The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

New York encounters

So I apologize again for my recent lack of writing...

I've been couch surfing and (then) moving into a new place.

The cultural highlights of my last month in New York, however, have been seeing Tariq Ali and Norman Finkelstein, among others, talk at the Brecht Forum a few weeks back about Barak Obama's foreign policy. The general consensus was that his foreign policy, despite his hopeful rhetoric, was a continuation of self-defeating imperialist American tendencies. Also, an interesting and inevitable discussion opened up over whether one should vote, nonetheless, for Obama (the panel was split). There was also quite a bit of discussion of the situation in Pakistan. Ali said that war in Pakistan was being pursued "as an alibi for the failure of the Afghanistan war." 

Last week, I had the thrill of meeting the great poet Adonis. Unfortunately, I didn't hear him read his own poetry, which he did at an event in honor of Edward Said. I was told by people who attended that it was fantastic--Adonis read his long poem on New York, "قبر من اجل نيو يورك" ("A Tomb for New York"). A few days later, I attended an informal talk he gave about Islam and literature. Adonis talked about the historic divide between literature and religion, between poets that celebrated the joys of wine and caliphs who used religion to shore up their political power. He posed a few provocative questions: he asked, for example, how one can explain the fact that if Arabic is the language of God, it was nonetheless an existing language, spoken by pagans, before God's revelation? But overall his talk was replete with simple oppositions (perhaps expecting a US audience that wasn't that familiar with the subject)--it posited a historic separation between art and religion, and set modern Arab writers up as the descendants of rebellious, hedonist medieval poets, small creators competing with the big Creator. 

On a side note, I was shocked and dismayed by my utter failure to find a book of Adonis' poetry in New York. I looked for his work at three or four bookstores, hoping to get a copy for him to sign, and found nothing.