EURAMAL Examines ‘Desire, Pleasure and Taboo’ in Arabic Lit

I’m behind the times! The EURAMAL (European Association for Modern Arabic Literature) conference took place more than a week ago, and I have yet said absolutely nothing about it.

Thanks to Paola at “Invisible Arabs” for waking me from my slumber. This go-round, the conference focused on “Desire, Pleasure and the Taboo.” While the mention of “taboo” in conjunction with “Arabic literature” is usually eyeroll-inducing, this was a serious look at the intersection of money, culture, art, and taboo.

Indeed, the taboo has a long—and sometimes illustrious—association with art.

Since I wasn’t at the conference, I took time to peruse the abstracts published on the conference website. Indeed, they raise tempting issues. Roger Allen looks at the money angle in his “Criteria for translation: The case of the Arabic bestseller.” I would be interested to hear what Allen has to say on the matter. Certainly, it is the sexy, “taboo-breaking” (yawn) novel that normally gets press play in the U.S. and U.K. However, it’s possible that we’re being drawn away from this by the Arabic Booker and by Bloomsbury Qatar’s attempts to fashion a different sort of best-seller, more The Girl Who Kicked Hornet’s Nests than Girls of Riyadh.

Elvira Diana took on the very popular topic (at least on this blog) of sex and the Saudi novel. From the abstract:

To this literary genre belong novels like Banāt al-Riyād of Rajā‟ al-Sānia, al-Akharūn of Sibà al-Hariz and, more recently, Nisā’ al-munkar of Samar al-Muqrin.

Even if these works don’t reach a full maturity in literary style, they are anyway the mirror of the social changes that a conservative and traditionalist country like Saudi Arabia is experiencing. After the first examples of this kind of literature, can we continue talking about literary works that express the needs of the new Saudi generations in search of freedom and breaking of old taboos, or are these books just a response to the market demand by Western publishers? We try to give an answer by analyzing the short novel Nisā’ al-munkar of Samar al-Muqrin.

Of course, no answer in the abstract. Boo.

Tania al-Saadi looked at homosexuality in literature, and Alessandro Bountempo at the biography of LGBT activist Randa Lamri.

Rasheed al-Anany had an interesting paper about the taboos of religion, looking particularly at my beloved Yusuf Idris and his play Al Farafir. The abstract of conference-goer Atef Boutros promised to examine religion and sectarian violence in Salwa Bakr’s Al Bashmuri and Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel (which will be out from Atlantic next summer in English). I would’ve thought more papers would examine the taboos surrounding religion, which I would call “truer” taboos? More taboo-ey taboos?

Authors who appeared at the conference were, of course, taboo-breakers: Alawiyya Sobh (sex), Habib Selmi (sex and the cross-cultural relationship), Rashid Daif (here confronting his own attitudes homosexuality), and Wajdi Al Ahdal (religion, sex).