Margaret Litvin

Wednesday, 28 October 2015, 5.00 pm - 6.30 pm |
Forum Transregionale Studien, Wallotstr. 14, 14193 Berlin

Arab Intellectuals Encounter Another Europe: Sonallah Ibrahim and Mohammed Malas in Moscow

Margaret Litvin

(Boston University / ACLS Burkhardt Fellow, Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study, Uppsala /EUME Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung 2016)

Chair Elizabeth Holt
(Bard College / EUME Fellow 2015/2016)

The year is 1973. Two students, Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim and Syrian filmmaker Mohammad Malas, share a dorm room in icy Moscow. Together they read, debate, drink, meet women, observe Soviet racism and homophobia, and write the script for Malas’ graduation film about an Egyptian prison. Starting from the literary traces of their fateful cohabitation, this talk explores a now largely forgotten flow of twentieth-century culture: the tide of Arab intellectuals who received scholarships to study in the USSR or its satellites. Their experiences recall a very recent past when the intellectual world was configured differently, when Russia played a significant role (as it now seeks to do again) in channeling the aspirations of Arab peoples. Yet they also show the extent to which artists’ influences are self-sought and self-processed. Against the “friendship of nations” ideology and sometimes shocking realities of Soviet life, Arab intellectuals found time to think and a global – not just Russian – array of literary models to think about. Most important of all, perhaps, they found each other.

Margaret Litvin is Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at Boston University, USA, is a historian of modern Arabic (primarily Egyptian) literature and theatre. Her first book, Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost (Princeton, 2011), examined the many reworkings of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the theatre and political rhetoric of postcolonial Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. A companion anthology of translations, Four Arab Hamlet Plays, is in press with the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center at CUNY. More recently Litvin has focused on reconstructing the tangled legacies of Arab writers’ experiences in Russia and the Soviet Union. Her articles, reviews, and artist interviews have appeared in Journal of Arabic Literature, Critical Survey, PAJ: A Journal of Performing Arts, Theatre Research International, PMLA, several Shakespeare journals, and the online venues Marginalia Review of Books, Words Without Borders, and n+1. She is now translating Sonallah Ibrahim’s novel al-Jalid (Ice, 2011). At Boston University, Litvin teaches Arabic literature (in Arabic and in translation) as well as seminars on literary translation. She is founding director of the Middle East & North Africa Studies Program in the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies. Born in Moscow, she holds a PhD in Social Thought from the University of Chicago and a BA in Humanities from Yale.. Her research has been awarded an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship (Yale University), an ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship to work at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies in Uppsala, Sweden (2015-16), and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship (2016-8), that she will spend between EUME in Berlin and the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS) of the Philipps-Universität Marburg.