Colloque International

These trajectories that call writing in the current Arab worlds

Mercredi 20 et jeudi 21 novembre 2019

Call for papers

Call for papers

International Conference– Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st November 2019

Venue: University of Lille – Laboratory CECILLE – (Pont-de-Bois)


About Life paths that call to writing in the modern Arab world


How do different paths of life, in the modern Arab world, act as a catalyst for writing?

While concentrating on the notion of “paths” (trajectoire), this conference offers a specific view point so as to break away from traditional classifications, called upon time and time again, of the autobiography, the topic of travellers in Arabic countries or of exile writings, up until now mainly pointed towards the West. These categories may, in fact, no longer be the most effective and may no longer contain the entire narrational process that presently emerges and belongs to the expression “I”, the life story, one that narrates a journey or even an exile to or from the Arab world.

The term “path” expresses a life experience but also a journey, a passage, which is often painful, at the heart of today’s Arab world andwhich is governed by the need to write.

These paths of life will in some ways alter the “I” and encourage a testimony, a will to recount and write, becoming a decisive part in the narration through new forms which this conferenceproposes to explore. Furthermore, there is no doubt that the changes running through the modern Arab world take part in modifying the orientations of the multiple individual experiences as well as the content and depth of their narration.

In this prolific context of expressions of the “I” in the modern Arab world, we have kept, other than the topics of journey and exile writings that will be revisited, writings of prison experiences that are maybe the most poignant examples of individual paths that call upon writing as an immediate necessity. Lastly, a third part will question the technical and experimental element of the Arabic writing of the “I” as many variations in the exposition of these special paths of life.


Three axes of communication are proposed:


Arab life pathsinforeign Arab countries: the writings of new exiles in the Arab world


The proposals of communication will have to be sent before July 15, 2019, in 400 words maximum, including name, function, institution of the author, an email address and a selected bibliography. 


Language of communication: French – Arabic – English


The proposals of communication must be sent to Marie-Andrée GOUTTENOIRE:


Transport and hotel costs are to be settled by the participants who are encouraged to solicit their research center for defrayal.


31 July 2019: the scientific committeewill contact the authors for acceptation of proposals.


Composition of the scientific committee: Claude-France AUDEBERT (Université de Provence-IREMAM) ; Katia GHOSN (Université de Paris 8 - CERMOM) ; Marie-Andrée GOUTTENOIRE (Université de Lille SHS - laboratoire CECILLE) ; William GRANARA (Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge) ; Asma HILALI (Université de Lille SHS - laboratoire CECILLE) 


Axis n°1 Custodial paths and writings in the modern Arab world 

Beyondthe reason of imprisonment, the political prison has generated, theserecent decades, throughout the Arabs countries, a considerable amount of writings produced at the heart of the custodial experience. The aim of this conferenceis not to relay the causes or to adjudicate on their legitimacy or on the responses given by the states. Our approach will contain solely an analysis of their writings when they are subject to the prison system. It would appear indeed that prison writings have become a whole literary genre of their own in the Arab world, gaining in their vast majority a foothold in the experience lived in the prison. These custodial writings have even often been the catalystof writing, creating literary vocations as was the case, for example, for the internationally renowned Egyptian novelist, Ṣun‘ AllāhIbrāhīm (1937), for whom the theme of imprisonment travels across the narration in multiple forms. This is also the case for the Syrian short story writer Ibrāhīm Ṣamū’īl (1951), little known in France, who carves and remobilises to his wishes what he calls “the core of the obsession – الهاجس ونواته” of imprisonment. These painful experiences, evenunbearable, having been forced beyond the limits of any humanity, as for example the experience of Muṣṭafā Ḫalifa (1948) in his work al-Qawqaʿ (The shell), have in common their inseparability from the writing process.  These are life experiences, in prison, that impregnate themselves on the living memory, paper and pen not being at hand.

Questioning the status of the lived testimony will be a focus point, becoming it seems more and more crucial amongst custodial writings and their audiences. Indeed, at what point may these writings leave the literary sphere? At which point of rupture does the lived testimony, especially those related to current events, take holdof the pain and feeling of injustice so as to put forth a specific cause? The success of the novels by Ayman al-ʿUtūm (1972) and the recent ban on his latest novel Ṭarīq ǧahannam (2018) –The road to hell – by the Jordanian authorities is an example.


            Axis n°2 Foreign life paths inArabcountries

            Up until now, this title would have brought up the stories of western travellers inArabcountries. From L’Arabieheureuse by Carsten Niebhurto the uncountable writings of Voyages en Orient during the past centuries, as well as the travels of Lawrence of Arabia and the forbidden journeys of Isabelle Eberhardt or Michel Vieuchange. Our collective imagination hadconstructed its own representationsin a sometimes cut-and-dry manner.

Nowadays, not only do travel stories seem to be slowing down, but the foreign life paths in the Arab world have become, in lots of cases, those of Arabs exiled, forced to leave their owncountries. Thus, these exiled writings, which from Arab countries were written mainly aimed at the west, can therefore now be questioned.

It appears now that a page is being turned.

It’s from this assessment that the presentconference offers to have these new writingsemerge. The current turmoil in Arab countries seems to be starting to shake up literary genres up until now established and regularly nourished. But is this the only explanation to these new approaches?


Life paths of foreigners in Arab countries: the end of the travel story and of post-orientalism?

With no doubt the difficulties of access, due to the multiple conflicts in the Arab world today, limit long-stay visits ideal for literary writings. But there may also be another explanation, the loss of a certain point of view, the extinction of a sense of adventure and an effort to discover a feeling of otherness.

We have chosen, in order to analyse this phenomenon, which will take form with the interventions of our guests during this seminar, two very different publications but which both offer a new point of view, one which is not Arabic, on the modern Arab world.

The first work is by the Japanese writer, translatorand Arabic specialist Nobuaki Notohara who, these last forty years, has crossed the Middle East and met and translated numerous Arab authors. His book entitled Les Arabes, un point de vuejaponais [Arabs from a Japanese point of view] offers a critical point of view on Arab society especially on issues such as corruption and repression. The approach is first and foremost sociological but the author also describes his travelling experiences with descriptions of the Arab countryside and villages which left a mark on him as well as the habits and customs of the Bedouins.

Nobuaki Notohara wrote and published this book in Arabic in 2003, under the title العرب، وجهة نظر يابانية, showing his will to engage in a frontal dialogue, with no intermediate, which was made possible from his knowledge of the Arabic language and his experience on site in Arab countries and societies.

The second work, Boussole, [Compass] a novel by Mathias Enard, the winner of the prestigiousFrench Goncourt prize in 2015, cleverly translates, sometimes with caustichumour, the distress of a field researcher, more precisely that of an archaeologist, at the end of the 20th Century. Other the fact that “field work” seems to be becoming less and less a reality due to theoutbreakof conflicts in the Middle East and the violence that has invaded this part of the world, a whole universe seems to be also disappearing, that of orientalists and their successors – the post-orientalists – as well as the universe of researchers who, losing their familiar landmarks, will perhaps have to reinvent a model, far from the microcosm up until now secured by expatriates in the Arab world.

Queries, disarray, bitterness, big names from research on the Arab world indicate, through their scientific publications, facets of their journeys through these countries which theyhaveprofusely visited. Integrated in a reflexion on their journey as researchers or considered as a palimpsest, under the motif of their research in linguistics, islamology or archaeology this corpus of writings, mildly exploited up until now, plays a role on the margin of the main one, even though it was the original and first ground for their writing.

Arabic life pathsinforeign Arab countries: the writings of new exiles in the Arabic world

Without mentioning some authors who believe that the idea of exilewritings does not have a role to play in the world nowadays, it would seem that the genre of exile literature, established since the - شعراء المهجر Les poètes de l’exil [poets of exile] (in the United States in the 1920s) of which the Lebanese author ǦibrānḪalīlǦibrān was a leading figure, seems to also be witnessing a noticeable change in its codes.

The lesser known Moroccan poetTahaʿAdnān, based in Brussels,was first to realise that the time of exile and its mythical dimension and nostalgia had disappeared in this age of a globalised network of communication. Thus to replace the notion of exile or immigration literature أدب مهجر TahaʿAdnān speaks of a stay literature أدب إقامة, while considering writing in Arabic, which he does himself.

Even if the voice of TahaʿAdnān is one not everyone can agree on, numerous writings centered around exile in Arab countries are however starting to emerge. Others, even if they lead in the end to the West, tell of a journey through various Arab countries and capital cities.

This is the case of the Syrian author HayṯamḤussayn (1978-) who, having left the small town of al-ʿĀmūdā, of theal-Ḥassaké government and before arriving in London, recounts the steps of his exile through Damas, then Dubaï, Beyrouth, Cairo, and Istanbul. Furthermore, HayṯamḤussayn also revisits the codes of the autobiography, which we will focus on in the next axis.


Axis n°3 Experimental paths of Arabwritings of the “I”: duplications and reconfigurations

This part of the conference will echo new writing processes which relate to the expression “I” and that are also present in the writings of these particular paths in Arabic literature.

It would seem that genreof the autobiography does not suffice anymore in containing the gushes of modern experiences, perhaps too different from the existing. It is true that some Arab authors have already captured, on a small scale, the detachment and the duality of the “I” that recent developments of autofiction have offered, but it is without a doubt risky to try and classify prematurely the writing experimentations presently unfolding in Arabic literature. 

As said before, in the previous axis, the Syrian author HayṯamḤussayn represents with his book قد لا يبقى أحد – Peut-être ne reste-t-il plus personne[ Maybe nobody is left ]– a case of these new writing dynamics of exile writings but also of the “I”. The indications on the front cover, underneath the title, are enough to give an idea of the still experimental dimension.

As for the subheading of this book, أغاثا كريستي ... تعالي أقل لك كيف أعيش –Agatha Christie … Viensque je tedise comment je vis, [Agatha Christie, come and I will tell you how I live] it is a direct reference and answer to Agatha Christie’s autobiography, Come, Tell me how you livepublished in 1946 when she was staying, with her husband and archeologist Max Mallowan, in the same town of al-ʿĀmūdā, which from nowadays HayṯamḤussayn’shas gone intoexile.

This is only one example of many publications which address the concepts of theautobiography and the expression of the “I” by understanding the complexity and multitude hidden behind such notions thus reflecting the uncertainty of these new life paths and the resemblances they bear with a gone, yet still close, era.

Another tendency which for some decades now has started to take form is the phenomenon of the writing of Arabic dialects in the literary field. What can be said of these writings concerning the expression of the “I” throughout the works relating life paths in the modern Arab world?

These are all questions which will be considered and discussed during this conference.