ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
(Hello from my finally-set-up office! It only took the entire month of August. Do you like my new icon? I'm proud of it, even if the text is illegible--it's from here.)


What are you currently reading?
Turncoat, a mystery novel set in 1800s Upper Canada (what we now know as Ontario), which is largely about US/Canada tensions in the post-1812 period. Also murder. Helpfully, the Ottawa Public Library puts maple leaves on the spines of books of Canadian Interest, so I can go through the shelves and pick out genre reading that also will serve as acculturation! I'm also reading Transnationalism: Canada/US History in the 21st Century, which I picked up at the book exhibit at the American Political Science Association meeting this past weekend, as well as all the readings I'm setting for my classes (in US politics and political violence).

What did you recently finish reading?
Line and Orbit by [personal profile] dynamicsymmetry and, uh, I forget if their co-author has a journal to link to? This was my airplane/bedtime reading while I was at APSA . Space opera funtiemz, 10 out of 10, will read the sequels as fast as they write them. Also, I ended up falling into A Lexicon of Terror, about the Argentine Dirty War, and being unable to emerge until I'd read the whole thing, despite the fact that I decided about a chapter in that I wasn't going to be assigning any of it in my Political Violence class. It's an excellent read about horrible things.

What do you think you’ll read next?
I need to read Every Twelve Seconds, an ethnography of an industrial slaughterhouse, before the ILL due date hits, since I need to pick what I'm assigning for class. No clue what fiction will be next on the list...
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (bridge)
The fields are your birthplace
but filled with your boa constrictors.
The mines are your cradle
bu filled with their poison.
The mountains of richness are your throne,
but surrounded by their wild animals.
Woe to your sons and lovers.

Your drink is silver and your food is gold
Your dress is the most valuable of silk and
the rarest of jewels.
Your sandals are the wings of knowledge
but your heart is of tar set on fire.
Woe to your sons and lovers.

The daughter of richness and monopoly
In your stores are the productions of the world
In your safes the immense heaps of money and jewels
In your castles the wonders of civilization
And your dark cottages--poverty, hunger and sighs.
Woe to your sons and daughters.

Highness, and immensity in the womb of commerce, called
greatness, and splendor by your merchants, and
this is your beauty.
But woe to them and thee because they are liars.
The beauty of their idols like a dollar, minted
in the night and gilded in the day.
Woe to this beauty.

--Cited by Michael W. Suleiman, in "Impressions of New York City by Early Arab Immigrants," in A Community of Many Worlds: Arab Americans in New York City."


I love this poem for a lot of reasons--not least that I recognize the New York that this anonymous Arab immigrant wrote about nearly a hundred years ago. But I also wanted to take a moment to acknoweledge the debt I feel to Mike Suleiman, who wrote the article containing this piece. I met Mike write after I defended my dissertation prospectus, at the Middle Eastern Studies Association Conference; he complimented me on my paper, and mentioned an upcoming conference on Arab-American women he was organizing. I remembered seeing the announcement, but, well, I'd be prepping my prospectus, plus my wife and I had just had a baby (he was 5 weeks old at the conference), so I'd forgotten the deadline--I said, "I'm guessing it's too late to submit an abstract? I'd love to come." He gave me a sharp look, and said, maybe--and cornered me in the book exhibit the next day to pitch him prospective articles, and then hassled me into calling him three days later to pitch more fully, and then said to send him an abstract within 24 hours--and so I got a paper accepted to the conference, as I later discovered, two months after the CFP had closed.

Those three days in Manhattan, Kansas, were some of the most productive of my career. The papers varied wildly in topic and tone, but it was my first sustained interaction with the field of Arab-American studies, and the variety of people there, and with whom I got to discuss my work, was amazing. It was at this conference that I became convinced that, if I could help it, I only wanted to go to minor themed conferences from then on, because that is where the intellectual action is. And I owed it to Mike, who grabbed a brand-new and totally inexperienced graduate student and brought her into the big leagues.

The book that will come out of this conference is still very much in progress; the review process takes forever, and it was slowed down by the fact that, shortly after the conference, Mike became ill. He passed away in March of 2010, and is much missed by all of us in Arab-American studies as a pioneer in the field.

There's a conference in his honor planned for the fall, and I'm hoping to attend. (It'll also be my first chance to visit Dearborn--and I think Arab-American studies scholars are among the very few people to be excited to utter those words.) In any case, it's worth thinking fondly on those who gave us our inspiration, especially when they continue to inspire us from the page.
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (marxist feminist)
I'm headed off this evening to my annual family reunion at the beach. Pros: seeing my sister and her son, who only make it up from Texas once a year; unlimited free babysitting in the form of Grammy and Grandpa; access to the ocean, the swimming pool, and the Candy Kitchen; limited internet. Cons: Ten people in a single-wide trailer for a week; the descent of all 30 of my extended family members on one side for a six-to-ten hour period, which will inevitably end in drama; limited internet. I'll be around, but may not have a post for y'all until I get back next week.

In the meantime, let me leave you with some "beach-reading" recs that talk about Arab-American issues. (I should note, however, that I've been known to tuck The Foucault Reader into my bag along with sunscreen and avocado-and-queso-blanco sandwiches, so it's entirely possibly my gauge for what counts as beach reading is off.)


1. Suheir Hammad, Drops of This Story

It lives on the back of my tongue. Where the tastes of falafel and hummus mingles with the bite of plantain and curry. Pounded the garlic and peppers for my father's fava beans every Sunday morning. Why couldn't we just eat pancakes and bacon like everyone else? We had to have olives at every meal and pita bread with everything. I know now that I always loved that food. It's just hard to be different all the time.


This is, perhaps, a bit thematically heavy for beach-reading, but, well, I'm like that. Hammad's first publication was a poetic memoir, telling, in a disjointed way, her experience of growing up Palestinian in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and Staten Island. It's a memoir about being an immigrant, about living in a multicultural world, about missing the homeland and not knowing it, about cultural apprpropriation, about alcoholism and abuse. It's a very poetic book--I'd perhaps argue that the poetic structuring ends up dominating the narrative--and not a linear one. But it's also fewer than 100 pages long, and is, in the end, hopeful, at least on my reading.

2. Mohja Kahf, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf

It took her twice the work to get where he got with half the effort. It got easier as they got more experienced together.

"I had no idea it was that much work, Juma said, his hand cupped over her crotch afterward, as she lay breathing hard, her whole heart pounding under his hand. "Mine's like a--what do you call it, the no-brainer camera? A point-and-shoot."

Khadra laughed at that.


It's a coming of age novel that then turns into, for lack of a better word, chick-lit, where Khadra, the eponymous Girl, has to make choices about her family, her marriage, her community, and her relationship with God and Islam. I'll admit I found the parts about Khadra's childhood slow going at first, but Kahf is a tremendously funny writer, which carried it through. All the people in her novel are portrayed with love, even those we later grow to dislike. Or, if you're in a different mood, you could pick up Kahf's collection of poetry, Emails to Scheherezad. Warning: reading it made me 1) cry on the train 2) not notice I'd gotten on the wrong train until we came unexpectedly above ground. It's good.

3. G. Willow Wilson and M. K. Perker, Cairo: A Graphic Novel

I don't have it anymore (sniff), so try going here for some preview pages with graphics.

Wilson's in an interesting position as a convert to Islam, and an American who's very conscious of her privilege when writing about the Middle East. She writes from a place of the outsider with deep knowledge, and does a good job, I think, of navigating the complex territory she's set for herself, in this novel about jinn and flying carpets and drug deals and attempted suicide bombings. It draws on Islamic and Egyptian mythologies in a complex way, and all the characters end up being able to speak for themselves and break through the divisions between them. She also is clearly someone steeped in the superhero comic genre (she's also written for DC, as well as Vertigo), and it shows in the structure and pacing of the book. I think that's a good thing, speaking as someone who has developed a newfound addiction to comics...

(Oh: what am I actually bringing to the beach to read? Moustafa Bayoumi's How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?, a short ethnography of the Indian community in Queens, a few YA genre novels, and a fistful of comics I picked up at the library yesterday. Hey, it's a vacation.)
ajnabieh: Palestinian flag in front of billboard for the movie Prince of Persia.   (prince of persia)
Deep in my current fieldwork, I'm taking a strange detour, into poetry. There's a small but vibrant Arab arts scene in New York, and I'm trying to figure out how to think about the literary work produced in it as "data" for my research. In particular, I'm trying to work through how to do that without either resorting to a very cheap definition of politics, wherein it means everything and nothing, and yet also not stripping the writing of any artistic content. Suheir Hammad says in her poem "palestinian 98":

this poem begging to be
beautiful poised
articulate this poem
palestinian and too late


But of course the poem's own form refutes its statement: it is "beautiful poised/articulate," even if Hammad doubts its ability to respond to the questions she is posed. Political poetry (particularly the good stuff) is both/and, and I want to be able to capture some of that both/and in my work.

Anyway, this means I'm spending a lot of time reading Hammad's work. She's a Palestinian-American raised in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, and she's relatively well known for her appearances on Def Poetry Jam, as well as for her poem First Writing Since,, which I think of as the quintessential poem about September 11th. It perfectly captures the relationship between being a New Yorker and being an Arab and being a person committed to social justice, in that particular moment in history.

first, please god, let it be a mistake, the pilot's heart failed, the
plane's engine died.
then please god, let it be a nightmare, wake me now.
please god, after the second plane, please, don't let it be anyone
who looks like my brothers.


True story: Suheir Hammad once performed at a benefit for my wife's former employer. Walking home after the event, we passed her outside. I waved. She waved back. I had to text my roommate in a full bout of fangirl.

***

Tahani Salah is a poet who is easily compared to Hammad, as another Brooklyn-born Palestinian-American who performs spoken word (and also an alum of Def Poetry Jam). She's younger, though I can't find an exact age, went to Columbia (is still at Columbia?), and has competed on the Nuyorican team at the National Poetry Slam. I've heard her perform at Al-Awda demonstrations and at other Palestine events in the city. She hasn't yet published a book that I can find, and doesn't seem to maintain a website. That means that my major source for her work is YouTube videos of her performances...and that I'm having to make transcripts of her stuff.

This appears to be her most famous poem, "Hate." She performed it on Def Poetry Jam, and also at the National Poetry Slam. This is the Def Poetry Jam version, though the other one is on YouTube as well.




Transcription below cut )

She's a vibrant performer. I am also interested to see how she's interrogating the notion of Palestinians as hateful, not by rejecting it, but by redefining hate as a useful, motivating function. I also find it interesting that in both the performances I watched, there is so much cheering over the lines "And in other countries, there are six year old children who step/and throw rocks to protect the tears and the lives of their grandparents" that I can't hear the following line.

So: poetry as data. Political ethnography is nothing if not interesting.

Lazy Links

May. 21st, 2010 07:24 pm
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
I am just finishing up my grading for the semester, which means I'm rather on the edge about everything--it's a period of high burnout and frustration. (Though, thank you, student who titled your response paper "My Final Response Paper: What I’ve learned of Resistance and an Opportunity to Call Out People Who Believe in Radical Semiotics," for making me feel better for quite a while.) So, here are some linky links. How lazy am I going to be? I'm not even going to bother to code them. DW will make them clickable via magic, right? Awesome.

OFF TOPIC:
FEMINIST HULK
http://twitter.com/feministhulk

This has nothing to do with Arab-Americans, but it is made of awesome.


Assorted: includes stuff on media studies, Arabic literature, queer stuff, health stuff, Israeli/Palestinian conflict stuff )


Special section on Rima Fakih, because the party don't stop )
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (amal)
My reading habits are funny. It comes down to two major categories, generally: genre fiction, in particular mystery novels, by white Anglo/American authors, and literary fiction written by Middle Easterners or South Asians, or folks from those diasporas. It's just the way I've been grabbing books lo this past decade. I'm making an effort to branch out, to read more widely; it's not easy, once you get in a rut. I think a lot of people are doing this lately.

So, when talking about this with [personal profile] holyschist, it occurred to me that lots of other people probably shared my desire to read more diversely, but that they probably have their own fixations on certain communities and genres. I thought that I'd make a post, rec some authors I love, and try to encourage more people in their direction. These are all authors I feel passionate about, authors I'd make a point of going to see read, authors whose books I buy when I've got money. They all tell amazing stories, and do it with powerful language and at least a little political edge.

In writing this, I've deliberately left off authors that you probably know of already: Diana Abu Jabber, Naomi Shihab Nye. I've also not mentioned famous Arab authors who don't live in the West: Naguib Mahfouz, Nawal al-Sadaawi, Nizar Qabbani, Salwa Bakr. And I've stuck to Arabs, which means this isn't the place to sing my love of everything that Marjane Satrapi has ever done. Every list has its limits. (But you should feel free to rec authors that you love in the comments! And I may write another post later on another theme.)


Hanan al-Shaykh


During the PEN Festival one year, I saw that Hanan al-Shaykh was on the program, in a 'dialogue' with Salman Rushdie. I squeed like a fangirl, roped my roommate into coming with me, schlepped from Brooklyn to a hotel in Midtown. Rushdie interviewed al-Shaykh, and then chatted about writing and politics. (Both of them are London-based.)

All the audience questions were for Rushdie. After the event, there was a long line of people to get him to sign their books. I was the only person who wanted al-Shaykh to sign something (my copy of The Story of Zahra). She was lovely and polite to a fangirl who couldn't manage a coherent sentence. I was livid on her behalf.

al-Shaykh is one of the many Lebanese authors who began as a novelist of the Civil War; her first novel, The Story of Zahra, focuses on the damage the war did to women's lives in Beirut, and was acclaimed as a seminal feminist novel in the region. Since then, she's consistently pushed boundaries, writing about homosexuality, migration, and always about the complicated and nuanced emotional lives of women.

She's also unique among authors whose work appears in translation in that she works with her translators, at least on her more recent books, to re-edit them in English and make sure that they meet her standards. Arabic to English translations are generally appalling, and frequently cut out huge amounts of text; Ghada Samman's Beirut Nightmares is about 33% longer in Arabic than in English, for instance, and when I did a close-reading retranslation of a section of Story of Zahra my senior year in college for a lit paper, I found that huge chunks of the original text were just...missing. (Note to translators: if you're translating a seminal feminist novel, and a male, misogynist narrator speaks the words "Do you think this makes me a girl?" THAT'S PROBABLY IMPORTANT AND YOU SHOULDN'T CUT IT OUT. F-Y-I.) Even titles change: The book published in English as The Golden Chariot, and which ends with the madwomen from the asylum in the story ascending to heaven in said chariot, is actually called in Arabic al-’Araba al-dhahabiyya la Tas’ad ila-l-Sama, The Golden Chariot Does Not Ascend to Heaven, which IS KIND OF AN IMPORTANT CHANGE. Sorry to go all caps on you, but this is a subject that makes me ranty, given that I'm someone who's major argument is that it's very important to listen, very closely, to what Arabs and Arab-Americans are actually saying, to undo discursive injustices against them. HARD TO DO THAT WHEN THE TRANSLATORS DON'T TRANSLATE RIGHT, Y/N? Anyway, what this means is that al-Shaykh's books are well-translated, and that the language in them is beautiful--and author-approved.

al-Shaykh's most recent book is nonfiction, a biography of her mother. Here is an excerpt from it in the Guardian, and here's a video of her reading from it.





Rabih Alameddine

"I come from the lands of Scheherazade, who could not afford to be dull. Had she not dressed her tales in fineries — oy, vey. In the Lebanese dialect, to embellish is to “salt and pepper” a story, to add spice, so to speak, to make less bland. Without it, one might as well eat Kraft Singles."

--Rabih Alameddine

I will admit that my aesthetic and cultural groundings are in contemporary urban American queer culture; it's where I became an adult, it's where I became an organizer, it's where I mentally locate myself. I think part of my love for Rabih Alameddine is that he shares some of this grounding. I first read his novel Kool-AIDS: The Art of War my freshman year in college, as I worked on a paper about homosexuality and politics in the Middle East. It's a breathtaking, semi-experimental novel about AIDS and the Lebanese Civl War. From that moment, I was hooked. Alameddine is that rare writer who brings together a clear sense of humor, feet very firmly planted in multiple places, and a wonderful sense of language. When he writes about Lebanon, it feels like a Lebanese novel. When he writes about the US, it feels like an American novel. The hybridization that he pulls off is really stunning.

I've read everything of his but The Perv, and I recommend them all without reservation. Each is very different. KoolAIDS is very much an AIDS novel, one firmly located in the art scene of the 80s and 90s, as well as in civil war era Beirut. An image from it has always stuck with me: the HIV+ and very famous artist protagonist has sex with a one night stand; in the morning, the guy is freaked out that he had sex with someone who was positive, even though the protagonist had disclosed last night, and they had had safe sex. So the protagonist goes out and gets HIV+ tattooed on his chest...and then an art magazine wants to do a story about it. It's such a realistic story, and so incredibly communicative about the character in question. (Whose name I have forgotten. Dammit.)

I, the Divine is a novel in first chapters. Literally: the narrator, Sarah, keeps trying to write her memoir, and never gets further than the first chapter. She tells stories, sometimes over and over again, revealing more and more about herself each time; there's a chapter she tries to write when she's drunk and weepy; there's her constant redefinition of herself in each iteration. It's a novel about trying to find your authentic self, in a world where authenticity isn't really possible. It's a novel where the last first chapter really has taken you somewhere--and also feels like it needs a chapter two to follow it. It's a mindblowing technical feat. And a brilliant novel. It's probably the most accessible of his works; I recommended it to my mother for her book group, for instance.

The Hakawati, his most recent novel, is...epic. There's no word but epic. There's no concept other than epicness that covers this. The only book I can think of to compare it to is The Satanic Verses; both of them feature a modern-day story interlocked with a rearticulation of mythological story. As I said when I reviewed it for [livejournal.com profile] 50_books_poc, "This is a book where you realize, seven hundred pages in, that the major features of one of its central plot lines has been used to set up, of all things, a Heather Has Two Mommies joke, set in medieval Baghdad. It's a book where there are rainbow colored imps named after the major prophets of the Bible, who turn into extremely gay parrots and bother the royal classes in the interest of demonry everywhere. It's a book of prostitutes who find their husbands at shrines and then go on to conquer cities, basically for fun. And it's a book about Osama al-Kharrat, successful architecht, flying back to Beirut from his home in Los Angeles to visit his father as he is dying, the story of his grandfather, a hakawati (storyteller), and of his childhood. It is all of these things, and I cannot tell you which one of these is most important, because it is sometimes all of them on a single page."

I'd probably say, if pressed, that Rabih Alameddine is my favorite writer. His works are very close to my heart.

This site supposedly contains a reading Alameddine did from The Hakawati, but I can't get it to play. In the meantime, here he is in a clip from an interview:



You can read at least part of The Hakawati at Random House's page for it. And several of his books have previews on Google Books.


Mohja Kahf

Marshmallows are banned
from my little mosque
because they might
contain gelatin derived from pork enzymes
but banality is not banned,
and yet verily,
banality is worse than marshmallows


--Little Mosque Poems

Mohja Kahf is a brilliant writer. She's a
sex-positive angry feminist muhajjaba English professor, which is one of those word-jumbles most people think is impossible. Her poems are breathtaking; her prose is moving. She is also--and you can't discount this--hilarious. I saw her perform at a conference once, and she brought down the house, between a supremely dirty poem about dishwashing and the story of a young Egyptian con woman extorting hundreds of dollars from a secular humanist meeting in the Midwest.

I have her novel, Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, sitting on my to-read pile right now. I'm frustrated that Muslim WakeUp, home to her column, Sex and the Umma, which was mostly short fiction on sex in Muslim communities, appears to have disappeared off the internet, both because it was awesome as a site and because I wish I could link you to her prose. But here and here are some of her poems, and if you scroll down to the bottom of this column, there's the PDF of an interview with her that republishes one of her stories.

And this is her performing. OK, I wept like a baby watching it.

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