Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political

Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political

Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political

Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political

Synopsis

Challenging prevalent conceptualizations of modernity--which treat it either as a Western ideology imposed by colonialism or as a universal narrative of progress and innovation--this study instead offers close readings of the simultaneous performances and contestations of modernity staged in works by authors such as Rifa'a al-Tahtawi, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, Tayeb Salih, Hanan al-Shaykh, Hamdi Abu Golayyel, and Ahmad Alaidy.
In dialogue with affect theory, deconstruction, and psychoanalysis, the book reveals these trials to be a violent and ongoing confrontation with and within modernity. In pointed and witty prose, El-Ariss bridges the gap between Nahda (the so-called Arab project of Enlightenment) and postcolonial and postmodern fiction.

Excerpt

Debating Modernity

I wonder whether we may not envisage modernity rather as an attitude
[bodily posture] than as a period of history. and by “attitude,”
I mean a mode of relating to contemporary reality; a voluntary
choice made by certain people; in the end, a way of thinking and
feeling; a way, too, of acting and behaving that at one and the same
time marks a relation of belonging and presents itself as a task.

—MICHEL foucault, “What Is Enlightenment?”

The events of Rashid al-Daif’s (b. 1945) novel Tablit al-Bahr (Paving over the sea) (2011) begin in 1860, following the sectarian massacres that claimed the lives of thousands in Lebanon and Syria and led to a French military intervention. Al-Daif’s main character, Faris, whose family survives the killing in Mount Lebanon, is meant to represent the subject of Arab Enlightenment in the nineteenth century who goes on to study medicine at the Syrian Protestant College, later known as the American University of Beirut. Faris’s childhood friend and future classmate is none other than Jurji Zaidan (1861–1914), precursor of Arabic literary modernity. in one episode, the narrator explains how Faris and Jurji, in need of a corpse for their autopsy class, conspire to smuggle Faris’s deceased aunt on a mule through Ottoman checkpoints from the village to their college in Beirut. Dissecting corpses in autopsy class and exploring the body in sexual encounters interspersed throughout the narrative anchor the discourse on Arab modernity in the relation to the body.

Al-Daif’s treatment of modernity does not directly engage 1860 as the historical turning point that set in motion various social . . .

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