EUME Berliner Seminar
Mi 19 Mai 2021 | 17:00–18:30

Literature and the Political Engagement of Leftist Intellectuals in Mandate Lebanon

Sana Tannoury-Karam (EUME Fellow 2020/21), Chair: Zahiye Kundos (EUME Fellow 2020/21)

Although the term iltizam was coined by Taha Hussein in 1947 to explain Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of littérature engagée, the idea of iltizam, of a politically engaged literature that emanates from a politically and socially committed adib, had begun taking shape earlier during the nahda, and was debated and expanded upon during the interwar period by leftist intellectuals. This talk maps the trajectory of the Lebanese intellectual Umar Fakhoury and the development of his ideas on the relationship between literature and politics. Fakhoury belonged to a leftist intellectual tradition that emerged in interwar Lebanon, in which Raif Khoury also played a crucial role, which linked literary production to political engagement. Tannoury-Karam argues in this talk for a revisiting of the timeline of iltizam, by considering the interwar period as the nucleus for the forging of a new brand of adab and its uses. By complicating the genealogy of a politically committed adib, Tannoury-Karam argues for considering Arab intellectuals, such as Fakhoury, as producers of ideas rather than ‘imitators’ of a Sartrian idea or of Soviet socialist realism. While Fakhoury, Khoury, and others’ literary political engagement emerged as a product of various influences, including French literary realism and Marxist dialectical materialism, it was also a direct reaction to very local realities on the ground. These realities included a direct encounter with colonialism and France’s imperial project, the political division of their world between fascism and democracy, and the predicament of the Lebanese political system.

Sana Tannoury-Karam is currently a EUME fellow (2020/2021) at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin. She was most recently an Early Career Fellow at the Arab Council for Social Sciences (2019-2020) and a Post-Doctoral Fellow in History at Rice University (2018-2019). Tannoury-Karam received her Ph.D. in World History from Northeastern University in 2017, with a special focus on modern Middle East history. Prior to her Ph.D., she completed MA degrees in history (Northeastern University) and in political studies (American University of Beirut). Her work has appeared in a range of publications including the Journal of World History, Jadaliyya, Megaphone, and Hypotheses (TRAFO-Blog for Transregional Research). Her most recent publication is a co-edited volume The League Against Imperialism: Lives and Afterlives that came out with Leiden University Press in September 2020.


In accordance with the measures against the spread of the coronavirus, this seminar session will be held virtually via ZOOM. Please register in advance via eume(at) to receive the login details. Depending on approval by the speakers, the Berliner Seminar will be recorded. All audio recordings of the Berliner Seminar are available via the account of the Forum Transregionale Studien on SoundCloud.

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