The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

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.