at the EURAMAL meeting in a number of panels. Panels suggested so far include:

Irony, satire, carnival, sarcasm, subversion, cynicism – One form of reaction to the challenges of this changing world is to try to assert oneself through a nonchalant, often bitingly satirical, often also sarcastic and/or cynical rupture with all kinds of taboos. Taboos, the ways of countering them, and the (longing for) freedom of expression had already been one of the foci of the 2010 meeting. Meanwhile, however, a whole new genre (adab sākhir), perhaps best translated as “carnivalesque” or “subversive literature,” has begun to spread, reacting to the drawbacks of the recent years with a mode of writing that deliberately breaks with all kinds of literary conventions, obviously in an attempt to assert one’s wish to resist, to uphold humanity against the overall decay of human values, and to promote the idea of a right to live in dignity.

In 2016 (in collaboration with the In 2016 project) – This panel will look at texts which will have triggered heightened discursive energy during the few months leading up to the conference (early 2016). It will ask specifically how post-revolutionary realities are experienced in everyday life as described in literary texts; “how it feels”, physically, to live in this world; what the alternatives are that people think they have when having to make a choice or decision in their lives, etc. A main goal is to identify, by way of structural analysis, new ‘master narratives’, structural oppositions, conflicting principles that govern the way the changed reality is being dealt with.

Reincarnation and immortality – Where humanity is at stake the wish to preserve it and save it from its extinction in this world arises. The panel focuses on the topos, increasingly common in recent texts, of reincarnation and immortality. An aspect of this topic are also martyr narratives, the reappearance of the dead (conveying a message to the living), as well as texts posing the question of life after the recent uprisings that often were seen as a last attempt to preserve Life.

IPAF novels – This panel focuses on novels shortlisted for the ‘Arabic Booker’ prize during the last few years.

The end of the nahah ? – The panel deals with fiction that takes up the discussion, outlined above, whether the project of enlightenment and modernity has definitely come to an end, or whether it is a legacy the remnants of which still can be preserved and/or reactivated.

Guests of honour 

The EURAMAL board suggests to invite Muḥammad Rabī‘ (Mohammed Rabie, short-listed for the 2016 ‘Arabic Booker’ Prize, with his Uṭārid “Mercury”) and In‘ām Kachachi (Iraqi writer and journalist, living in Paris, was shortlisted for the 2008-09 IPAF with al-Ḥafīdah al-amrīkiyyah “The American Grand-daughter”).

Suggested readings

  • Bakhtin, M.M. 1984 [orig. 1965]. Rabelais and His World / translated by Helene Iswolsky. Indiana UP / Midland Books, Bloomington.
  • Braidotti, Rosi. 2013. The Posthuman. Polity Press, Cambridge.
  • El-Ariss, Tarek. 2010. »Hacking the Modern: Arabic Writing in the Virtual Age«. Comparative Literature Studies, 47/4: 533-548.
  • — . 2012. »Fiction of Scandal«. Journal of Arabic Literature, 43: 510-531.
  • Ernst, Thomas. 2008. »Subversion: eine kleine Diskursanalyse eines vielfältigen Begriffs«. Psychologie und Gesellschaftskritik, 32,4: 9-34. online.
  • Mayeur-Jouen, Catherine (et al., eds.). 2002. Saints et héros du Moyen-Orient contemporain.
  • Mertz-Baumgartner, B. / Burtscher-Bechter, Beate. 2001. Subversion du réel: Stratégies esthétiques dans la littérature algérienne contemporaine. L’Harmattan, Paris (Études littéraires maghrébines; 16)
  • Pannewick, Friederike (ed.). 2004. Martyrdom and Literature: Visions of Death and Meaningful Suffering in Europe and the Middle East from Antiquity to Modernity. Reichert, Wiesbaden.