(all photos by me, July 2009)
Monthly Archives: February 2011
As the intellectuals and literati of Cairo who previously sat happily, or if not happily then let’s say comfortably during Mubarak’s regime unanimously call for the ‘youth’ and the ‘revolutionaries’ to take over their positions, there has been much talk of the liberation of Arab literature.
Reports are coming of books banned during Mubarak’s reign hitting bookshelves already. This was a regime for whom censorship and torture was the norm for writers and journalists.
But, are things really overturned? In the caretaker government, Mohamed Abdel Moneim al-Sawy, founder of the Sawy Culture Wheel has been appointed Culture Minister.
“People oppose al-Sawy’s appointment, according to Mohamed Hashim, founder of Dar Merit Publishing, because the 25 January revolution was launched to achieve many objectives including freedom of conscience and expression–whereas Sawy is, “in reality, repressive and intolerant of opinions contrary to his own and rejects any criticism of himself. Moreover, he has never adopted a clear position regarding any issue in Egyptian affairs.””
Here, Khaled al-Berry, shortlisted for this year’s International Prize for Arabic Fiction, talks about the future:
“We have different forms of censorship in Egypt: political, religious, and moral. The past regime always said that it didn’t ban books. It could be right. The problem was that they didn’t let you make valid books. They blocked the access to ‘real’ information and let people produce books that made them look silly and trivial. … Hence, they made books and reading itself something that one wouldn’t be proud of. People of means became far prouder of having the latest mobile phone than of having the latest book.”
If it’s a step towards the end of censorship and repression and oppression of Arab writers then I fear it’s a small step.
One thing I don’t have a problem with is ideas. Ideas. I have them popping out of my ears, stuffed in drawers, scribbled in notebooks, written under desks. Application and delivery, well, that’s a different matter (though I am getting better at those…) One of the ideas I had many years ago was to write something (play, radio play, unsure, something) about Simone Weil.
Who… ‘in her short life (1909-1943) fought in the Spanish Civil War, worked as a machine operator and farm laborer, debated Trotsky, taught high school students and union members, and was part of the French Resistance. The daughter of affluent Jewish parents, she spent her life advocating for the poor and disenfranchised in France and for colonized people around the world, bravely organizing and writing on their behalf. A consummate outsider, who distrusted ideologies of any kind, at 34, Simone Weil left behind a body of work that fills fifteen volumes and establishes her as a brilliant political, social, and spiritual thinker.’
I was reminded of this bottom-of-the-drawer idea this morning when I read about this film ‘An Encounter with Simone Weil’, directed by Julia Haslett who, as the blurb says, adopts Weil as a guide through a profound moral landscape: ‘Julia goes on a journey to understand Weil’s loss of faith in revolutionary politics and the spiritual awakening that followed.’
The film looks amazing; I can’t wait to see it. At the very least it should make intense viewing. I like the idea of Julia Haslett visiting the contemporary sites of Weil’s life.
My own preoccupation with Weil concentrates on a specific geographical detail: she died in a sanatorium in Ashford, Kent in 1943. In fact, there is some debate about her death, the coroner’s report said, ‘the deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed.’
However, when I researched her I unearthed another possible means of her death: she was on hunger strike (or a mystical fast) and she was force-fed. There is some evidence to suggest that this brutal technique contributed to her death.
Ashford, of all places. Ashford!
Likewise, Elizabeth Bowen lived out her final years in Hythe, Kent.
All roads, it seems, are currently leading to the unlikely backwaters of Kent.
“This, my first [bicycle] had an intrinsic beauty. And it opened for me an era of all but flying, which roads emptily crossing the airy, gold-gorsy Common enhanced. Nothing since has equalled that birdlike freedom.”
Elizabeth Bowen (1899–1973), British novelist, essayist, and memoirist; born in Ireland. Pictures and Conversations, ch. 1 (1975).
On her first bicycle, which she acquired at age 13.
Solidarity with friends in Tahrir square today leads me to thoughts of a revolution in Egypt from 1939:
“… painter Amy Nimr, whose painting Azar describes in his book as a “vital experience,” comparing it to the prose of the Syrian writer May Ziadé. Both women, he writes, “impart a stern and harsh accent to the expression of their inner selves, whose recall awakens in us something nocturnal and divinely rebellious.” From here.
“A group of artists that has been formed in Egypt which calls itself the
ʻDegenerate Art Groupʼ is now in the process of breaking up,” began a report by
ʻAziz Ahmad Fahmi in Cairoʼs al-Risala in early July 1939. “It has failed to find the
support it had hoped for among artists, the media, and the general public. Not
one writer, journalist, or other visitor has called at its headquarters in the Shariʻ
al-Madbagh building to hear what its members have to say.”
Project 2 is officially up and running.
I am in the R&D phase. Or, the dreamy phase (such bliss); the anything-goes phase. I am busily following tangential leads and random miscellanea. I am in residence at Shoreham airport now, and learning not so much about aircraft and flying per se, but how the distinctive, unique and cherished aspects of a place can infuse writing. Stories, ghosts, memories, beliefs and histories lie within and around geographical and architectural locations such as Shoreham Airport’s 1930s Art Deco terminal, or the listed WW2 hangar. I am interested in the alchemical transformation of ghost becoming words.
Of course, the floodgates are truly open and in the ephemera comes, as if it has been calmly waiting for me to notice all along:
Avro planes and a flying circus.
WW1 munitions factory in Wallasey, the Wirral.
Lodging houses for women.
Pearl White, the silent movie actress.
I like this writer’s collection of curiosities too.