Panel 7C

Culture Navigating Between East and West

9.00 – 11.00
Chair: Maxwell Stocker, Texas Tech University

Writing Westward: Halide Edib’s English Journalism, 1908-1911

Kaitlin Staudt, University of Oxford

In October 1908 Halide Edib published her first article in The Nation, a British weekly focused on culture and politics. The article, entitled “The Future of Turkish Women” was an appeal to “English women on behalf of all Turkish women,” asking for them to come and instruct Turkey in a “more civilized womanhood.” Focusing on the series of articles Edib published in The Nation and The Manchester Guardian, this paper will investigate how she portrayed the Ottoman Empire and Turkish culture to English readers through a discourse of civilizational contrast. Her style in these articles, described as “slight sketches,” is highly literary, and her use of metaphorical and fictional scenes explore how power and knowledge are negotiated between England and Turkey. Edib’s rise to prominence in 1908 has largely been explored through the lens of increased opportunities for women ushered in by the 1908 Constitutional Revolution. Yet, Edib’s nearly simultaneous appearance in the British press expands these narratives, suggesting that that in addition to local opportunities, Edib was also able to avail herself of international publishing opportunities and audiences. This paper will address how Edib functioned as an inter-imperial mediator, and how, in doing so, she plays a distinctive role in shaping dialogue across British and Ottoman-Turkish cultures.

The Conflict between East and West in Lenin al-Ramli’s Plays

Tiran Manucharyan, University of St Andrews

Egyptian theatre has reflected the very complicated relationship of, so-called, East and West both in its form and content in various, sometimes inverse ways, from adopting and adapting to opposing and antagonising. While the problems of communication, collaboration and conflict between East and West are central issues in academia, the reflection of these problems in theatre has received modest scholarly attention. Perhaps the most discussed example is Yusuf Idris’s (1927-1991) famous manifesto, Nahwa masrah misri (1964, ‘Towards an Egyptian Theatre’), in which the author discusses the necessity for Egyptian theatre to have its original recognisable form. In this paper I will analyse two comedies by contemporary Egyptian playwright Lenin al-Ramli (b. 1945) in which the author offers original insights into the clash of civilisations: rather than showing East and West in opposition to one another, the author stresses the problems and shortcomings within Arab society or Arab communities outside the Arab world, without linking them to external factors: the play Bi-al-‘arabi al-fasih (1970, ‘In Plain Arabic’) portrays Arab students from different Arab countries in Great Britain, and in the play Salam al-nisa’ (2004, ‘The Peace of Women’) Arab and Western women meet and try to cooperate in Iraq. Through an analysis of al-Ramli’s plays I argue that theatre is an important medium for dialogue between the West and the Arab world and that Arab theatre provides us with examples where the idea of genuine dialogue is promoted among Arab audiences.

Mediating East and West: Romanticism and Orientalism in Kahlil Gibran’s Bilingual Oeuvre

Feras Alkabani, University of Sussex

One of the most prominent Mahjar (Arab diaspora) figures, Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) synthesised Western and Eastern literary traditions, marrying cross-cultural notions, themes and styles in his English and Arabic writings. The Lebanese-American writer-artist is notable for mastering and refining Arabic Romanticism as well as introducing the genre of prose-poetry into Arabic literature. His English works, on the other hand, fused together Romanticism and Orientalism; Gibran assumed a ‘pan-Oriental’ literary persona in his adopted home in America and presented his parables in English, with the ‘authentic’ voice of an ‘Eastern sage’ from Lebanon. In so doing, Gibran capitalised on Orientalist narratives and reclaimed tropes of Oriental mysticism, which had inspired generations of Western Romantics before him. This paper explores the reciprocal relationship between Romanticism and Orientalism and highlights the role of the ‘exotic Other’ in spreading cross-cultural literary trends and motifs.  European Romantics looked East for notional and thematic inspiration. Gibran brought European Romantic influences to Arabic literary traditions, effecting significant stylistic and generic changes in modern Arabic literature. The American-Lebanese poet synthesised Romanticism and Orientalism and appropriated them selectively in his bilingual works. This paper highlights Gibran’s role as a two-way literary conduit conveying cross-cultural themes, notions, styles and traditions in modern Arabic and American Mahjar literatures. The paper also illustrates the organic and continuous movement of ideas and literary trends between East and West, as mediated by Gibran’s reconfiguration of Romanticism and Orientalism.

Cultural Movement and Transition in Eastern Mediterranean Literature: Depictions of Home and the Other in Homer’s Odyssey and the Tale of Sinuhe

Maxwell Stocker, Texas Tech University

My paper examines depictions of movement and transition in the ancient Middle East through the medium of comparative literature.  In line with the conference’s suggested subthemes of cultural movements, geographical boundaries, and literary connections, I conduct a comparative literary analysis between Greek and Egyptian narrative poetry, and I examine and compare the construction of cultural identity and the ideas of movement, cultural difference, and foreignness in Homer’s Odyssey and the Tale of Sinuhe, two of the most significant examples of narrative poetry from the literatures of their respective cultures.  I discuss the cultural identities of the protagonists, focussing on the construction of the dichotomy of Home and the Other through a technique which is common to both poems: the representation of home in contrast with negatively presented or opposing lands, concepts, and cultures.I analyse the descriptions of the protagonists’ flight and exile in foreign lands, as well as differences between the protagonists’ presentations of their respective homelands, and I examine the deeper questions of what it means to be Greek and to be Egyptian.  My study is specifically interdisciplinary in its methodology, fitting into the growing trend of increasing dialogue between the fields of Classics and Egyptology, and it is additionally relevant to the conference’s central themes in the current political context of the Mediterranean refugee crisis, the mass movement of peoples in the Middle East, and ongoing discussions in which ideas of identity, borders, and foreignness are being constantly questioned and debated.

Identity and Alterity in Contemporary Arabic Poetry: Perspectives towards the “West” in Poems of Mahmud Darwiš, Adunis und Fu’ad Rifqa

Hanan Natour, University of Oxford

This paper focusses on contemporary poetry written after 1967 that marked the crisis of identity in the MENA region. All of the selected poets share an Arabic background in the Levant and migrated to a Western country.  In this framework, we question their concepts of identity and alterity: Which kind of alterity is developed during the process of defining the ‘self’? Are their ideas static or dynamic, individual or collective?  Despite their shared experiences, every poet develops a different approach.

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