‘Angle of Vision’: Gamal al-Ghitani Then, Gamal al-Ghitani Now

If you’re in Chicago tomorrow, you can join translators Kay Heikkinen and Cameron Cross, academic Michael Sells, and novelist Gamal al-Ghitani for discussions of the transmogrification of classical Arabic literature into modern Arabic fiction — as well as the shape-shifting of this literature from Arabic to other languages:

909861-58b15bb279a3a4711b8eece0dae5cb33Egyptian novelist Gamal al-Ghitani (Zayni Barakat, The Zafarani Files) is the University of Chicago’s fall 2013 Mellon Islamic Studies Initiative visiting “professor of practice.” Al-Ghitani was given this position not just because of his role as a prominent and pioneering Egyptian novelist, but also as the director — until recently — of the influential literary periodical Akhbar al-Adab. In Egyptian Writers between History and Fiction, Samia Mehrez called al-Ghitani “the silent ironist par excellence.”

Edward Said, according to Ahram Weekly, once said that, “The finest, leanest, most steely Arabic prose that I have either read or heard is produced by novelists (not critics) like Elias Khoury and Gamal El-Ghitani. … Each of whose prose is a razor-sharp Aristotelian instrument the elegance of which resembles Empson’s or Newman’s.”

Al-Ghitani has been part of the state cultural establishment and also one of its critics. For his role in re-publishing 1,001 Nights, al-Ghitani incurred the wrath of the religious far-right. In 2005, he spoke against the Mubarak regime’s “merciless” coercion of intellectuals.

In the last year, al-Ghitani’s voice has also been deeply involved in politics, occasionally with what reads as a xenophobic twinge. In May, he asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood was a foreign organization, and that their rule of Egypt constituted a “foreign occupation.” He focused an Al-Akhbar column on his assertion that Al-Baradei was “a danger to the Egyptian people and state” and that the Brotherhood was a terrorist organization and should be banned. (Whereas, in a 2010 interview, he had said of the far religious right that “the key to change also lies in an active political exchange. A vigorous political life also makes a significant contribution to creating an open, well-informed society.”)

Earlier this month, al-Ghitani wrote in an al-Akhbar al-Youm column that Egyptians “need to embrace the points of power brought by the state’s establishments, such as the army.”

This does not alter — transmogrify, transmute, metamorphose, change, modify* — al-Ghitani’s novels, nor (necessarily) how they should be read. Although Ahmed al-Shamsy of the University of Chicago, who will perhaps be at tomorrow’s events?, has a compelling re-reading here. In any case, plenty of silent ironies to go around.

If you’re in Chicago Friday, the full day’s schedule, according to organizers:

9:30 am – Introduction of Workshop

10:00 am – 11:15 am
Kay Heikkinen will lead a panel devoted to readings from Gamal al-Ghitany’s works in the English translations by Farouk Mustafa, followed by readings by al-Ghitany from the original and comments by al-Ghitany on the narrative form and linguistic register of each work.

11:30 am -12:30 pm
Cameron Cross on Translating a Work of Yusuf Idris, followed by Michael Sells on Authorial Personas of Ibn al-`Arabi

2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Gamal al-Ghitany on the Autobiography of Ibn Sina, followed by a discussion of the text.

3:15 am – 4:00 pm
Plenary Address by Gamal al-Ghitany:
Tarajim as a Source of Literature

You can find events in the Swift Hall Common Room. A reception will follow.

*Too much al-Shidyaq.


    1. Well, it depends on what school of reading/criticism you subscribe to, I suppose. For me, absolutely. And how did I miss that? Getting on a plane or I’d re-write the above.

Comments are closed.