Status Updates as the New (Arabic) Literature

Rakha's current profile picture.

This may be the week of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, but the most delightful thing I read this week was Youssef Rakha’s “Virtually there,” in Al Ahram Weekly. (We’ll just blame an editor for the meaningless headline.)

In it, Rakha asserts that “the status update has arguably become the best read form of Arabic literature. Far more so than the tweet…the Arabic Facebook status update — together with the ‘comments’ and ‘likes’ it readily engenders — is increasingly the source, the reference and departure point, for all kinds of cultural debate.”

Rakha himself has been known to put a little effort into his Facebook status—moreso indeed than his tweets, which generally tend to be pointers elsewhere—and has become a status-update connoisseur.

It can of course be about anything, and in miniature form it reproduces and replaces every kind of writing: the poem, the short story, the review, the opinion piece, even the interview — not to mention the quote and the song lyric. There are those who specialise in the status update, too: whether writers-journalists or not, they tend to affirm and/or parody those discourses whose original place is the café, the podium or the (cultural) pages of newspapers.

Rakha goes on to mention some particular recent debates. But: What does all this mean? He’s not entirely sure, although it seems to him that each writer has become his or her own brand, eternally promoting itself (because surely this must engender some sort of thingification) to an audience.

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In Defense of Taha Hussein

Far less interesting: Helmy Alnamnam defends literary icon from charges of Zionist sympathies.

Yes, Taha Hussein has in many ways become a cultural dividing line. But because he was the thesis supervisor of an Egyptian Jewish student?

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More views on the IPAF longlist: from Susannah Tarbush at The Tanjara , from Miranda Smith at Emirates 24/7.

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And new reviews from Al Masry Al Youm include: Etgawezni Shokran (Marry Me, Thank You)—clearly inspired by Ghada Abdel Aal’s popular Ayza Atgowaz (I Want to Get Married). And Ali Abdel Mohsen reviews Radwa Ashour’s Specters, which I also thought was well worth the time invested in reading and re-reading it.

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And if you’re an Arabic-English translator more in need of experience than money, someone wants a short-story translator for eight cents a word. Via AsiaWrites.