Edinburgh World Writers' Conference http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org The website for the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 Favourite Themes: The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/favourite-themes-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/favourite-themes-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:57:50 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5597 Favourite Themes: The Future of the Novel Highlights from what became one of the most popular themes of the Conference, The Future of the Novel, are collected together for you]]> WILL THE NOVEL REMAIN WRITERS’ FAVOURITE NARRATIVE FORM?

Has the dominant literary form of the 19th and 20th centuries grown stale? Is it no longer the best means of delivering stories in the 21st century? Or does the classic literary novel remain the form best placed to deliver innovative, memorable writing? The Conference events under this theme shed light on the questions surrounding the future of that narrative form known as “the novel”.

Some of the highlights from what became one of the most popular themes of the Conference, The Future of the Novel, can be found below:

China Miéville spoke in Edinburgh and Toronto on The Future of the Novel

Tibor Fischer & Konstantin Milchin spoke in Krasnoyarsk, Russia on The Future of the Novel

Li Er spoke in Beijing on The Future of the Novel

Denise Mina spoke in Lisbon on The Future of the Novel

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On: The Future of the Novel – Kirsty Gunn looks back at a year of the EWWC http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/on-the-future-of-the-novel-kirsty-gunn-looks-back-at-a-year-of-the-ewwc/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/on-the-future-of-the-novel-kirsty-gunn-looks-back-at-a-year-of-the-ewwc/#comments Fri, 11 Oct 2013 15:06:15 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5579 6-gunnkWhen I spoke at the end of the last session of the Conference in Edinburgh last year, by way of a sort of summary, I quoted those wonderful lines of Stephen Spender, that were published in Angela Bartie Eleanor Bell’s 2012 book about the original writer’s conference in 1962.

“I am not saying this maliciously at all” Spender said, refuting ideas that had been put about by Alexander Trocchi and others that the novel was finished with, “but everything that has been said was said in1905. It led to a completely dead end.” He went on to make a call for belief in the future of the novel, for its health and wellbeing. “The history of modern literature since 1914-1920 or so is the attempt to recover from this point of view” he finished with, fragmentation would glue itself up together and become the new.

This year, in Melbourne, addressing the same subject, but in a lecture this time, I talked about the idea of finding, in the novel, new ways to read, of attending to new approaches in fiction, being responsive and welcoming to new ideas of form. Without new forms, I said, no matter how forward looking its content, the genre will always cast itself back into the past.

I thought about both those conferences, opening and closing an extraordinary year of international literary debate, when I read this by Nabokov recently: When people ask me about me if I’m interested in the future of the novel, he said, I tell them that I am interested in the future of MY novel. When I read that – twice –  I laughed out loud! How I wish I had had that line playing around in my mind for the past twelve months, while the world Writers Conference conversation has been playing around the world…

Because really, of course, what all we writers have been doing throughout this most interesting initiative that has got us talking with each other and agreeing and disagreeing… Is describing, not ‘the novel “– but OUR novels. There’s nothing abstract whatsoever about the concept. Whether the novel is this kind of book or that, these kinds of words or those kinds of words…Fiction to a fiction writer is nothing like an idea, a theory, an extension of the imagination. It’s a made up thing that is real. It’s the stuff of our lives.

That’s why the debates became so heated sometimes. It was like a group of farmers arguing how they are going to divide up a field. Graze. Grain. All of us had different opinions. I say racehorses. I say potatoes. We had been differently educated, differently formed, with different skill sets, philosophies. For every field of wild flowers there was one of cash cows. Vineyards. Chickens. None of us were going to walk away.

The argument I presented in my lecture in Melbourne was very clear about what I wanted – and some thought it was interesting and some thought it was arcane and snobbish and out of touch. One writer, in Edinburgh, the year before, had told me that I may as well go and sit on the top of a mountain – that was how out of touch my thinking about the novel was, when I put the case for it being a form of art.

But that’s because that writer who makes money from his books, and has entered into a contract to make money from the books, has a market to attend to, and I don’t have anyone to attend to apart from myself. So yes, I may as well be on my own, I suppose, on some remote hill. But that’s ok, too. It’s all of it just a matter of perspective – and no one’s saying that I wouldn’t like people to buy my books any more than I would say that this writer or that doesn’t care about the quality of his writing or doesn’t want to write something that’s absolutely perfect and beautifully done.

We all care about what we do. We just care about different things. The truly wonderful thing about this year of debate and thinking about the novel has been reminding ourselves that we care so much, that we’re fully invested in our work of putting down words before us – whether or not the financial and cultural reward is there. It has been a mirror – this conference…And there we are, we writers, stuck at our desks on our own for most of the time, “typing” as Will Self puts it….Suddenly there we all are reflected in it.

It’s been a lot of fun seeing each other look back at ourselves, shouting and laughing and being cross and being delighted. None of this, this worldwide event, has been notional; we’ve not been talking about what’s made up, posited, invented.  The mirror has reminded us of that. That what we do, this living for most of the time in our imaginations…Is real.

Copyright: Kirsty Gunn, October 10 2013

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Favourite Themes: A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/favourite-themes-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/favourite-themes-a-national-literature/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 13:20:32 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5564 Favourite Themes: A National Literature Highlights from what became one of the most popular themes of the Conference, A National Literature, are collected together for you]]> NATIONALITY AND IDENTITY IN THE NOVEL TODAY

Since the first Edinburgh Writers’ Conference in 1962, there has been a renaissance in Scottish literature, bringing the voices of Scottish people of different backgrounds into ground-breaking novels by writers such as James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, Janice Galloway and A L Kennedy among many others. Over the past year, the Edinburgh World Writers Conference has asked the question: have there been similarly powerful developments in the ‘national literatures’ of other countries? The answer is yes.

Some of the highlights from what became one of the most popular themes of the Conference, A National Literature, can be found below:

Irvine Welsh spoke in Edinburgh on Nationality and Identity in the Novel Today

Anjali Joseph spoke in Cape Town on A national literature: reading and writing across boundaries

Sema Kaygusuz spoke in Izmir with a response by Panos Karnezis on A National Literature

Marlon James spoke in Trinidad and Tobago on A National Literature



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EWWC Highlights Film http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:43:51 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5435 EWWC Highlights Film Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the festival throughout the past year]]> Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the EWWC festival throughout the past year, and read more about the Conference on our About the Conference page. ]]> http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/feed/ 0 What’s the best thing about EWWC? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/edinburgh-presentations/whats-the-best-thing-about-ewwc/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/edinburgh-presentations/whats-the-best-thing-about-ewwc/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:32:17 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5431 What's the best thing about EWWC? Hear from writers and participants about what the EWWC means to them ]]> Hear from writers and participants about what the EWWC means to them

Recorded at Edinburgh Book Festival 2013

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Al-Barghouti in Egypt – Keynote on Should Literature Be Political? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/al-barghouti-in-egypt-keynote-on-should-literature-be-political/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/al-barghouti-in-egypt-keynote-on-should-literature-be-political/#comments Sat, 07 Sep 2013 11:57:11 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5067 Tamim_Al_BarghoutiShould Literature Be Political?

Keynote address by Tamim Al-Barghouti (translated by Adam Talib)


Previously scheduled to be presented at the Edinburgh World Writers Conference, Cairo 8-9 December 2012. The Conference was cancelled at late notice in consideration of the events in Cairo at that time.

 Tamim Al-Barghouti Keynote

“Poetry and Politics”

(Original Arabic text below)

Poetry is a form of language, which itself is the product of a given community. The history of a community is a combination of its current state, as well as its past and future. This history records the community’s times of war and peace, and is itself a conflict between the way a community sees itself and the way it is seen by others. Poetry, though, is itself a means of regaining control over how we name things. A poet might for example choose to call death ‘martyrdom’, or anger ‘love’, or fire ‘a tree’, or the sun ‘a gazelle’. I call my country Palestine; my opponents call it Israel. I refer to the rebellion of my people as a resistance; my opponents call it terrorism. I call those who are killed by airstrikes martyrs; my opponents either say, ‘they had it coming’ or ‘that’s collateral damage’. I agree with those who say that poets usually try to steer clear of topics like these, and I swear to you I’ve tried to steer clear of the the airstrikes, but they won’t leave me alone. We tried writing about what’s on the inside, but it didn’t take us long to discover that even in our hearts, there are tanks and jets and children under siege, grandmothers stranded at border posts, families with no hope of reunion—or at least not until the global balance of power shifts somehow. We decided to try our hand at singing and we realised that if we imitated those who invaded and occupied our lands and learnt to sing Opera, our rulers would borrow money to build a monumental Opera house for us to sing in, except no one we knew would turn up. Then when the ruler found he couldn’t afford the interest on the loans he’d taken out to build the building, the whole country would be taken over, occupied. But then when it’s time to recite our folk epics like The Saga of Bani Hilal, or The Hero of Hashim, they get recited in coffeehouses and village squares. Millions of people know the lyrics to these epics by heart but no one pays any attention when one of the famous epic-reciters dies and if you want to know why a reciter of epics has to sit on a wooden chair in a coffeehouse while the audience at the opera house luxuriate in cushioned seats, remember what Ibn Khaldun said: ‘The oppressed love nothing more than imitating their oppressors.’ This brings us back to the shifting balance of power—and to politics—whether we like it or not.

I was born in 1977. I hadn’t yet turned five-months old when the Egyptian authorities ordered my father to leave Egypt. Anwar Sadat had decided to make peace with Israel so he ordered everyone in Egypt associated with the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) to get out and he ordered the closure of the PLO media bureau where my father worked. My father finally settled—after stints in Baghdad and Beirut—in Budapest, and the only time our family could be together was during summer holidays. At my Hungarian kindergarten, the teacher insisted that my name, Tamim, was the Arabic version of the name Tamás (Hungarian for Thomas) or other European varieties of the same, and my parents were unable to convince her that the name Tamim is actually the name of an old Arab tribe and not a derivation of Thomas or Tamás. Later when I was old enough to read, I learnt that Tamás, or Thomas, is the Greek version—adopted via Latin into other European languages—of the Hebrew name T’oma. T’oma in Hebrew means twin; that is, one of two children born in a single pregnancy. By definition, one cannot be a twin unless one has a twin sibling; a twin needs another person in order to be itself. Historically, Arabs thought of twins as deficient, or weak, because they grew in the womb alongside someone else. Consider, for example, the verse by the pre-Islamic poet ʿAntara b. Shaddād al-ʿAbsī:

What a hero! His clothes cling as though wrapped ‘round a tree,
his feet are encased in softest leather. No lowly twin is he!

My name, on the other hand, is Tamim. He who ‘completes completely’ from the verb tamma (‘to complete, finish’). It’s an exaggerated form of the active participle ‘completer’, as if to say Tamim is ‘extra-complete’. Thus in reality my teacher was insisting that my name means the opposite of what it actually means. She was a good person, and well intentioned, but imperialism, which forcefully installed itself as the teacher and guardian of all conquered peoples, deliberately changed our names. Imperialism transformed us from a whole people into a nation of twins, each in need of a sibling who’s nowhere to be found. The Arabic language bears this out: we don’t call the people living between the borders that the invaders drew for us nations, we call them peoples, a word that comes from an Arabic root meaning ‘to branch out’. For us, these peoples are like branches split off from the whole. At the beginning of the last century, the generals overseeing the foreign occupation drew some lines on a map, which they called nations, and in turn they expected us to call them our countries. But the truth is that they’re nothing more than oil companies with massive security apparatuses plus some flags, and anthems, and a border patrol. The armies, police forces, and rulers in these places are just middle-men who mediate between us and the world powers who drew these borders. We didn’t choose these borders, or these names, or these instutitions. And like any occupation, or tyranny, the system isn’t complete unless it penetrates the imagination of the subject, and even though our nation was indeed occupied by others, they never succeeded in colonising our imaginations entirely. They may have divided up the ground beneath our feet, but they could never split up the language we share. Arabic poetry is still Arabic poetry. It’s not Kuwaiti poetry or Jordanian or Libyan. This unity of language reflects a unified imagination, and that in itself—no matter what a given poem is about—makes it a political act, an act of resistance.

It’s been said that poetry in standard Arabic is pan-Arab, whereas poetry in colloquial Arabic is national and confined to national borders, but this doesn’t begin to explain how three of the most important Egyptian colloquial poets: Bayram al-Tunisi, Fouad Haddad, and Salah Jahin all had non-Egyptian backgrounds. If you look at the way they express themselves, you’ll see there’s nothing Pharaonic to it. Their colloquial poetry is Arabic in the same way that the Epic of Bani Hilal is Arabic. What makes them Egyptian is what makes them Arab.

Arabic poetry, like other varieties of world poetry, is connected to the rise of an imagined community. The nomadic Arabs couldn’t know every member of their own tribes personally so they had to devise a symbolic system in order to link all the members of their tribe together. And while city dwellers in the ancient world could feel at home in their cities, imagining the roads, temples, and state institutions that bound them together, Arab bedouin who were constantly moving camp couldn’t exactly build temples and roads or foster a sense of identity centred around place. The classical Arabic poem, the Qasidah, tells the story of the tribe: their lineage, the achievements of their knights, where they found water, the dates on which they fought their battles, the moral principles by which they lived, etc. and being part of the tribe meant memorising these poems of praise and belonging. If a tribe were to leave a place, there would be no trace of its having been there except for what the poets recorded. And the sons of a tribe could never be true sons of the tribe unless they imagined themselves to be so. The Qasidah was one way of binding the individual to the community, and individuals to other individuals, and two people to a third, and three to a fourth. The poem, therefore, itself created a community in the political sense.

Moreover, Arabs were in the habit of turning eloquent lines of poetry into proverbs; folk wisdom with moral authority, which could be applied to situations other than the one which prompted it. The implicit belief operating here is that something that is well said must be true. The eloquence of an expression is an indication of its veracity and the moral authority implicit in it. The poet Abu Tammam went so far as to mock people for the extravagant powers they granted to eloquent poetry, while at the same time boasting about it, in a verse praising his own poetry:

They say it’s wise, though it’s really a joke.
They do its bidding, though it becomes their yoke.

A poem’s eloquence didn’t just give it credibility, and moral weight, it also helped poetry circulate and gain fame among the tribes, elevating both the poet’s reputation and that of his tribe. In the pre-Islamic period, whenever a poet’s line of verse was made into a proverb, he and his tribe got a boost in the societal hierarchy of the Arabian Peninsula, provoking the envy of the other tribes.

This habit of mind made its way into mediaeval Islamic philosophy. According to Muslim belief, the Quran’s eloquence gives it its credibility, and it is this eloquence that makes it inimitable, unique. This inimitability, in turn, is proof that it is a divinely authored text. It is also, therefore, the foundation of its moral and political authority. The Quran is divinely authored because it’s eloquent. And because it’s a divinely authored text it should be respected and all governments should derive their political legitimacy from one interpretation of it or other. Just as the poem, the Qasidah, created the tribe, the Quran created a community of believers: a tribe of individuals who memorized a text in rhymed prose that told the story of a specific community, detailing their attributes, values, and culture, and thus their political life.

Ever since the pre-Islamic period, Arabic poetry has been linked to the way the community defines itself. When the community regarded itself as a tribe, poets were tribal poets. And then when the community became a caliphate, and after that a collection of kingdoms, poets were called court poets. In the modern period when the community began to call itself a nation and a people, poets became known as poets of the people, or national poets. After the collapse of the Pan-Arab movement in the late 1960s and up until the late 1990s, as communal cohesion gave way to self-interested individualism, poets sang only of the self. This was the period that saw the rise of literary theories claiming that poetry is the expression of personal freedom, totally divorced from communal authority; that comprehensible language is produced by the community and that a poet’s dependence on it hobbles his creativity and by giving into the community he constrains his freedom; that a poet must invent his own language, which hardly anyone other than him or those like him can understand. Poems intended to be incomprehensible to most everyone were all the rage, but the aloof and gloomy poets who wrote them were simply reflecting the attitude of society at large by running away; they belonged whether they knew it or not. Then, from the 1990s on, and especially in the period of successive American wars on Iraq, whose victims during the sanctions regime from 1991 to 2003 totalled more than one million people—more than half of whom were children according to UNICEF estimates—as well as more than a million people who died as a result of the American invasion and the subsequent civil war that raged from 2003 to 2011, from that period on, there has been, I believe, a growing trend among Arab writers toward isolation,  grief, and depression. Although inventing a language that no one else can understand is a luxury we cannot afford. Rather—in order to survive—we desperately need to muster strength from any and all sources, and our cultural heritage is one of them; it bears weight, it does not burden.

Imperialist control over the affairs of Arab countries is the greatest threat to the Arabic language today—to its use and the feeling of belonging it engenders—and poetry is under threat because it is the densest form of the language. The language was never divided up like the land and that’s why a poem written by Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi could be turned into a chant in Tunisia and be echoed in Yemen and a poem written by Badr Shakir al-Sayyab in Iraq could be repeated in Egypt and The Saga of Bani Hilal as told in Upper Egypt could come to be told in southern Tunisia. What’s more, most colloquial poetry, which one would have expected to participate in creating national identities, canonizing these tiny states, which had been given borders and governments by the invaders, actually ridiculed these identities. The Saga of Bani Hilal, by far the greatest work of colloquial poetry in Egypt, links Egypt to a cultural sphere that stretches from the Caspian Sea to Tunisia. The epic recounts the history of the Bani Hilal tribe, some of whom live in Upper Egypt today: their origins in Najd (in the Arabian Peninsula), the marriage of their hero to Naʿisa daughter of Zayd al-ʿAjjaj, king of Persia, and their journey westward to Tunisia to take revenge against the ruler there, himself of Yemeni origin, who had mistreated their uncles from the Hijaz (also in the Arabian Peninsula). In the modern era, when the cultural flank of the Egyptian nationalist movement—led by the Wafd party, which is now no more than a shell of its former self—was championing Egypt’s ancient pharaonic heritage to the exclusion of everything else and the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities was being built along European lines—don’t forget of course that Egypt’s rulers had been hellbent on making the country into a slice of Europe ever since the mid-eighteenth century—it was Bayram al-Tunisi, one of the great Egyptian colloquial poets of the first half of the 20th century, who ridiculed the government’s entire project. Ahmad Shawqi’s poems in standard Arabic and Bayram al-Tunisi’s in the colloquial in praise of the Ottoman army during the First World War defied, and even threatened, the authority of the Sultan of Egypt, who had been appointed by the British after they’d made the country a protectorate in 1914.

Therefore, Arabic poetry, whether in standard Arabic or colloquial, is a threat to the current structure of power in Arab countries simply by virtue of its existence. It is the voice of the people, and the people are, by definition, the body politic.

Poetry also affects the imagination, however, and rulers exist only in the imagination of those whom they rule. If enough people decide that their ruler is actually a vegetable peddler, he’ll have no choice but to take his cart to the market the very next day. The only power a ruler actually has can be covered by a shirt and trousers; everything else comes from the obedience of others. They will only obey him if they imagine that it is their duty to obey, whether motivated by dread or delight. And of course these notions—dread and delight—are themselves products of the imagination. Words give the imagination form, and if poetry is words best expressed, then it is better able to shape the imagination than any other form of expression, and is therefore a ruler’s greatest threat.

The modern governance of Arab states began with Napoleon’s occupation of Cairo and ended with George Bush’s occupation of Baghdad. These modern states—with borders, bureaucracies, police forces, militaries, and economic policies imposed on them by others—have failed. They have failed to achieve the most important mission for which states are founded: to protect their people. What we have now is the occupation of Iraq and Palestine, the presence of American military forces in the Gulf, and in all the other nominally independent Arab countries abject economic, political, and military subservience. There was a time during the Cold War when Arabs thought there was a chance they could succeed by following a non-colonialist European model of government–the model proposed by the socialist camp in its many guises—but the defeat of 1967 and the catastrophes that followed all the way up to the occupation of Iraq, drove people to give up the idea of taking control of the state. Rather they began to build an alternative state: one without borders or bureaucracy, without a externally dictated economic system, free from international law and military transparency. Since the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, we in the Arab world have seen numerous examples of non-governmental organization: groups that engage in defence and policing, that provide health services and education, that run media networks, and that even carry out foreign relations, with little regard for the government. They don’t aim to seize control of state institutions; they simply carry on as if those institutions didn’t exist.

The Lebanese resistance fought without the army and the first Intifada set up local councils in Palestinian townships without any institutional structure resembling a state. During the Tunisian Revolution, the people of Tunisia were able to organise themselves outside the governmental framework and protected their neighborhoods when they were attacked by Ben Ali’s thugs after the fall of his regime.

In Egypt, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces itself acknowledged that twenty million Egyptians took part in the demonstrations and sit-ins that gripped the country from January 25th to February 11th. The people who were gathered together in Egypt’s squares practiced medicine without any Ministry of Health, covered the news without any Ministry of Information, protected themselves without any Ministry of the Interior, defended themselves during the Battle of the Camel without the army, and negotiated with Mubarak’s collapsing government without any ambassadors or Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Egyptian society carried on for several months despite the complete absence of the police, and  in fact the Ministry of the Interior’s support of this complete and criminal withdrawal was an attack on that society. The police forces were the main driver of the crime wave and still the society managed to stick together. The people made do with an unwritten constitution and instinctive laws and they triumphed.

Poetry is political in the same way that those people were politicians. They managed to pursue a politics more beautiful and more successful than anything they’d been offered by the modern state with its colonial pedigree. This was thanks to the way they spoke to one another and the way they imagined themselves to be a cohesive unit. The only leaders of the revolution were the people’s demands, their thoughts, their imagination. The people followed their imagination; an image of themselves they’d dreamt up and decided they wanted to be.

A nation, ummah in Arabic, is nothing more than a group of people who follow a leader, an imam, and in Arabic an imam can be a person, a book, or an ideal. In fact, the tool that builders use to measure a building’s centre of gravity, the plumb-line, is also called imam in Arabic. Furthermore, the nation, the ummah, is itself an imam; it is its own leader. The nation pursues its own idealized, imagined notion of itself. In Arabic, a nation (ummah) can consist of a single individual. If someone has an image of his or her self that they decide they want to live up to, then that individual becomes a nation and its own leader.

That’s why the verb amma, the root of the word ummah (‘nation’), is one of those linguistic contradictions in Arabic: it means to lead and to follow. If you say ‘amamtu so-and-so’, it either means you led someone in prayer or you went toward someone, as though they were a target. It’s a verb of movement and it’s no accident that the verb ‘to head toward’ should be the origin of the word ‘nation’ (ummah) just as another verb meaning ‘to head toward’ (qasada) gives us the origin of the word for poem, qasidah. A poem, a qasidah, is an ideal image of the world as imagined by society. If they head toward it, they will become it. By this logic, the people gathered in Tahrir Square wrote a poem and were themselves its verses. They brought into reality on the ground an imaginary, idealized image of themselves and turned the imaginary into politics, power, and authority. They were a nation who challenged the state, poured out from it and overwhelmed it. But of course this wasn’t anything new. As I said before, the ruler only exists in the imagination of those who are ruled. When enough people had decided that Hosni Mubarak was no longer their ruler, and that the leader that should take his place was in fact this idealised, imaginary vision of society, and that every individual was responsible for making sure that they were behaving in such a way as to accord with this vision, Hosni Mubarak fell and the idealised vision took over. The dictator fell and the nation rose; the state fell and the poem ruled.

The party politics we see today is a step backward. People have given up on the ideal vision of politics in the hopes of getting their hands on those same state institutions, which the colonial regimes established. Today a given party or a given president is prepared to defy the will of the people—defy the sovereignty of the people as encapsulated in that ideal vision—in exchange for control of the legal authority of the modern state as established by Lord Cromer. This person would prefer for the people to obey him—not because he resembles the ideal in their imagination—but because the founding documents, which Lord Cromer drafted for them and were approved by all the puppet rulers who followed, say they should. Because the UN and the US and some judges and some army generals say he’s the president.

Turning away from the ideal vision—or in other words, abandoning the leader (imam)—has broken the rhythm of the collective poem and this has dire consequences. A poet, or an experienced listener, notices a break in the rhythm straightaway, and though it may take a poetry novice slightly longer to notice the interruption, the ruler will realize sooner or later that the true source of power is the people’s imagination. Document and laws and constitutions are nothing more than a means of persuasion; a pointless means of persuasion. And if he should abandon his leader, i.e. the vision set down by the people, the ideal upon which they built their expectations, he will lose his power over them sooner or later.

A love poem by a Palestinian poet in standard Arabic may not seem like it’s political, but it joins with thousands of other images, imaginings, reports, and visions, to create a sense of Palestine in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria. It helps to shape—alongside other creations—Egyptians’ conception of what power should be, of what is meant by war and peace and justice. This notion, if it grows and matures, and if it attains self-confidence and esprit de corps, soon becomes feet on the ground, tearing down thrones and putting up new ones.

Copyright: Tamim Al-Barghouti, 2012

الشعر والسياسة

تميم البرغوثي

الشعر لغة واللغة صنع الجماعة، وحال الجماعة وماضيها ومستقبلها معا تاريخها، وتاريخها سجلّ حربها وسلامها، والصراع بين تعريفها لنفسها وتعريف الآخرين لها. والشعر استعادةللسيادة على الأسماء، كتسميتك الموت استشهاداً والغضب حباً، والنار شجرة، والشمس غزالة.  أنا أُسَمِّي بلادي فلسطين وخصمي يسميها إسرائيل، أنا أُسَمِّي تمرد أهلي مقاومة وخصمي يسميه إرهابا، وأنا أسمي موتهم تحت القصف استشهادا وخصمي يسميه عقاباً عادلاً أو أضراراً جانبية، ومن يقل إن الشعر في العادة يبتعد عن هذا كله، أوافقه، ولكن حاولت والله أن أبتعد عن القصف فلم يبتعد القصف عني. وحاولنا أن نكتب عن دواخل أنفسنا فوجدنا في قلوبنا دبابات وطائرات وأطفالاً محاصرين وجدات يهنَّ على الحدود وعائلات لا تلتئم حتى يتغير ميزان القوة على الكوكب، حاولنا أن نغني فوجدنا أننا إذا قلدنا غزاتنا وتعلمنا منهم فن الأوبرا فإن والينا يستدين ويبني لنا داراً فخمة نغني فيها ولا يحضر إليها أحد من أهلنا، ثم يقع البلد كله تحت الاحتلال لأن الوالي لم يستطع تسديد فوائد الدين، أما إذا غنينا ملاحمنا الشعبية وسير بني هلال أو مقاتل بني هاشم فإننا نغنيها في المقاهي والقرى، ويحفظ الملايين أغانينها، ولكن يموت حافظو هذه الملاحم  ولا يلتفت إليهم، فإذا سألنا عن سبب الفرق بين مقعد راوي السيرة الخشبي، ومقعد الأوبرا الوثير، قال لنا ابن خلدون: “إن المغلوب مولع بتقليد الغالب”، فردَّنا راغمين إلى ميزان القوة المائل، وإلى السياسة.

ولدت في عام 1977، وقبل أن أكمل الشهور الخمسة كانت السلطات المصرية تطلب من والدي مغادرة البلاد. كان أنور السادات قد قرر أن يسالم إسرائيل فأمر بترحيل كل من كان له علاقة بمنظمة التحرير الفلسطينية في مصر وإغلاق دار إذاعتها حيث كان الوالد يعمل.استقر بأبي الترحال، بعد بغداد وبيروت، في بودابست، عاصمة المجر، وكان شمل الأسرة يلتئم في الإجازة الصيفية. كانت مدرستي في دار الحضانة المجرية تصر على أن اسم تميم هو تعريب لاسم تماش أو توماس بالمجرية وغيرها من اللغات الأروبية، ولم ينجح الوالدان في إقناعها بأن اسم تميم هو اسم قبيلة عربية قديمة غير مشتق من توماس أو تماش. وحين أصبحت في سن القراءة، عرفت أن تماش أو توماس هو النطق اليوناني ثم اللاتيني ثم الأوروبي عموماً لاسم توما العبري. وتوما بالعبرية تعني التوأم، والتوأم اسم يطلق على أحد أخوين يولدان من حمل واحد، فإن لم يكن للتوأم أخ فهو ليس بتوأم، فهو محتاج إلى آخر ليكون نفسه، وعند العرب كان التوأم يظن ناقصاً أو ضعيفاً لأن غيره يشاركه الرحم، وفي معلقة عنترة بن شداد العبسي يصف رجلاً قوياً قال: “بَطَلٌ كَأَنَّ ثِيَابَهُ فِي سَرْحَةٍ…يُحْذَى نِعَالَ السِّبتِ لَيْسَ بِتَوْأَمِ”. أما اسمي فتميم، وهو من تمَّ تماماً، أي كَمُلَ كمالاً، وهو صيغة مبالغة على وزن فعيل، فكأنه الشديد التمام. إن السيدة كانت تصر في ترجمتها اسمي على تغيير معناه إلى العكس منه تماماً. ومدرستي كانت طيبة حسنة النية، ولكن الاستعمار الذي أخذ على عاتقه عنوة دور المربي والمعلم للشعوب المغزوة، كان يغير أسماءنا عن عمد، وينقلنا من أمة تامة، إلى شعوب توائم يحتاج كل منها إلى شقيقه ولا يصل إليه. وفي اللغة العربية ما يبين ذلك، فنحن لا نستخدم لفظ الأمة للإشارة إلى سكان الأقطار التي رسم حدودها الغزاة، بل نسميهم شعوباً، والشعب من شَعَبتَهُ فانشعب انشعاباً، أي كسرته فانكسر وانفصل عن بقيته. أقول رسم القادة العسكريون لقوى الاحتلال الأجنبي في أوائل القرن الخطوط على الأرض وسموها دولاً، ثم طلب منا أن نسميها بلادنا، وما هي إلا شركات لبيع النفط وأجهزة أمن متضخمة ركب عليها علم ونشيد وحرس حدود، جيوشها شرطة وحكامها وسطاء بيننا وبين الدول الكبرى التي أنشأتها. نحن لم نختر هذه الحدود ولا هذه الأسماء ولا هذه المؤسسات. وككل احتلال، أو سلطة غاشمة فهي لا تكمل إلا في خيال المحكوم، وإن كان احتلال الآخرين لبلادنا اكتمل فإنهم لم يحتلوا خيالنا كاملاً، وإن كانوا قسموا الأرض، فإنهم لم يستطيعوا تقسيم اللغة. إن الشعر العربي، بقي عربياً ولم ينقسم إلى شعر كويتي وشعر أردني وشعر ليبي. وحدة اللغة هذه انعكاس لوحدة الخيال، وهي في حد ذاتها، وبغض النظر عن موضوع القصيدة، عمل سياسي، وعمل مقاوم.

وقد يقال إن الشعر الفصيح عربي، أما الشعر المكتوب بالدارجة فقُطري، محكوم بحدود لهجته. ولكن هذه المقولة تعجز عن تفسير كون ثلاثة من أهم رواد الشعر العامي المصري مثلاً من أصول غير مصرية، بيرم التونسي وفؤاد حداد وصلاح جاهين، وإذا نظرت إلى محتوى لغتهم وتعبيراتهم لما وجدت من فرعونية مصر شيئاً، وشعرهم العامي هو في عروبة السيرة الهلالية، وعروبتهم من عروبة مصر.

وللشعر العربي، كغيره من أشعار الأمم،  قصة مع خلق الجماعة في الخيال. إن العرب الرحل لم يكونوا قادرين على أن يعرف أحدهم كل أفراد قبيلته، وكان لا بد من منظومة من الرموز يتوحد بها كل فرد من أفراد القبيلة وينتمي إليها، ولما كان ممكنا لأهل المدن من سكان العالم القديم أن ينتموا إلى مدنهم، فيتخيلوا شوارع ومعابد وحكومات يتوحدون بها ومعها ومع أقرانهم من خلالها، لم يكن لدى البدوي العربي المرتحل من مكان لآخر أن يبني معابد وشوارع وأن ينمو لديه إحساس بالهوية قائم على المكان. كانت القصيدة تحكي قصة القبيلة، أنسابها ومآثر فرسانها وموارد مائها وتواريخ قتالها ومراجعها الأخلاقية، وكان الانتماء إلى القبيلة يعني أيضاً حفظ هذه الأشعار والمفاخرة بها والانتماء إليها. وإذا رحلت القبيلة من مكان فلا دليل على مرورها فيه إلا ما يذكره شعراؤها. وإن أبناء القبيلة لا يكونون أبناءها إلا إذا استقر في خيالهم أنهم أبناؤها، والقصيدة كانت وسيلة من وسائل التوحد تلك بين الفرد والجماعة. وبضم الفرد للفرد، والفردين لثالث والثلاثة لرابع، كانت القصيدة إذن تخلق الجماعة خلقاً من الناحية السياسية.

وأكثر من ذلك، إن العرب كانت إذا استحسنت بيتاً تمثلت به، أي جعلته مثلاً سائراً، كلاماً له سلطة أخلاقية، يستخدم كمرجع في مواضع غير تلك التي نشأ فيها.  ويكمن في هذا افتراض معرفي قوامه أن القول إذا حسن فقد صدق، وأن بلاغة القول هي علامة صدقه ومصدر مرجعيته الأخلاقية، حتى أن أبا تمام حبيب بن أوس يسخر من هذه السلطة المفرطة التي يمنحها الناس للشعر البليغ ويفخر بها في آن واحد إذ يقول في مدح شعر له:

“يُرى حِكْمَةً ما فِيهِ وَهْوَ فُكَاهَةٌ…ويُقضَى بما يَقْضِي بِهِ وَهْوَ ظَالِمُ”

إن بلاغة الشعر لم تكن تمنحه سلطة تصديق الناس له وسلطة كونه مرجعية آخلاقية لهم فقط، بل كانت تمنح الشعر سيرورة وشهرة بين القبائل ترتفع بها مكانة الشاعر ومكانة قبيلته، وكلما تُمُثِّلَ بقصيدة شاعر، فإن اسمه واسم قبيلته يكتسب من السمعة السياسية في مجتمع الجزيرة العربية ما قبل الإسلام ما تحسده عليه بقية القبائل.

وقد تسربت هذه الافتراضات المعرفية إلى الفلسفة الإسلامية في العصور الوسيطة، فتبعاً لما يؤمن به المسلمون فإن بلاغة القرآن هي دليل صدقة، وهي مصدر الإعجاز فيه وعلامة كونه نصاً سماوياً، وهي لذلك سبب سلطته الأخلاقة والسياسية. فلأن القرآن بليغ فهو سماوي، ولأنه سماوي فهو واجب الطاعة، وعلى كل نظام سياسي أن يستمد شرعيته السياسة من تأويل ما للقرآن. وكما كانت القصيدة تخلق القبيلة، فإن القرآن كان يخلق الأمة. قبيلة من الناس، يحفظ أفرادها نصاً مسجوعاً يصف المجموع ويحدد ملامحه وقيمه وثقافته، وبالتالي كيانه السياسي.

وقد ارتبط الشعر العربي منذ عصر ما قبل الإسلام بالطريقة التي كانت الجماعة تعرف بها نفسها، فحين كانت الجماعة تسمي نفسها قبيلة، كان الشاعر شاعر قبيلة، وحين سمت نفسها خلافة كان الشاعر شاعر الخليفة، وحين عرفت نفسها بالإمارة أصبح الشاعر شاعر الأمير. وفي العصر الحديث، حين أصبحت الجماعة تسمي نفسها أمة وشعباً صار الشاعر شاعر الأمة والشعب. وحتى حين انهزم المشروع الجماعي للشعب والأمة من أواخر الستينيات إلى أواخر التسعينيات من القرن العشرين، وانفرط عقد الجماعة إلى أفراد منطوين على أنفسهم، أصبح الشاعر شاعر الذات المفردة. وراجت النظريات الأدبية التي ترى أن الشعر ممارسة للحرية الفردية المنفلتة من سلطة الجماعة تماماً، وأن اللغة المفهومة هي من إنتاج الجماعة، والتزام الشاعر بها إنما هو اقتراض يقدح في إبداعه، وخنوع للجماعة يقدح في حريته، فوجب عليه أن يخترع لغته الخاصة التي لا يكاد يفهما إلا هو أو من كان يشبهه، وكثرت القصائد التي لا يفهمها معظم الناس عن قصد. ولكن هؤلاء الشعراء المنعزلين المكتئبين كانوا في هروبهم من الجماعة يعكسون حالتها وينتمون إليها دروا بذلك أم لم يدروا. ثم، ومن التسعينيات فصاعداً، خاصة مع الحروب الأمريكية العراقية المتتالية، والتي كان ضحاياها أكثر من مليون نفس في الحصار بين عامي 1991 و2003 أكثر من نصفهم أطفال حسب تقديرات اليونيسيف، وأكثر من مليون نفس آخرين في الغزو الأمريكي والحرب الأهلية التي تلته من عام 2003 حتى 2011، أقول من هذا الزمن فصاعداً، نَمَى في الأمة تيار يرى أن الانطواء على النفس والحزن والاكتئاب واختراع لغة لا يفهمها أحد ترف لا نملكه، وأننا في حاجة، لكي نعيش، أن نستمد القوة من كل مصادرها، وأن تراثنا مصدر من مصادر هذه القوة وهو سند لنا لا عبء علينا.

إن اللغة العربية اليوم، والشعر أكثر أشكالها تكثيفاً، يهدِّدُ الانتماءُ إليها والتكلُّمُ بها الترتيبَ السياسي الاستعماري لبلاد العرب. إن اللغة لم تقسم كما قسمت الأرض، وهذا خلى شعراً يقوله أبو القاسم الشابي يُهتَفُ به في تونس فيتردد صداه في اليمن، وشعراً يقوله بدر شاكر السياب في العراق يتردد صداه في مصر، وسيرة هلالية تروى في الصعيد تردد في الجنوب التونسي.

بل، لقد كان أكثر الشعر العامي المفترض فيه أن يخلق هويات قطرية تكرس للأوطان الصغيرة التي رسم الغزاة حدودها ولحكوماتها، يسخر من هذه الهويات، فالسيرة الهلالية، أعظم أعمال الشعر الشعبي في مصر بامتياز تربط مصر وأهلها بفضاء ثقافي يمتد من حدود بحر قزوين إلى تونس. في الملحمة يروي بنو هلال الذين يسكن بعضهم صعيد مصر اليوم قصة أصلهم النجدي، وزواج بطلهم من الناعسة بنت زيد العجاجي ملك بلاد الفرس، وتغريبهم إلى أرض تونس ليثأروا من ملكها ذي الأصول اليمنية والذي كان قد ظلم أخوالهم الحجازيين. وفي العصر الحديث، بينما كانت الثقافة الرسمية للحركة الوطنية المصرية التي يقودها حزب الوفد القديم تركز على فرعونية مصر، وبينما كانت السلطات المصرية مولعة منذ منتصف القرن التاسع عشر ببناء مصر تكون قطعة من أوروبا، وبينما كان المتحف المصري يبنى على طراز أوروبي، كان بيرم التونسي أحد أهم مؤسسي شعر العامية المصرية في النصف الأول من القرن العشرين يسخر من مشروع الدولة كله.ومدائح شوقي بالفصحى، وبيرم بالعامية، في الجيش التركي في الحرب العالمية الأولى كانت تناقض وتتحدى تماماً السلطة الناشئة لسلطنة مصر التي عين البريطانيون سلطانها بعد فرض الحماية على البلاد عام 1914. وبيرم يختار في كثير من قصائده عن حرب الأتراك واليونانيين البحر الطويل المغنى على الربابة وهو القالب الذي تبدأ به عادة أبيات السيرة الهلالية التي ذكرناها أعلاه، أطول قصائد الحروب في الوجدان الشعبي المصري. أما فؤاد حداد، ففي دواوينه من نور الخيال وصنع الأجيال في تاريخ القاهرة، والحضرة الزكية ما يغني عن الشرح.وإذا خرجنا من مصر إلى غيرها وجدنا في مواويل الشام والعراق، وشعر الرحبانيين ومسرحياتهم في لبنان، والشعر البدوي في جزيرة العرب واليمن وشرق السودان وفي فن الملحون المغربي ما يربط بين الناس أكثر مما يفرقهم. إن الشعر العربي دارجه وفصيحه اتصال بين الناس، والدول العربية ذات الحدود الاستعمارية انفصال بينهم.

لذلك، فإن الشعر العربي، سواء كان فصيحاً أم دارجاً، مهدَّدٌ للسلطة القائمة في بلادنا بمجرد وجوده، هو كلام الناس، والناس كيان سياسي بالتعريف.

والشعر خيال، والحاكم لا يوجد إلا في خيال المحكوم، ولو قرر عدد كاف من الناس أن حاكمهم بائع خضرة مثلاً فلن يجد بداً في الصباح التالي من جر العربات في الأسواق. لا يملك الحاكم من قوة إلا ما ضم قميصه، وكل قوة أخرى نابعة من طاعة آخرين له، وهؤلاء لا يطيعونه إلا إن كان في خيالهم واجب الطاعة إما لرهبة أو لرغبة، والرهبة والرغبة فكرتان، مكانهما الخيال، والكلام يشكل الخيال، والشعر، إن كان أكفأ الكلام، فهو أكثر تشكيلاً للخيال من غيره من صنوف الخطاب، وأخطر على الحاكم منها.

إن الدولة الحديثة في العالم العربي، بدأت باحتلال نابليون للقاهرة وانتهت إلى احتلال جورج بوش لبغداد، فشلت هذه الدولة الحديثة التي بنيت على حدود وبيروقراطية وجيش وشرطة واقتصاد حددها لها غير أهلها، فشلت في أهم ما تخلق الدول لأجله، الدفاع عن شعوبها، وانتهينا باحتلال العراق وفلسطين، وبوجود قوات أمريكية في الخليج العربي، وبتبعية اقتصادية وسياسية وأمنية في كل الدول العربية الأخرى المستقلة استقلالاً اسمياً. وقد مر بالعرب وقت، أيام الحرب الباردة، ظنوا فيه أن هناك إمكانية للفلاح باتباع نموذج أوروبي غير استعماري للدولة، هو النموذج الذي كان يقدمه المعسكر الاشتراكي بأطيافه المختلفة، لكن هزيمة عام 1967 وما تلاها من كوارث حتى احتلال العراق، أدى إلى عزوف الناس عن محاولة السيطرة على الدولة، بل قاموا ببناء دول بديلة، هي بلا حدود وبلا بيروقراطية، وبلا نظام اقتصادي تابع، متحررة من قيود القانون الدولي، والتبعية الاقتصادية والانكشاف العسكري. ووجدنا في العالم العربي منذ نهايات القرن العشرين وبدايات القرن الحادي والعشرين نماذج للتنظيم خارج الدولة، أناساً يمارسون الدفاع والأمن والصحة والتعليم والإعلام بل والعلاقات الخارجية متجاهلين الدولة، لا يرغبون في السيطرة على أجهزتها بل هم يتعاملون كما لو كانت هذه الأجهزة منعدمة.

إن المقاومة اللبنانية قاتلت خارج الجيش، وإن الانتفاضة الفلسطينية الأولى أقامت إدارات محلية في أحياء البلدات الفلسطينية خارج أي بنية مؤسسية تشبه الدولة، وحين قامت الثورة التونسية إستطاع أهل البلاد أن ينظموا أنفسهم خارج إطار الدولة، وأن يؤمنوا أحياءهم حين هاجمهم بلطجية نظام بن علي بعد سقوطه.

أما في مصر، فقد شهد المجلس العسكري الحاكم أن عشرين مليونا من المصريين شاركوا في المظاهرات والاعتصامات التي عمت البلاد بين 25 يناير و11 فبراير 2011. كان هؤلاء المجتمعون في الميادين يمارسون الطب بلا وزارة صحة، والإعلام بلا وزارة إعلام، والأمن بلا وزارة داخلية، والدفاع، يوم موقعة الجمل، بلا جيش، والمفاوضات مع نظام مبارك الآيل للسقوط بلا سفراء ولا وزارة خارجية. وعاشت البلاد لعدة أشهر في غياب كامل لوزارة الداخلية، بل وهي تتعرض لهجوم من وزارة الداخلية عبر تشجيع الانفلات الجنائي، كانت أجهزة الأمن هي المصدر الأساسي للجريمة، ورغم ذلك حفظ المجتمع تماسكه، تعامل الناس بدستور غير مكتوب وقوانين حدسية، وانتصروا.

أقول إن الشعر سياسي، بقدر ما كان هؤلاء الناس ساسة. لقد أستطاعوا أن يمارسوا سياسية أجمل وأكفأ مما يمكن أن تقدمه لهم الدولة الحديثة ذات الأصل الاستعماري، ولقد كان لكلام أحدهم مع الآخر، والتشكيل الجماعي لخيالهم، الفضل في ذلك. لم يكن للثورة قيادة غير مطالبها، غير أفكارها، غير خيالها، كانوا أناساً يتبعون خيالهم، يتبعون صورة لأنفسهم في خيالهم يريدون أن يكونوها.

 والأمة مجموعة من الناس يتبعون إماماً، والإمام في لسان العرب يكون رجلاً، أو كتاباً، أو مثالاً كائنا ما كان، بل إن الميزان الذي يستخدمه البناؤون لقياس استواء البناء يسمى في اللغة إماماً. وفي اللغة أيضاً، الإمام هو الأمة. أي أن الأمة تتبع نفسها، تتبع صورة نفسها المثالية المتخيلة. والأمة في اللغة ايضاً قد تتكون من رجل واحد، إذا تبع صورة له عن نفسه في خياله وأراد أن يكونها فقد أصبح أمة ذاته وإمام نفسه.

لذلك فإن فعل الأَمّ، وهو الأصل اللغوي لكلمة الأمة، هو من الأضداد في اللغة، فهو يعني القيادة والاتباع، تقول أممت فلانا، أي كنت إمامه فتبعني كما في الصلاة، أو كان هو وجهتي ومقصدي فذهبت إليه كقولك أممت البيت أو القِبلة. وفعل الأَمّ، هو فعل القَصْد، وليس من قبيل المصادفة أن الأَمّ وهو أصل الأمة، مرادف للقصد، وهو أصل القصيدة. إن القصيدة صورة مثالية عن الناس في خيال الناس،  إذا تبعوها فقد كانوها، وبهذا المعنى فإن المجتمعين في ميدان التحرير كتبوا قصيدة هم أبياتها، فقد حققوا على الأرض صورة مثالية خيالية عن أنفسهم، وجعلوا الخيال سياسة وسلطة وحكماً، كانوا أمة تتحدى الدولة وتفيض عنها وتتجاوزها. وليس هذا بدعاً، فكما قلت من قبل الحاكم لا يكون إلا في خيال المحكوم، فحين كان ثمة عدد كاف من الناس يرى أن حسني مبارك لم يعد حاكمه، وأن الإمام الذي يحل محله هو هذه الصورة المثالية الخيالية وأن على الفرد منهم أن يحدد سلوكه بناء على توافق هذا السلوك مع الصورة الخيالية تلك، سقط حسني مبارك وحكمت تلك الصورة المثالية، سقط المستبد وحكمت الأمة، سقطت الدولة، وحكمت القصيدة.

 إن ما يجري اليوم من سياسة الأحزاب، هو عودة إلى الوراء، فقد تم التخلي عن هذه الصورة المثالية للسياسة طمعاً في السيطرة على مؤسسات الدولة التي بناها الاستعمار. أعني أن حزباً ما أو رئيساً ما أصبح مستعداً أن يأتي من الأفعال ما يفقده الإقرار الشعبي، الشرعية الشعبية الصادرة عن هذه الصورة المثالية، مقابل حصوله على الشرعية القانونية للدولة الحديثة التي بناها  اللورد كرومر. أي أن فلاناً يفضل أن يطيعه الناس، لا لأن سلوكه يقترب من الصورة المثالية التي في خيالهم، بل لأن الأوراق التي كتبها لهم  اللورد كرومر، ومن بعده حكام البلاد تباعاً تقول لهم أن يطيعوه، لأن الأمم المتحدة والولايات المتحدة ومجموعة من القضاة ومجموعة من الضباط تعترف به كرئيس.

إن الخروجَ من الصورة المثالية، أي الخروجَ على الإمام، كَسْرَ وزن القصيدة الجماعية، له عواقبُ وخيمة، وقد يدرك الشاعر أو السامع المتمرس الكسر الطفيف أو الزحاف مبكراً، وقد يأخذ غير المتمرس وقتاً أطول في كشفه، ولكن سيعلم الحاكم عاجلاً أو آجلاً، أن مصدر السلطة الحقيقي هو خيال الناس، وأن الورق والقوانين والدساتير ليست إلا وسائل إقناع، وأنها وسائل إقناع غير ناجعة، وأنه إن خرج على إمامه، أي خرج على المثال الذي وضعه له الناس وبنوا عليه توقعاتهم منه، فإنه سيفقد سلطته عليهم عاجلاً أم آجلاً.

قد  لا توحي قصيدة حب يكتبها شاعر فلسطيني بالعربية الفصحى بأنها قصيدة سياسية، لكنها تساهم، مع ألاف الصور والخيالات والأخبار والأمثال، في خلق عاطفة ما في مصر والمغرب ولبنان وسوريا عن فلسطين، وتدخل مع غيرها في تكوين خيال المصريين عما يجب أن تكون عليه السلطة، وعن شكل الحرب والسلم والعدل، وهذا الخيال، إذا تراكم وتعتق، وكان من مكوناته الثقة بالنفس والاتصال بين الناس، تحول إلى أرجل على الأسفلت، تهدم عروشاً وتقيم أخرى.


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The Southernmost Edge of the EWWC – Margo Lanagan reports from an “exhilarating” Melbourne http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/the-southernmost-edge-of-the-ewwc-margo-lanagan-reports-from-an-exhilarating-melbourne/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/the-southernmost-edge-of-the-ewwc-margo-lanagan-reports-from-an-exhilarating-melbourne/#comments Wed, 04 Sep 2013 14:56:36 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5413 Last year I was immensely privileged to attend five days of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in Edinburgh. What writers, what brains, what passions were brought to those five days! It was all very stimulating—perhaps slightly too much to digest in such a short time, on top of the normal adrenalin of a book festival and of being on the other side of the world, and in the beautiful city of Edinburgh for the first time, and I was glad that it was all recorded and put up online for later digestion and consideration.

Last Friday I managed to get along to two of the five sessions of a more condensed version of the Conference, presented all in one day in conjunction with the Melbourne Writers Festival. The sessions were held in the Deakin Edge, part of the Federation Square complex in the central business district and a great venue, bigger and airier than the Edinburgh marquee, with trams and Yarra Bank trees visible beyond the talking heads and bodies of the presenters and Auslan interpreters.

The first session I went to was Censorship Today, Censorship Tomorrow, where writer and lawyer Larissa Behrendt gave the keynote, and Ali Alizadeh then ran the discussion between Larissa and Scottish poet John Burnside, who had been a very vocal part of the proceedings in Edinburgh—and of whose poetry I’ve been a fan for several years. I took scads of notes for the purposes of this blog post. How to condense them into something meaningful?

Well, the difference from Edinburgh was immediately obvious with the acknowledgements of the original custodians of the land, and it was the many issues surrounding the silencing and marginalisation of Indigenous points of view that dominated the session. These are vital matters in Australia today, with many writers feeling a strong taboo around the use, and possible misuse, of Indigenous cultural material in their work.

Larissa talked about three powerful kinds of censorship: the first was the cultural erasure practiced by colonial and assimilationist Australia on Indigenous people in the past. Indigenous children still face stark disadvantages in education and career prospects, and it’s difficult for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) communities to maintain their cultures when they are denied tools such as literacy and numeracy and taught not to aspire to progress to tertiary education. Larissa applauds the ongoing drive in ATSI communities, despite this powerfully antagonistic history, to continue telling Indigenous stories in written (fictional and factual), visual art, craft, dance and film form.

The second kind of censorship was all the forces operating to keep non-Indigenous Australia steadfastly uninterested in hearing Indigenous narratives. She wished that past practices of child removal and cultural genocide could be told to Australian schoolchildren, so that more Australians could see what Indigenous people face, and echoed Tony Birch in urging white Australia to take ownership of its colonial past. In the face of strong assertions of the Indigenous experience such as the Bringing Them Home report and the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, she said, which show us a history that’s difficult to face, we should not fall silent, or fall back on the contested statistics thrown up by the ‘history wars’, or distract ourselves with semantic arguments about the competing non-Indigenous narratives about our past.

In pursuit of a more healthy debate about Indigenous matters, and one that includes Indigenous points of view directly, Larissa urged non-Indigenous Australians, particularly writers, to get over the third kind of censorship, our self-censorship when it comes to including Indigenous characters and matters in their fiction. ‘Writers with talent can write from any perspective,’ she said.

The pursuit of absolute authenticity is important if we choose an Indigenous perspective, and in the light of our general ignorance about Indigenous history and culture it’s very difficult to get it right. But—and this to me was the most powerful message of the address—blowing it isn’t the worst thing we can do. Larissa talked about the effect on her of reading Thomas Keneally’s The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. Though it depicted well a black man torn apart by exposure to the possibilities available to whites and the limitations imposed on him by his black skin, she felt it presented very one-dimensional Indigenous women—yet she was glad he had written and published it, because it gave her more to think about in terms of her gender and her race, more provocation to articulate her own views. It is better to have these gifts of brave, thoughtful, imaginative and uncensored writers out there, she said, than to present Australians, white and black, with a frightened silence.

‘Talented writers translate, interpret and hold a mirror up, and that is why they are so very, very threatening,’ she finished, and her clear implication was that we should get out there and be as threatening as we could.

During the discussion, which elaborated and extended this message (with John Burnside drawing parallels with the Norwegian Sami people and with his own working-class upbringing in Scotland) and explored ways in which non-Indigenous Australians might be engaged in listening Aboriginal stories, Larissa further suggested that writers shouldn’t sit down with a political agenda. The best writing would come from our trying to tell the best story we could. ‘Write for the story and passion; don’t try to…write propaganda,’ she said, just try to arrive at the particular truth the story is leading you to.

In response to Paddy O’Reilly‘s question about offensiveness (Is part of a writer’s role to not be afraid to offend people?), Larissa talked a lot about writers coming from ‘a position of good’. A greater debate can happen, she said, when you try to work out a situation from a position of good. She decried the ‘crippling of [non-Indigenous] people of goodwill’, the ‘concerning silencing’ of them/us. We shouldn’t deal ourselves out of debates about Aboriginal people; because we are the dominant culture, we have the greater responsibility to keep the conversation going, so self-censorship becomes almost an abrogation of responsibility.

Her goal isn’t to keep Australia as an ‘us and them’ society. All Australian people, she says, should see Aboriginal culture and history as our own culture and history. Honest questions shouldn’t be shut down because people find them offensive. The debate has become bland because a lot of good people have dealt themselves out of it for fear of offending.

This was an exhilarating session—particularly for a writer whose latest novel had mired itself in just this complex of issues. Both the keynote and the discussion went right to the heart of one of the most significant issues of censorship in this country today.

The other session I went to was the one I was a participant in, along with the brilliant Scottish writer Kirsty Gunn, with Francesca Rendle-Short doing a top job of steering us through the shoals that awaited us in the discussion of Style vs. Content. Kirsty’s keynote was a strong assertion of the primacy of form, form ‘which gives birth to style and content’, while I hummed and hawed about form and style being more or less the same thing, but operating on different scales in a work. It’s always fascinating to see how other writers think about what they’re doing, and how much you can’t actually glean from a reading of their work. It was stunning to me, for example, to hear Kirsty talk about the impossibility of dealing with character, of truly inhabiting another human’s consciousness, after having read, in the previous week or so, her novel The Big Music, whose characters live and breathe so believably on the page—or within the stack of files of which the narrative is built—that it becomes almost impossible to believe in the story as a fiction.

The audience questions kicked us along into other territory—the influence of editors, the making of sentences, what constituted tone and voice—but it all stayed within the realm of what was useful to a working writer in thinking about these different components of the writing. I still hold to my sense that they are mostly useful for diagnostic purposes when the writing falls over and I need to identify which part isn’t functioning, that when I’m in full flow, thinking about style and content, let alone style versus content can be not only pointless but inhibiting. But it was all fascinating to explore, especially in tandem with such an intelligence as Kirsty’s, and under such gentle but shrewd guidance as Francesca provided.

I had hoped to hear great things about the panel on A Post-National Literature, which I thought was a particularly crucial topic in an Australian context, but I heard from a friend who was able to attend it that not a lot was ventured in the way of general pronouncements, which was disappointing.

However, overall, the Australian EWWC did a pretty good job of giving some by now fairly well-worn discussions fresh flavour and juice, and rounded off the conference neatly.

Copyright: Margo Lanagan, August 2013

Were you at EWWC Melbourne? Have your say below!

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BEHRENDT & BURNSIDE – Censorship Today http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/behrendt-burnside-censorship-today/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/behrendt-burnside-censorship-today/#comments Fri, 23 Aug 2013 13:30:10 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5103 Melbourne Writers' Festival 2013
Friday 23 August 10:00am AEST Censorship Today Keynotes: Larissa Behrendt & John Burnside Chaired by: Ali Alizadeh]]> BEHRENDT-&-BURNSIDEMelbourne Writers Festival 2013

Friday 23 August 10:00am AEST

Censorship Today

Keynote: Larissa Behrendt joined by John Burnside
Chair: Ali Alizadeh

Author Biographies:

Prof. Larissa Behrendt is the Professor of Law and Director of Research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney. She has published numerous textbooks on Indigenous legal issues. She is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and a founding member of the Australian Academy of Law. Her most recent book is Indigenous Australia for Dummies.  Larissa wrote and directed the feature film, Innocence Betrayed.

Larissa won the 2002 David Uniapon Award and a 2005 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for her novel Home. Her second novel, Legacy, was released in October 2009.  Larissa is Chair of the Bangarra Dance Theatre and a board member of NSW Museums and Galleries. She is the Ambassador of the Guwara Aboriginal Campus at St. Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney and a board member of the Sydney Story Factory, a literacy program in Redfern. She was awarded the 2009 NAIDOC Person of the Year award and 2011 NSW Australian of the Year.

John Burnside‘s last two books were the novel, A Summer of Drowning, shortlisted for the 2001 Costa Prize, and his poetry collection, Black Cat Bone, which won both the 2011 Forward Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. His latest book is Something Like Happy.

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Friday 23 August 5:30pm AEST A National Literature Keynotes: MJ Hyland & Tony Birch Chaired by: Peter Goldsworthy]]> Birch-&-HylandMelbourne Writers Festival 2013

Friday 23 August 5:30pm AEST

A National Literature

Keynote: Tony Birch joined by MJ Hyland
Chair: Peter Goldsworthy

Author Biographies:

Tony Birch‘s books include Shadowboxing (2006), Father’s Day (2009), and Blood (2011), shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award (2012). His new collection of stories, The Promise, will be released in 2014. Tony teaches at the University of Melbourne. He holds a PhD in history and a Master of Arts in writing. His short fiction has been published widely, as have his critical essays. In addition to his creative and critical writing Tony Birch works with community groups and secondary students as an educator. He also does collaborative work with artists and activist. Tony lives in Carlton, just around the corner from where he was born.

MJ Hyland is an ex-lawyer and the author of three multi-award-winning novels: How the Light Gets In (2004), Carry Me Down (2006) and This is How (2009). Carry Me Down (2006) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won both the Hawthornden Prize and The Encore Prize. M.J Hyland has twice been longlisted for The Orange Prize (2004 and 2009), the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (2004 and 2007) and This is How (2009) was longlisted for the Dublin International IMPAC prize.

M.J Hyland is a lecturer in Creative Writing in The Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester where she has run fiction workshops alongside Martin Amis (2007-2010), Colm Tóibín (2010-2011) and Jeanette Winterson (2013). M.J Hyland also runs regular Fiction Masterclasses in The Guardian Masterclass Programme, has twice been shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Prize (2011 and 2012) and publishes in The Guardian ‘How to Write’ series and The Financial Times, the LRB, Granta and elsewhere. Hyland is also co-founder of The Hyland and Byrne Editing Firm. She has made more than a dozen appearances on national and international radio, including Radio 4 and the BBC World Service, and has been appointed as writer-in-residence in programmes at Arizona State University (Feb, 2014) and writer-in-residence at Griffith University, Australia (June/July 2013).


http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/hyland-birch-a-national-literature/feed/ 0 COLE & DENA – The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/cole-dena-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/cole-dena-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Fri, 23 Aug 2013 13:20:18 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5105 Melbourne Writers' Festival 2013 Friday 23 August 11:45am AEST The Future of the Novel Keynotes: Teju Cole & Christy Dena Chaired by: Liam McIlvanney]]> COLE-&-DINAMelbourne Writers Festival 2013

Friday 23 August 11:45am AEST

The Future of the Novel

Keynote: Teju Cole joined by Christy Dena
Chair: Liam McIlvanney

Author Biographies:

Teju Cole is a writer, art historian, and photographer. He was born in the US in 1975 to Nigerian parents, raised in Nigeria, and currently lives in Brooklyn. He is the author of two books, a novella, Every Day is for the Thief, and a novel, Open City, which was awarded the Internationaler Literaturpreis 2013, 2012 PEN/Hemingway Award, the Rosenthal Family Foundation Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York City Book Award for Fiction, and the Internationaler Literaturpreis; nominated for the National Book Critics Award, the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award, and a prize from the Royal Society of Literature; and named one of the best books of 2011 by Time Magazine, the New Yorker, Newsweek, the Guardian, the Atlantic, the New York Times, and many others.

Christy Dena is a writer-designer of playful stories. She also consults on films, games, literature, performance, and TV to extend storylines across artforms. Recent projects include her web audio adventure for the iPad, a mix of radio drama and online storytelling. This project, AUTHENTIC IN ALL CAPS, was nominated for a Best Writing in a Game Award at the 2012 Freeplay Independent Games Festival. She wrote the first PhD on Transmedia Practice, and lectures worldwide at industry events and Universities on new writing. She co-wrote The Writer’s Guide to Making a Digital Living for the Australian Literature Board; was Digital Writing Ambassador for the 2012 Emerging Writers Festival; and awarded the 2013 Digital Writing Residency at The Cube, QUT’s new Science and Engineering Centre.

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