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.

6 thoughts on “The ‘Lie that is Arabic Literature’

    1. Hah, well. The important thing is the last sentence. Oh, and one must always go to the mat for the talentless women.

  1. Hmmm… never mind the arrogance, I’m really wondering about Rakha’s claim that “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.” How is the audience something separate from that species of “like-minded literate Arabic-speaker”?

    1. Well, presumably audience No. 1 is a hoi-polloi “popular” audience, the idea of writing to popularity, writing to order…and this other audience is an “elite” one.

      So, my interpretation: They’re just two different audiences.

  2. Is he having certain women in mind? There are those “hybrid’ women writers who cannot help being involved with the west and with translation because of their background like Sahar Al-Mougy and Miral Altahawy, to mention only two. What is wrong with that? Would you please put the original link in Arabic so that I ger a better idea?

    1. I believe he wrote it originally in English:
      http://yrakha.wordpress.com/2012/01/03/scribo-ergo-sum/

      I imagine we can guess at that the “barely literate writer of predictably ‘best-selling’ fictionalised tabloid journalism” who is lauded as a “great Egyptian author.” And indeed, the fact that some critics feel the need to salute writing that’s best-selling in Arabic (while they’d feel no need to salute Dan Brown or Danielle Steele) verges on yucky.

      But as for the women, I don’t really know. I thought of Miral, yes, although in my opinion to call Miral talentless would be silly.

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