A transdisciplinary workshop, hosted by the Zentrum Moderner Orient (Berlin), with the participation of Luis Fayad (Colombia), Nathalie Handal (USA), Alberto Ruy-Sanchez (Mexico), Lisa Suhair Majaj (USA), Susana Romano-Sued (Argentina), and Ottmar Ette (Potsdam)
The workshop intends to develop new models of transcultural dynamics, beyond essential identity concepts, in the transatlantic network of relations. Research’s long established, overriding perspective is still focused on present, isolatable political, historical, or literary phenomena, and considers anything outside these fixed categories as an exception to the rule. What has long been considered an “exception” should, in context with globalized and partly asymmetrically running processes of communication, be placed at the core of study and thus be seen as a “rule.”
It is not sufficient to solely illustrate and analyze Arab-American conflicts and processes of exchange. The aim should be to convey the added value of collaborating between different literatures and literature positions and their reciprocal cultural and political infiltration. Since these societies and their different literature are undergoing increasing, significant changes in the Arab-American realm, it is no longer possible to rely on a set repertoire of analysis procedures, patterns of meaning, and terminologies. Thus, the field of European-derived literature terms, such as “national literature” or “world literature,” is only applicable in very limited and specific contexts. Yet it is more about local, national, and global interspaces and arenas. The main focus is subsequently the genesis and transformation of Arabic immigrant literature, Al-Mahjar, in Latin America, especially Costa Rica, and in the Central American realm, as well as in the USA.
The project ArabAmericas: The Poetics of Transregional Movement has has three fields of work:
- Work: one of the most important polyphone anthologies after Gibran, the “Anthology of New Arab American Writing” (Mattaw/ Akash), was published in 1999. It comments on the processes of cultural mobility in Arab-American literature. The variety of genres and voices represented here is documented in poetry, theatre, novels, journals, magazines, critical essays, and memoirs, and are written by men and women of different generations, by Arab immigrants, Arab American citizens born in the USA, and non-Arabs who feel a connection to the Arab world. This is no longer “niche” literature. Questions are posed here that address multilingual styles of writing, the particularities of aesthetic cate-gories that have developed from reciprocal exchange between Arab and American influences, as well as the comparison between Arab-American literature and Arab literature in the Arabic regions. An intense study of this literature reveals a connection between Arabic and American literature traditions, regarding their aesthetic and intertexual format. It becomes apparent that it is precisely the many women writers, who rely on Arabic paragons and make candid use of Arabic narrative traditions, yet load these with their own experiences of their present area and region.
- Authors: exile literature and literature of immigration is often characterized by reprocessing the immigrant and Diaspora experience. These frequently take the literary form of cross-generational family stories and travel descriptions. The example of Arab-American literature lends itself to related questions about the relationship between identity and alterity, tradition and believed homelessness. In this way, it is possible to examine the references the authors are making to their countries of origin. The Arab-American writers come from every corner of the Arab world, including North Africa and the Golf. The question of oriental exoticism needs to be pursued, especially the processing of the mainly negative experience of flight and expulsion, integration in the new society, and the imaginary reencounter with the old homeland. There are noticeably many political references to the Golf War in Iraq, the Intifada, or to examples of patriarchal social structures. At the same time, this literature exists within the American context and the authors integrate their current world into their literary work. The subject matter they deal with is much broader than issues surrounding culture and identity. It includes socially critical and political issues that affect their everyday world, as well as memory and nostalgia.
- Public: of course there is the question of who reads Arab-American literature. While some Arab-American authors have succeeded in reaching a global market, most literary works are read and absorbed by the heterogeneous Arab-American community, where the literature fulfills the task of negotiation between different worlds. There is little response in the Arab realm for this work, and it is important to investigate the reasons behind this lack of response from Arab regions in the American hemisphere. A differentiated, comparative study could offer insight into the processes in which this reciprocal literary imagination actually unfolds. It is also worth determining the amount of visibility that Arab-American literature has in the non-Arab realm, and that this is not only viewed as a contribution to an ethnic niche. It is also important here to analyze the relations between Arabism and Americana, between the conserving of Arab traditions and assimilation, between xenophobia and integration.