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Drama and Story

Panel X-28, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, November 4 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
  • Shortly after the launch of the Egyptian national TV network in 1960, the country witnessed the emergence of a new television genre called religious drama (musalsalāt dīnīya). These TV shows recreated premodern Islamic history and were usually broadcast during the holy month of Ramadan. Until the early 2000s religious drama remained an indispensable part of Egyptian TV content, formed its own canon, and paved the way for the appearance of similar genres in other Middle Eastern countries, such as the UAE, Syria, and Turkey. Despite the prominence of musalsalāt dīnīya in Egypt, they were never closely studied by both Western and Arab scholars of television. This disinterest partly stemmed from the stereotypical view of them as low-quality production, which was shared by television critics and prominent scholars of Middle Eastern TV. Given the popularity, influence, and constant presence of religious drama on Egyptian television, it is essential to take a closer look at its history and role in popular culture. To achieve that, the following paper deals with the Egyptian musalsalāt dīnīya produced at the peak of the genre’s popularity – in the 1990s. By conducting a textual analysis of the TV shows, it sheds light on the mass-mediated representations of premodern Islamic history, which, as I argue, bring nostalgia for the irretrievable past. Particular focus is given to sets, props, and costumes as associating the Muslim “golden era” with specific historical spaces, religious identities, and practices. Thus, the paper shows how musalsalāt dīnīya became a powerful tool providing certain images of the past and history for their numerous audiences.
  • This paper examines the concept of poetic knowledge as it emerges in Muḥammad Bennīs’s “Bayān al-kitāba”, Abdelkabīr Khaṭibī’s Le lutteur de class à la manière taoïste” and Aimé Césaire’s “Poésie et connaisance”. Drawing on close readings of these works, all of which engage in some way with the manifesto genre, I show that for Bennīs, Khaṭibī, and Césaire, poetic knowledge converges in the poetic image as a way of engaging, interpreting, and ultimately retrieving a sedimented sense of the world through language that is both vivid and open to interpretation. The poetic image thus offers a way of accessing knowledge that has been occluded by hegemonic forms of knowing. By creating and guiding a reader’s vision of the world, the poetic image can destabilize dominant ways of seeing and open up possibilities for new interpretation and understanding in order to cast off imposed epistemologies, and perhaps most importantly, lead towards political action. I argue that the concept of poetic knowledge is both a powerful locus for understanding the complex and interconnected issues that animate each of these thinker’s works as well as an access point for elaborating upon theoretical connections among thinkers of the Global South. Ultimately, I conclude that poetic knowledge conceptually allows Bennīs, Khaṭibī, and Césaire to unpack the disruptive force of the poetic image in a way that seriously connects aesthetic experience to various possibilities of liberation.
  • Famous Moroccan writer, Mohamed Choukri, is one of the most controversial contemporary writers in the Arabic-speaking world. At first seen as pornography, only to be reevaluated as social criticism, his oeuvre continues to spark tremendous international public debate and get professors who choose to include him in their curriculum fired. One powerful aspect of his prose is his atheist stance in a culture where the religious echelon and conservative Muslims find open atheism offensive to religious-based morality. Yet, Choukri’s atheism has been neglected by academic studies. In this paper, I argue that Choukri attacks the idea that religion (and god) is the source of human morality. His literary work galvanizes the creation of a personal morality derived from critical thinking, empathy, and a sense of justice and equality in human experience. I provide an analysis of three aspects of the atheist morality that permeate Choukri’s oeuvre, which I call pre-Islamic, non-Islamic, and anti-Islamic poetics, or literary devices that place the narrator before, outside, and in opposition to Islam. I argue that Choukri’s atheist morality explains the continuous outrage against his work among the religious establishment and vocal conservative Muslims, rather than simply explicit scenes of sex and poverty in his writing, as has been alleged. Revealing Choukri’s atheist morality is important for two reasons. First, it shows his own understanding of his worldview and his resistance to be mislabeled as a Muslim believer. Second, it shows the evolution in the public proclamation of atheism: from a subtler, poetic form in Choukri’s case to the open public atheism we see in North African and other Arabic-speaking countries since the 2011 uprisings.