Arturo Monaco

Wednesday, 11 July 2018, 5.00 pm - 6.30 pm |
Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

The Rebellious in Tradition: Sufism and Surrealism in Issam Mahfouz' Work

Arturo Monaco
(University of Rome / EUME Fellow 2018)

Chair: Jessica Metz
(Forum Transregionale Studien / EUME)

Issam Mahfouz is remembered in the field of literary studies for his prominent contribution to the development of Lebanese theatre. In fact, a thorough understanding of his poetics should include his first literary attempts as a poet and his prolific production in the spheres of journalism and literary criticism. A reading of these writings in particular may open new perspectives on his literary production stricto sensu. One of these perspectives emerges while reading a selection of Mahfouz’s essays that display a certain interest in two apparently contradictory trends: surrealism and mysticism. Much has been said about the relation between these two trends, both in the Western context and in the Arab francophone one, but only in very few cases the Arabic one has been considered. Mahfouz may provide a case study in this regard. During his long career as a writer, he published a number of essays related to both surrealism and Islamic mysticism, i.e. sufism, suggesting a possible connection between the two in some respects. My inquiry starts from the data collected in these essays and tries to answer the following questions: Is the discourse on surrealism and sufism solely limited to Mahfouz’s essays? Or is it possible to trace its echo in his poetic and dramatic production as well? If this proved true, in which way could we study this interaction? In his study on the Maghrebi literature in French, Hédi Abdel-Jaouad proposes to study the result of the interaction between surrealism and sufism looking at both of these spheres in their ontological and dynamic dimensions, more than in their respective historical ones, thus taking into account the possible variations that may occur in the single experiences. This approach revealed itself fruitful in the field of francophone literature in the Maghreb. Through a reading of Mahfouz’s poetry, we will observe if this approach is viable in the study of Arabic literature as well.

Arturo Monaco is a PhD holder in Civilizations, Cultures and Societies of Asia and Africa, Sapienza University of Rome (2016). His PhD dissertation explores the surrealist trend in modern Arabic literature, with a special focus on the surrealist manifestations in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon between the 1930s and 1960s. He also holds an MA in Oriental Languages and Civilizations from Sapienza University of Rome (2012). During the academic year 2016/17, he was a lecturer of modern Arabic literature at Sapienza University of Rome. His research interests include modern Arabic poetry, Arab literary press, intercultural exchanges between Arabic and foreign literatures. In 2018, he will be a an affiliated EUME-CNMS Fellow.

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