By CAROLYN COOKE, associate professor in the Writing, Consciousness, and Creative Inquiry MFA Department at CIIS, and the author of the novel, "Daughters of the Revolution," forthcoming in June from Alfred A. Knopf
Like many people all over the world this week, I’ve gorged myself on whatever information I can find about the people’s revolution in Egypt. I watch Al Jazeera English while listening in the background to CNN, scanning updates from the New York Times and the BBC, and following six or seven Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and blogs. In the face of such relentless “connection,” who has time to read?
As writers we constantly experiment with how various shades of “meaning” can be conveyed by information and atmosphere, description and detail. Many of the narratives we value are not “informative” in a 24-hour cycle way; they speak to other urgencies, which in heated moments feel harder to articulate. What kinds of information and description best broadcast the “situation” on the ground? What kinds of detail evoke the atmosphere and context of the larger social-economic-cultural-historical picture?
Dare I mention – novels?
The late, great Cairo-raised Palestinian critic and public intellectual Edward Said, who so eloquently challenged and dissected the western construct of “Orientalism,” describes in an essay called “After Mahfouz” the ways in which “narrative prose fiction played a crucial role in creating a national consciousness” in Egypt and the Arab world, and how “Arabic novelists stood squarely wherever issues of destiny, society and direction were being debated or investigated.”
This weekend, I’ll be turning back to a few works of fiction and nonfiction born of Egypt, to tap into the deeper currents of last week’s events.
André Aciman, "Out of Egypt: A Memoir"
Alaa Al Aswany, "The Yacoubian Building"
Naguib Mahfouz, "Midaq Alley, The Thief and the Dogs, and Miramar"
Max Rodenbeck, "Cairo: The City Victorious"
Edward Said, "Reflections on Exile"
Finally, I’ll take a sneak peek at “El Shooq,” the photo portfolio by noted musicologist and resident of Cairo, Kristina Nelson, which will appear in CIIS’s literary magazine, Mission at Tenth, later this spring. The portfolio documents the shooting of the recently-released film “El Shooq” (Translated as “Lust”) by author and screenwriter Sayed Ragab.
What books, images and other texts and works have moved you to think more deeply about Egypt and the Middle East?