Revolution and art

Since I cover culture in the Arab world, I've been curious how literature and the arts will be affected by the upheavals of the last months. The focus of so many novels and films of the past years has been stagnation and stasis--now there is a whole new reality to grapple with.

Some forms seem to be more "revolutionary" than others--translator and Arabic literature professor Elliott Colla has pointed out how poems are better at capturing revolutionary fervour, and novels at depicting post-revolutionary disillusionment. I would say that photography, street art, graffiti and graphic art -- which lend themselves to immediate, contextual commentary -- also thrive in these times. 

The excellent Jadaliyya website has a short interview with cartoonist Ahmad Nady (who also edits the great new graphic magazine Toktok) and a selection of his cartoons.


Meanwhile, the online literary magazine Words Without Borders has an issue dedicated to the Arab revolutions. I particularly enjoyed this letter to Mohamad Bouazizi, first printed in Le Monde newspaper, by Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal:

Dear Brother:

I write these few lines to let you know we’re doing well, on the whole, though it varies from day to day: sometimes the wind changes, it rains lead, life bleeds from every pore. To tell the truth, I’m not quite sure where we stand; when you’re up to your neck in war, you can’t tell till the end whether to celebrate or mourn. And there it is, the crucial question: whether to follow or precede the others. The consequences aren’t the same. Some victories can fall short, while some defeats are the beginnings of truly great victories. In this game where death always takes you by surprise, there is the time before and the time after, but only one extraordinarily fleeting moment to make up your mind.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.