The ‘Lie that is Arabic Literature’

If I have an objection to Youssef Rakha’s “Scribo ergo sum” (and I am certainly among those who should feel its sting) it is that he singles out “talentless women” for particular criticism.

One hears from certain quarters the (erroneous) belief that Arab women’s writing is unfairly promoted above men’s. Here I will argue the feminist position: Men can be equally talentless.

Otherwise, Rakha has some entertaining (and talented) critique:

In this year of our Lord what you have is a minister of culture highly keen on cowing in to “Islamist pressures” before such pressures have even been exerted, a bunch of die-hard pedagogues-to-be choking on the word “revolution”, and a self-sustained, English language-powered fantasy of “the emerging Arab literary scene” in which talentless women, complacent shit-stirrers and prehistoric ideologues, not to mention bland imitators of the writing of past decades, frenziedly elbow each other out of what little shelf space is available for “Arabic literature in translation” outside the mainstream markets, up to and including all manner of prizes awarded if not through nepotism then arbitrarily.

Rakha continues (making mention of the book he finished on New Year’s Eve, Crocodiles):

On New Year’s Eve — by facing up to the Lie that is Arabic literature on the Arab bookshelf — one is reminded, again, of the fact that one completes a book neither for an audience nor for a peer nor even a translator but for that rare specimen: the like-minded literate Arabic-speaker eager to be part of that old epistemological exercise, eminently enjoyable but never easy, of trying to make sense of the world through words.

One can take issue with various specifics, but indeed it would be good if Arabic literature was more indifferent to translation; if it was written for itself above all others.