Essays and Features
“If you are a traditional Muslim you might be disturbed by parts of this book. But if you are an enlightened Muslim you will realize that dialogue is a characteristic of the modern age. There is no dialogue without difference and without the ability to tolerate different opinions.
Nassif Nassar has a long-term research project and his latest book, titled “Al Zaat wa al-Hudur, Bahith fi Mabade’ al-Woujoud al-Tarikhi” (The Self and Existence: a Study in the Principles of Historical Existence), and published in Beirut by Dar al-Talia (2008), is the next step in this endeavor. In it, he characterizes Man, as the free and sovereign maker of his own social and political life, a depiction that has been routingly impunged by all types of of deterministic theories.
In Washington, D.C., a memorial garden dedicated to the great Lebanese poet and philosopher Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) sits nestled between the offices of world diplomats. A gift to the United States from the Kahlil Gibran Centennial Foundation, the garden park can be found on Massachusetts Avenue’s Embassy Row.
As happens in the West, Arab culture often celebrates authors at the expense of publishers. Also like their Western counterparts, Arab publishers tend toward commercialism and self-interest, jeopardizing the public’s best interest. And, typically, they are only too ready to abandon authors of manuscripts deemed “controversial,” as well as those on whose behalf they receive threats from governments or non-governmental groups. But Lebanon, and even the Arab world, prides itself on the exception that was Dr.
The highest honors in modern Arab literature rightly fall on icons like Taha Hussein and Naguib Mahfouz, both authors of irrefutable genius. But while these figures deserve their place in Arab letters, the publishers behind them – who, often amid difficult circumstances, have the courage and vision to bring their work to readers – sometimes fail to receive their due.
While some immediately think of the violent crisis in Darfur at the mention of Sudan, others will remember Tayeb Salih, the legendary Sudanese writer who passed away in London at the age of 80. His monumental novel, “Season of Migration to the North,” first published in English in 1969, is considered by many critics to be the work that launched contemporary Arab literature onto the world stage and into the modern canon.
In Monkith Saaid's studio in Sahnayah, a village south of Damascus, nothing escapes his artistic universe; neither moldy wood, rusted steel, smashed reeds nor stones or glass. Not even sawdust. All traditionally neglected material evading sight or interest enters his workshop and transforms itself, through his extraordinary genius, into beautiful and delicate creatures, whispers of love and shouts of protest against oppression, which collapse together in a hysterical dance.
By its very nature a taxi journey is seen as a passage between two places rather, than the subject of focus itself. Taxi driving is a humble profession, usually overlooked, undervalued and often the brunt of jokes and stereotypes. Most consider it a transitory occupation – a short-term solution between jobs, a source of additional income or just a good fall-back position.
Literature had a starring role at the Kennedy Center’s three-week festival of Arab arts and culture from February 23 - March 15, drawing dozens of noted writers and literary critics from Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and other Arab countries, as well as the United States. Eight panels on varying topics and five performances were largely at full capacity, underscoring what many writers described as growing interest in their work.