Panel 7c Literature, Resistance and Revolt

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Chair: Professor Ronak Husni, Professor and Head of Department of Arabic and Translation Studies, American University of Sharjah

Paper 1: The Role of the Poet and Petry in the Arab Spring
Professor Ronak Husni, Professor and Head of Department of Arabic and Translation Studies, American University of Sharjah

Poetry has always been an integral part of the socio-political life of Arab society. It has been used during political upheavals in the Arab world for various purposes, to encourage the masses in their demand for change, to give heart to the warriors on the battlefield or to pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their cause. In this paper attempts will be made to shed light on the role of the poet and poetry in shaping attitudes to political change in Arab society, and, in some cases, in manipulating these attitudes. The paper will examine the role of poetry in the Arab Spring and try to evaluate to what extent poetry has sparked these revolutions. This paper will focus on the poetry of the Tunisian poet Abu Al-Qasm al-Shabbi (1909- 1934 ) especially his poem ‘Iradat al-Hayyat” (The Will of Life) which became a unifying slogan from very start of the Arab Spring.

Paper 2Imagining 2011: The Literatures of the Arab Uprisings
Dr Rita Sakr, Visiting Lecturer and Visiting Fellow in Post-conflict Studies, University College Dublin

This paper aims at exploring the role of literature in anticipating, fuelling, and shaping the uprisings that swept over the Arab world from the Maghreb to the Arabian Peninsula. It examines how novels by writers like Mohamed Salmawy, Kamel al-Riahi, and Hisham Matar envisioned the discourses and practices of the social and political movements that marked the 2011 revolutionary upheavals. The paper will analyse the intersections of the fictional and the factual, the literary and the journalistic, the everyday and the political, across the range of imaginative events that directly preceded and elliptically predicted the uprisings. It will investigate the intervention of literary outpourings into the political geographies of the cities that formed the stage of the “Arab Spring”: these texts had imaginatively reconfigured political sites such as monumental squares before protesters reinvented these spaces with their graffiti, slogans, and street performances that comprised the renaming of central squares and the toppling of autocrats’ monuments.

Paper 3: On Word and Image, Publication and Political Dissent in Artistic Practices: Walid Sadek’s Fi annani akbar min Picasso [bigger than Picasso]
Dr Sonja Mejcher-Atassi, Assistant Professor, American University of Beirut

This paper focuses on Fi annani akbar min picasso, a tiny paperback. At first sight, the book has little to do with Picasso: Its text can be characterized as ekphrasis, descriptions of visual works of art, but it also speaks of violence and vandalism. Juxtaposed on every other page is the image of a monument in Beirut. The monument is a display of power in the highly contested urban space of politically tense postwar Lebanon. Its inscription reads, ‘from Lebanon to His Excellency the President Hafez al-Asad, a salute of fidelity and fraternity to Syria, its people, and army’. What comes in the disguise of a book on Picasso unfolds into a work of art that raises questions about the place of word and image and political dissent in cultural production. After situating Fi annani akbar min Picasso into artistic practices in post-war Lebanon, the paper sets out to read the publication as ‘the treasure itself’ and against the background of the Arab Spring, especially the revolution in Syria.

Paper 4: ‘Within the Bounds of what is Permissible’: The Boundaries of Israeliness in Anton Shammas’s Arabesques
Isabelle Hesse, PhD candidate, Department of English and Related Literature, University of York

This paper examines Shammas’s novel Arabesques as an attempt to subvert and creatively refashion the exclusivity of Israeliness established by the Israeli state and advocated by Yehoshua in his novel The Lover. By including a fictionalised version of Yehoshua, Shammas criticises this inclusion of an Arab character but crucially also Yehoshua’s portrayal of Israeli Palestinians and their place within Israeli national discourse. The paper argues that Shammas positions the relationship between writer and subject, which he represents as characterised by a struggle for power and domination, as a metaphor for the relationship between the Israeli Jewish majority and the Israeli Palestinian minority. As such, it is used to deconstruct the idea of the Jewish people as the ‘people of the book’ along with the concept of Hebrew as the Jewish language and Israel as the Jewish state.

Paper 5: Palestinian Writing and Resistance
Nicola Anne Robinson, PhD candidate, Department of English and Related Literature, University of York

This paper considers the work of Palestinian writers, Elias Khoury and Sahar Khalifeh, who position themselves as resistant to the Israeli state. The significance of these writers’ texts lies in how their narrative compels readers to engage with the socio-political landscape outsideof the text. Harlow asserts that “Western” critics often misinterpret works of “resistance literature” by solely assessing them in terms of their aesthetic value rather than in terms of their success as not only records of resistance but as part of the struggle. However, while Harlow preserves a separation of the aesthetic and political realms, this paper contends that didacticism is part of the aesthetic affect. This paper argues that the novels protest against the fragmentation of Palestinian society which caused the weakening of resistance and opposition to Israeli domination. The paper pays attention to the particular political and literary interventions made by Khoury and Khalifeh in their representations of the historic and current social order in Israel/Palestine.

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.

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