Sunday, March 11, 2012

Waciny Laredj - Arab Spring - 1001 Nights

Algerian writer Waciny Laredj ( has a new novel based in part on a critique of dictatorships and on the 1001 Nights.  Thanks to Irfan for passing this along.  Not sure why his name is spelled Laredj in most English transliteration I've seen, the article below has his name as "al-A'raj," which is closer to the Arabic.

Entire article on the conference mentioned below:

"Wasini al-A’raj, the prominent Algerian novelist and university professor, began his lecture by reminding the audience that political discourse is something ephemeral and goes with the wind, but the literary discourse, when genuine, will become a part of the individual memory, and eventually, the collective memory. According to him, the Tunisian Revolution paved the way for other Arab Revolutions and gave literature the opportunity “to express itself.” He raised the following question: “Is literature a reaction or an echo of the revolution, or is the writer just a bearer of a situation and a bearer of a conception?” Al-A’raj suggested that writing is the “soft element” that gives value to humanity. By “soft element,” he meant the writing about the Arab Revolutions without divinisation or glorification or the introduction of a superman. He called on writers to depict an ordinary protagonist, one who gives value to humanity and nobleness. He encouraged writers to express that which others do not, and to be rebels in an exceptional situation. “Now everyone speaks about the revolution,” said al-A’raj, “but nobleness is to say something that the others do not say. Besides, the space of democracy is of paramount importance in boosting the literary work, but the writer must not wait until he/she will be provided with such a space.”

In remembering recent Algerian history, al-A’raj questioned the reason behind the victimisation of about two hundred thousand persons in the nineties. He stated that writers at that time fell under two categories: Those that went hand in hand with the authority, and those that assumed its responsibility. He added, “I wrote the novel Sayyidat al-maqam: Marthiyyat al-yawm al-hazin (Mistress of the Shrine: Elegies for a Sad Day, 1995) to express myself within literature and not inside politics. In my novel Jumlukiyat Arabia (Reponarchy of Arabia), I conversed with authoritarianism and made Dinazade say things that Shahryar did not want to listen to.” Jumlukiyat is a coined term that combines jumhouria, meaning republic, and muloukiat, meaning kingdom.

What is striking about Jumlukiyat Arabia is that it is a parody of One Thousand and One Nights. Wasini al-A’raj’s work dives deeply into the realms of the oriental despotism through the depiction of the Arab dictator in all his facets, through a highly sophisticated artistic and fictional style that draws upon One Thousand and one Nights. The novel essentially gives a powerful voice to women and the marginalized, while denouncing the one-sided vision of the dictator, portraying him as a person who is inept and weak."

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