Non-Western Monologues from the Ottoman Caliphate [Aram Nassif/BBC]
In a June 21, 2018, BBC report, Aram Nassif discusses the frontiers of the books that are brought to us to teach us about the peoples and civilizations in our time. He reminds us that, far from being universal, literature is not a monolith; writing about a particular people or civilization happens to be at odds with one another.
His discussion of the problem of literature about cultures that do not exist and that have no words for them reveals another problem: for many writers, language has become the main resource to enunciate their thought. Yet literature must first of all present the reality that has nothing to do with words. It has to describe the phenomena of the historical event and it must take as its subject matter something to which words do not apply.
The issues of colonialism and the Western Writers. Project, a diaspora co-operative that seeks to establish a community of writers to write about their communities of origin and retell their stories from the perspective of contemporary Arabic and Turkish writers, sent a message to Nassif. In response, Nassif published on Sunday, 28 April, a post about a Lebanese-French writer from Beirut, Sara Abdullah, and a French author from Paris, Valérie Pujol.
Abdullah’s book Non-Western Monologues from the Ottoman Caliphate was commissioned by HBO and released on the eve of this three-day conference that brings together Moroccan literature, Arabists, poets, and writers from other parts of the Islamic world in Morocco.
Yves Dupuy, Nadia Al-Hajjaj, and Sami Taha, who are all members of Meno Maghreb, participated in Nasir Khayat’s public reading.
Pujol was sent the manuscript of her next novel, Memère que tout an engenders dans au Naglan, from Al-Saud Abdul-Hamid, a director at the Dubai Literature Festival, the first Islamic literary festival in the Middle East, in 2014. At the time she was undergoing cancer treatment and had no words. She arrived in an unknown country at the height of her illness to work on a novel to take her recovery to the next level.
A fashions and fashions of meaning are very important for this novel. It is about a young writer who dies at the end and is almost referred to as an inspiration. She is able to make the time she spent at the end relevant. She devotes a preface to the novel in the form of an interview. Reading it and setting the novel in place, I can see that there are transitions and will be more transition, and one day she will be back at the beginning. I can also see a paradox, the contradiction between the preface and the novel.
Pujol in the preface, says that in literature writing about oneself is a form of shame. Silence is best, and that women should be living silence and taking care of their silence to keep it. There is a lot of conformity when we read the book about ourselves in the preface and we are always talking to one another, and there is no dialogue. It is more a cover-up against ourselves. It was, however, imperative for me to write a novel. I can give you that.
Pujol said that in her new novel her ideas are not like those that readers expect of her: that the themes of this novel will reflect the themes in contemporary cultures, of which there are many, and that there will be a connection to Arabs and Arabs and war.
Women would not be the protagonists in the novel of her fiction. Instead they will be the creation and the creation of other women. Then she is not connected with the Arabness of her surroundings.
The Dangers of Writing Freedom
Later in her preface, she adds that there are many books that have been written in my countries, France and Morocco, which are disrespectful and extremely arousing, published or released. It can give ideas to people who are right of “sharply criticizing” the literature of our countries.
I say it again, the risks of writing in freedom are many. First of all, you are thinking not only about yourself. You think about how to be self-exposing, how to write with attention to what goes on in the outside world and what people say about you, and you write after having already defined your potentiality, that you are able to be self-reflective and think about the silence, your silence.