Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 April 2016
This article brings area studies approaches to Arabic novels into dialogue with world literature through a critical engagement with the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), commonly known as “the Arabic Booker.” This prize launches Arabic novels out of national fields and into a world marketplace whose reading practices have been shaped by the Anglophone postcolonial novel, canonized by the IPAF's mentor: the Booker Prize Foundation. Against this institutional backdrop, the article develops a scale-based method to revisit the intersection of postcolonial tropes and national epistemologies in two winning IPAF novels: Bahaʾ Taher's Wahat al-Ghurub (Sunset Oasis, 2007) and Saud Alsanousi's Saq al-Bambu (The Bamboo Stalk, 2013). By interrogating the literary and political work performed by comparative scale in these novels, the article argues that dominant applications of theoretical methods inherited from postcolonial studies fail to supply trenchant forms of critique for Arabic novels entering world literature. Bridging the methods and perspectives of area studies with those of comparative literature, this article develops new reading practices that are inflected through contemporary institutional settings for literature's circulation, translation, and canonization.
Author's note: My interest in the intersection of literary prizes and postcolonial theory began in conversations with Joseph Cleary in New Haven in 2013. The ideas in this essay were presented at the American Comparative Literature Association's annual meeting in 2014 on the panel “Shifting Centers of Cultural Capital in the Arab World,” organized by Nancy Linthicum and Amr Kamal. Thanks are due to them and the panel participants for supportive feedback, as they are to Fleur Montanaro and Alex Seggerman. I express my gratitude to Nancy Reynolds, Nancy Linthicum, Caroline Kita, and the anonymous reviewers at the International Journal of Middle East Studies for thoughtful and thought-provoking engagements with the essay's argument and scope at various stages of writing. Special thanks to Alexandre Dubé.
1 Citations and the spelling of character names follow Davies's translation: Taher, Bahaʾ, Sunset Oasis, trans. Davies, Humphrey T. (London: Sceptre, 2009)Google Scholar.
2 Ibid., 168–70. On the rite, see Fakhry, Ahmad, Siwa Oasis (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1973), 62–63Google Scholar.
3 My use of subaltern here alludes to the widely held interpretation of Spivak's argument in terms of suppressed speech. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Nelson, Cary and Grossberg, Lawrence (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 271–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
6 Ibid., 220. See also Bourdieu, Pierre, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996), 141–73Google Scholar.
7 Although it is customary to cite Goethe's coining of the phrase “world literature” in 1820, most date the beginnings of these debates to the publication of Casanova's, PascaleLa république mondiale des lettres (Paris: Seuil, 1999)Google Scholar, published in English as The World Republic of Letters (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004), and Damrosch's, DavidWhat Is World Literature? (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003)Google Scholar. Broadly speaking, a text enters world literature when it moves beyond its “culture of origin,” which is why networks of translation, publication, and circulation are key to the field. Damrosch, World, 4. Critiques of world literature are numerous; this article participates in arguments that foreground the role of institutions outside Europe and North America; the “global relations of force that the concept simultaneously puts in play and hides from view,” in Aamir Mufti's felicitous phrasing; and the role that an unreflexive criticism may play in perpetuating those relations. Mufti, Aamir, “Orientalism and the Institution of World Literatures,” Critical Inquiry 36 (2010): 465CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
8 Omri, Mohamed-Salah, “Notes on the Traffic between Theory and Arabic Literature,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 43 (2011): 732Google Scholar.
10 This article concerns the move to worldly, primarily English-language, reading publics, but the IPAF also invites research on the transformation of novels’ circulation and reception across North Africa and the Middle East. Novels recognized by the IPAF (whether as short-listed nominees or winners) gain unprecedented distribution outside national fields and traditional publication circuits. My thanks to Nancy Linthicum for helping me think through this point.
11 Michelle Hartman, “Teaching Modern Arabic Literature in Translation: Why Theory, Politics, and Ethics Matter,” in Teaching Modern Arabic Literature in Translation, ed. Michelle Hartman (forthcoming).
12 My association of these tropes with the destabilization of national monoliths does not discount the importance of the nation to postcolonial critique; to the contrary, it holds that they often evoke methods deploying hybridity, fragmentation, alterity, and equivalent themes to ground critiques of hegemonic power associated with colonialism and the nationalisms that took shape in opposition to it.
13 The Editors, “World Lite: What Is Global Literature?,” n+1 17 (2013), accessed 1 October 2015, https://nplusonemag.com/issue-17/the-intellectual-situation/world-lite/.
14 IPAF Administrator Fleur Montanaro, email correspondence with the author, 6 May 2013.
16 Saadiyat Cultural District, http://www.saadiyat.ae/en/about-districts/5/Saadiyat-Cultural-District, accessed 19 December 2015.
17 At the time of writing, the Board of Trustees was composed of literary figures who have achieved prominence in writing, publishing, and academics, as well as the Chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, Jonathan Taylor (CBE); Secretary of the Booker Prize Foundation, Evelyn Smith; and an advisor to the UAE Presidential Court, Zaki Anwar Nusseibeh.
18 Previously short-listed authors can be submitted without adding to a publisher's total.
19 Montanaro, correspondence with the author.
20 The Booker Prize was awarded to English-language novels from the Commonwealth and in 2013 opened to English-language fiction from anywhere in the world. The foundation has lent its name to the Russian Booker Prize and the Man Booker International and provided financial support for the Caine Prize for African Writing and the Asham Award for women's short stories.
21 Todd, Richard, Consuming Fictions: The Booker Prize and Fiction in Britain Today (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), 73–74Google Scholar.
22 English, Economy, 212.
24 Sayyid Mahmoud reported criticisms of a “bias for works with a populist tone” and overlooking of literary experiment. The result is a preference for “socio-cultural works” and “conservative style of narrative.” Mahmoud, “Bukar al-ʿArabiyya 2013 Dawrat al-Qatiʿa maʿa al-Tajrib?,” 23 April 2013, accessed 24 January 2014, http//www.al-akhbar.com/node/181763. Others suggest it neglects the Maghrib, a point that often overlaps with charges that it ignores experimental literature. See, for example, Kamal al-Riyahi, “al-Riwaya al-Magharibiyya wa-l-Bukar al-ʿArabiyya,” Al Jazeera, 30 December 2012, accessed 30 April 2013, http://www.aljazeera.net/news/pages/1bcc6a29-bce7-49e7-9b3f-b50c421160cb.
25 Marcia Lynx Qualey, “Eyes on the Prize,” 12 February 2014, accessed 20 January 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/02/12/eyes-on-the-prize/.
26 A stock saying invokes this debate: “Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, and Baghdad reads.” Current wisdom holds that the Gulf is displacing these centers. See, e.g., Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, “Thriving Gulf Cities Emerge as New Centers of Arab World,” Al-Monitor, 8 October 2013, accessed 1 March 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/10/abu-dhabi-dubai-doha-arab-centers.html.
27 Montanaro, correspondence with the author; the trustee is anonymous.
28 Cited in Jacquemond, Richard, Conscience of the Nation: Writers, State and Society in Modern Egypt, trans. Tresilian, David (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2008), 229Google Scholar. On the Cairo Prize, see pp. 100–101. Taher rejected the Mubarak Literary Prize in February 2011.
29 English, Economy, 218.
32 Winegar, Jessica, Creative Reckonings: The Politics of Art and Culture in Contemporary Egypt (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006)Google Scholar. Jacquemond traces Egypt's literary-intellectual field to Muhammad ʿAli's reign and the rise of the modern state, which fostered an intellectual class and “the national production of printed materials.” Thereafter, Egypt's writers acted within a triad defined by the kātib (writer), kitāb (book), and dawla (state) that crystallized in the first third of the 20th century. Jacquemond, Conscience, 5–6. The al-Nasir state's appropriation of the literary field after 1952 formalized this tie between writer and nation through institutions and networks of patronage, and the nationalization of related industries. Jacquemond, Conscience, 15–34. See also Marina Stagh, “The Limits of Freedom of Speech: Prose Literature and Prose Writers in Egypt under Nasser and Sadat” (PhD thesis, Stockholm University, 1993).
33 Winegar, Creative, 141.
34 Jacquemond, Conscience, 98–101.
35 For Egyptian artists, “art was a means of individual expression, but it was also a way to become respectable elite members of their society.” Thus, there is no “one-to-one correlation between the bourgeois and autonomy.” Winegar, Creative, 47.
36 Jacquemond, Conscience, 42, 4.
37 Ibid., 46–48. On the Mubarak regime's role in the 1990s and early 2000s, Nancy Linthicum, personal correspondence with the author.
38 Jacquemond, Conscience, 48.
39 Andrew Hammond, “Prestigious ‘Arabic Booker’ Plagued by Criticisms,” Reuters Africa, 15 December 2010, accessed 19 January 2015, http://af.reuters.com/article/idAFLDE6BB06220101215?sp=true.
40 The winning novel receives US $1,000 and a promise of translation into English with American University in Cairo Press. Mehrez, Samia, Egypt's Culture Wars: Politics and Practice (New York: Routledge, 2008), 45Google Scholar.
41 Cited in Mehrez, Culture, 46. Mehrez's language of scribes and alleys is based on Mahfouz's Children of the Alley. She argues that in 1990s Egypt the writer acted as a recorder of truth in and for the nation. As such, her use of scribe corresponds to Jacquemond's use of writer.
42 Cairo University professor Sayyid al-Bahrawi cited in ibid., 47.
43 Its deterritorialization is also physical; the IPAF has no regional site beyond its celebration at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. “Q&A with International Prize for Arabic Fiction Administrator Fleur Montanaro,” Arabic Literature (in English), 11 August 2011, accessed 25 January 2015, http://arablit.org/2011/08/11/qa-with-international-prize-for-arabic-fiction-administrator-fleur-montanaro/.
44 A promising area for comparison is the role of privately funded literary prizes in the Egyptian field, which, as Nancy Linthicum notes, began to appear in the 1990s and early 2000s (e.g., the Sawiris Cultural Award). Such prizes stratify the national literary scene in ways distinct from the IPAF, yet in their separation from the state they mobilize comparable forms of legitimacy in a local setting. Linthicum, correspondence with the author.
45 Huggan, Graham, “Prizing ‘Otherness’: A Short History of the Booker,” Studies in the Novel 29 (1997): 412–33Google Scholar. On Berger, see p. 416; on Booker-McConnell: “The company, initially formed in 1834 to provide distributional services on the sugar-estates of Demarara, achieved rapid prosperity under a harsh colonial regime. At the onset of independence the company was placed under increasing pressure, eventually relocating to London, which remains its headquarters today.” Its book division was established in the early 1960s. See p. 415.
46 Hugh Eakin cited in Huggan, “Prizing, ” 415.
49 Shohat, Ella, “Notes on the ‘Post-Colonial,’” Social Text (1992): 99–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Young, Robert J. C., “Post-Colonial Remains,” New Literary History 43 (2012): 19–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Frangie, Samer, “On the Broken Conversation between Postcolonialism and Intellectuals in the Periphery,” Social & Political Thought 19 (2011): 41–54.Google Scholar
50 Brouillette, Postcolonial, 17.
52 Ibid., 49–54. Winning and short-listed novels have been published in English by Random House, Sceptre (an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton, an imprint of Hachette), and Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP), owned by the Qatar Foundation and managed by multinational Bloomsbury Publishing with offices in London, New York, Doha, and New Delhi. The following were published by BQFP: Inaam Kachachi, The American Granddaughter (shortlisted 2009); Mohammad Achaari, The Arch and the Butterfly (joint winner 2011); Saud Alsanousi, The Bamboo Stalk (winner 2013); Abdo Khal, Throwing Sparks (winner 2010). Several IPAF novels are published by independent houses: for example, Raja Alem's The Dove's Necklace (joint winner 2011), Overlook Press.
54 English, Economy, 259.
58 “About Us: Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority,” accessed 1 March 2014, http://tcaabudhabi.ae/en/about/Pages/about-us.aspx. On domestic tourism, see cooke, miriam, Tribal Modern: Branding New Nations in the Arab Gulf (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2014)Google Scholar.
59 English, Economy, 283.
60 Winegar argues that the Mubarak regime adopted this stance toward artists. Winegar, Creative, 156.
63 Tanoukhi, Nirvana, “The Scale of World Literature,” New Literary History 39 (2008): 604Google Scholar.
64 Tanoukhi traces this divide to a misunderstanding of alternative modernity, originally describing the transition of colonized states to independence and now used to describe the synchronic state of multiple, nonhegemonic cultures. Ibid.
65 Tanoukhi advocates a phenomenological approach uniting close reading, methodological reflection, and “the time-honored [problem] . . . of historical contextualization.” Ibid., 614.
66 Chatterjee, Partha, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 38Google Scholar.
67 In this movement, named for Colonel Ahmed ʿUrabi, peasants, urban guilds, and the intelligentsia revolted against the Ottoman-Egyptian upper classes and European bourgeoisie. Cole, Juan, Colonialism and Revolution in the Middle East: Social and Cultural Origins of Egypt's ʿUrabi Movement (Cairo: American University of Cairo Press, 1999), 22Google Scholar. Britain bombarded Alexandria in June 1882 and defeated ʿUrabi and his forces a few months later at the Battle of Tel el Kebir. See also Schölch, Alexander, Egypt for the Egyptians! The Socio-Political Crisis in Egypt 1878–1882 (New York: Ithaca Press, 1981)Google Scholar; and Mayer, Thomas, The Changing Past: Egyptian Historiography of the ʿUrabi Revolt, 1882–1983 (Gainesville, Fl.: University of Florida Press, 1988)Google Scholar.
68 Taher, Sunset, 39; Bahaʾ Taher, Wahat al-Ghurub (Beirut: Dar al-Adab, 2008), 54–55.
69 Selim, Samah, The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt, 1880–1985 (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), 60, 73Google Scholar. See also Kilpatrick, Hilary, “The Egyptian Novel from Zaynab to 1980,” in Modern Arabic Literature, ed. Badawi, M. M. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 223–69Google Scholar; and Colla, Elliott, “How Zaynab Became the First Arabic Novel,” History Compass 7 (2009): 214–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
70 This view of 1919 and its impact on the novel was influentially developed in ʿBadr's, Abd al-Muhsin Taha, Tatawwur al-Riwaya al-ʿArabiyya al-Haditha fi Misr, 1870–1938 (Cairo: Dar al-Maʿarif, 1963)Google Scholar, discussed in Selim, Novel, 63–70.
71 Selim, Novel, 74, 91.
73 See Selim's reading of Taher's East of the Palms (Cairo: Dar al-Mustaqbal, 1985). Ibid., 205–13.
74 Taher, Sunset, 29.
78 Powell, Eve M. Troutt, A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain, and the Mastery of the Sudan (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2003), 6Google Scholar.
80 Taher, Sunset, 88.
82 Fakhry, Siwa, 104–5. For Powell's discussion of the Sudan as an outpost for exiles, see Shade, 77–78.
83 Baron, Beth, “Nationalist Iconography: Egypt as a Woman,” in Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East, ed. Jankowski, James and Gershoni, Israel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 105–24Google Scholar; Baron, Egypt as a Woman: Nationalism, Gender, and Politics (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2005), esp. 57–81 on visual imagery. Powell, Baron notes, demonstrates that the paradox of an anticolonial nationalism that also sought to colonize the Sudan “was fought metaphorically over the bodies of female slaves.” Baron, Egypt as a Woman, 25. On this, see Powell, Shade, 1–8.
84 Selim, Rural, 20.
85 Taher, Sunset, 84–86.
87 On this and the household as a microcosm for the Egyptian nation, see Baron, Egypt as a Woman, 17–39.
88 Taher, Sunset, 87.
93 Catherine wonders: “what is your crisis Mahmoud? You're the only one who knows.” Mahmoud clarifies in an unvoiced monologue: “I wept for my country and myself. And Catherine asks me what my crisis is?” Ibid., 36, 39.
95 Huggan, “Prizing,” 424.
96 Sunset shares a concern for global empire with Ahdaf Soueif's The Map of Love—shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize—which situates nahḍa Egypt in anticolonial struggles in South Africa and Ireland. See Tageldin, Shaden, “The Incestuous (Post) Colonial: Soueif's Map of Love and the Second Birth of the Egyptian Novel in English,” in The Edinburgh Companion to the Arab Novel in English: The Politics of Anglo Arab and Arab American Literature and Culture, ed. Gana, Nouri (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013), 82–105Google Scholar.
97 Taher, Sunset, 207.
98 Ibid., 208. My use of romance alludes to David Scott's characterization of anticolonial narrative as heroic “narratives of overcoming . . . of vindication” and the march of history toward progress. Scott, Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004), 8.
99 Taher, Sunset, 135.
108 Ibid., 300. On Pharaonism and nationalism in the 1920s and 1930s, see Colla, Elliott, Conflicted Antiquities: Egyptology, Egyptomania, Egyptian Modernity (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, which intersects with gender in the discussion of Nahdat Misr on pp. 227–33.
109 Lionnet, Françoise, “Transnationalism, Postcolonialism or Transcolonialism? Reflections on Los Angeles, Geography, and the Uses of Theory,” Emergences 10 (2000): 28CrossRefGoogle Scholar. My use of “transnational” here differs from Lionnet's in this article, where she associates it with “the political economy of development.” See p. 27. I follow Lionnet, Françoise and Shih's, Shu-MeiMinor Transnationalism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, which uses the transnational to denote those “lateral and nonhierarchical network structures” that evade universalism. See p. 2. A counterperspective is offered in Chatterjee, Partha, “Beyond the Nation? Or Within?,” Social Text 15 (1998): 57–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
110 Taher, Sunset, 125.
113 Spivak, “Subaltern,” 298.
114 Chatterjee, Nationalist, 38.
117 On the nahḍa novel and elite national subject formation, see Selim, “The People's Entertainments: Translation, Popular Fiction, and the Nahdah in Egypt,” in Other Renaissances: A New Approach to World Literature, ed. Brenda Schildgen, Gang Zhou, and Sander Gilman (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 35–58.
118 It is in this sense of heady authority that we may translate the comparative vision at the heart of Sunset’s scale as al-muwāzana (weighing). I am indebted to Najwan Darwish for sharing his thoughts on this translation of comparison.
119 My reading is closer to the distinction between langue and parole that Chatterjee reads as inadequate for the intellectual-political context he studies because it would presume knowledge of the “discursive field” within which texts circulated. Chatterjee, Nationalist, 39–40. The literary-discursive fields for the current context are, in contrast, well substantiated.
120 Mufti, “Orientalism,” 488.
121 Jacquemond, Conscience, 26–27.
122 Taher, Bahaʾ, Abnaʾ Rifaʿa: al-Thaqafa wa-l-Huriyya (Cairo: Kitab al-Hilal, 1993), 11–12Google Scholar. Taher here echoes Chatterjee's characterization of civil society elites in “Beyond the Nation?,” 62–65.
123 The 1990s also saw the emergence of a new generation in Egyptian literature that broke with the stances and institutional practices of the generation represented by Taher. Nancy Linthicum, “Independent Cairene Presses as Literary Actors in the 1990s and early 2000s” (paper presented at the American Comparative Literature Association annual meeting, New York University, New York, N.Y., 22 March 2014).
124 Reading “along” the grain refers to Stoler's, Ann LauraAlong the Archival Grain (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010)Google Scholar.
125 Citations from Bamboo are the author's translations; character names are spelled following the English translation: Alsanousi, Saud, The Bamboo Stalk, trans. Wright, Jonathan (Doha: Bloomsbury Qatar, 2015)Google Scholar.
126 cooke, Tribal, 24.
129 On Gulf nationalism from a literary perspective, see cooke, Tribal. cooke does not take the novel as the privileged form to express the “tribal modern,” focusing rather on architecture, poetry, and festivals. She does, however, study the novel as an expression of post-oil boom cosmopolitanism. See pp. 16–29.
130 Alsanousi, Saq, 320–22.
131 Ibid., 228. On the Bedoon, who make up approximately a third of Kuwait's population, see cooke, Tribal, 61–64; al-Nakib, Farah, “Revisiting Hadar and Badu in Kuwait: Citizenship, Housing, and the Construction of a Dichotomy,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 46 (2014): 11–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Aziz Abu-Hamad, “The Bedoons of Kuwait: Citizens without Citizenship,” Human Rights Watch, August 1995, accessed 18 December 2015, https://www.hrw.org/reports/1995/Kuwait.htm; and Maureen Lynch and Patrick Barbieri, “Kuwait: State of Exclusion,” Refugees International, 5 July 2007, accessed 18 December 2015, http://www.refworld.org/docid/47a6ee9bd.html.
132 Alsanousi, Saq, 276–77.
133 Farah al-Nakib and Anh Nga Longva have written on the role of exclusion in state-building processes and the development of Kuwaiti citizenship before and after oil. See, for example, al-Nakib, “Revisiting”; Longva, “Nationalism in Pre-Modern Guise: The Discourse on Hadhar and Badu in Kuwait,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 28 (2006): 171–87; and Longva, Walls Built on Sand: Migration, Exclusion, and Society in Kuwait (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997).
134 Alsanousi, Saq, 279, 247.
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