Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination

Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination

Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination

Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination

Synopsis

Dreams that Matter explores the social and material life of dreams in contemporary Cairo. Amira Mittermaier guides the reader through landscapes of the imagination that feature Muslim dream interpreters who draw on Freud, reformists who dismiss all forms of divination as superstition, a Sufi devotional group that keeps a diary of dreams related to its shaykh, and ordinary believers who speak of moving encounters with the Prophet Muhammad. In close dialogue with her Egyptian interlocutors, Islamic textual traditions, and Western theorists, Mittermaier teases out the dream's ethical, political, and religious implications. Her book is a provocative examination of how present-day Muslims encounter and engage the Divine that offers a different perspective on the Islamic Revival. Dreams That Matter opens up new spaces for an anthropology of the imagination, inviting us to rethink both the imagined and the real.

Excerpt

“The government used to steal our money,” Ahmad says with a sad smile on his face. “But today things are even worse. Today they steal our hope, too.” Ahmad works for the Ministry of Agriculture in a town on the Red Sea coast. He has a good position and a spacious office, but his income is still barely enough for him, his wife, and their four children to support themselves. It is May 2007, and Ahmad and I are sitting in a street café on an alley in downtown Cairo where plastic bags and dust are swirling through the air. On the wall behind me a cockroach is crawling, and I try unobtrusively to move my chair a little farther away from it. All around us young and middle-aged men are smoking shisha, some of them chatting but most sitting in silence. a veiled woman dressed in black is performing as a fire-eater in the middle of the alley, but no one seems to be paying attention to her. Ahmad suggests that one of these days I should count the number of people entering stores in downtown Cairo who leave with a shopping bag in their hands. It won’t be many, he predicts. People can’t afford to buy anymore; the only thing left is window-shopping. We are sipping heavy tea that is bearable only with an excessive amount of sugar. But the tea is not the only thing that is heavy; so is the atmosphere. Like Ahmad, many friends during the course of my visit will explain that economically, morally, and politically, Egypt is going through a crisis. Almost everyone I talk to feels helpless, hopeless, and outraged about the ongoing war in Iraq and about the emergency laws that interdict all expressions of discontent within Egypt itself. “We’re living a nightmare,” people say when I bring up the topic of dreams.

Already during my fieldwork in 2003 and 2004 it had quickly dawned on me that these were not particularly dreamy times. Friends remarked that after the Iraq War started and Egypt’s economy fell into disarray, most . . .

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