A prolific author and reader, Ali al-Shawk embodied scholarship, transforming himself into a veritable encyclopedia of intellectual knowledge. His humility endeared him to his friends and set a worthy example for others. He remains particularly known for being a good listener and for his non-confrontational ways, listening “to you until you finished talking before offering his own opinion,” according to Mahmoud Saeed. His writings encompassed the topics of mathematics, music, painting, literature, etymology, mythology, and science, and he wrote continuously until his death in his London home this year.
The 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution did not go unnoticed by some Arab intellectuals. The anniversary evoked few positive thoughts, even leading some to regret how enthusiastically they had welcomed the revolution back in 1979. Mouhamad Houjeiri, a Lebanese intellectual and journalist, recalled the occasion through a column, "The Cultural Fascination with the Khomeinist Revolution," published in the Beirut-based Al Modon. He offers a brief recollection of some Lebanese and Arab intellectuals who were fascinated by Khomeini. Importantly among them stands Adonis, whose grand “Salute to Iran’s Revolution” lingers in many intellectual memories. Houjeiri's recollection extended to Western intellectuals who were equally fascinated by Khomeini, and particularly the French philosopher Michel Foucault.
Twenty-years ago, Al Jadid published “The Victim Of Beauty: Reviving the Literary Legacy of Mai Ziadeh” by Ghada Samman. The issue we tackled then was how Ziadeh's talents and skills were overlooked because of her gender, and even worse, how highlighting her personal life at the expense of her intellect distorted her legacy. One Lebanese critic was emotionally overwhelmed by the recent book, “May: The Nights of Isis Copia” (Dar al-Adab, 2018) by Waciny Laredj, expressing her appreciation for this kind gesture by the Algerian-French novelist and academic toward a fellow “Lebanese.” However, an Egyptian critic takes issue with the new book. The same concerns which fueled early criticism of how Ziadeh was treated did not escape the notice of Sharif al-Shafei's thoughtful essay in Al Modon newspaper.
The Lebanese creative community has been losing many of its pillars. The latest sorrowful loss was of Siham Nasser (1950-2019), a Lebanese playwright and academic who passed away late January. This loss coincides, unfortunately, with a consistent decline in financial support and audience attendance of stage theater. In an interview, Nasser expressed her frustration with the state of Lebanese theater: “All of us Arabs, in general, would rather go to the restaurant than the theater. I want to make theater one of our daily and social habits.”
Beyond her award-winning novels, the public knows Moroccan-French novelist Leila Slimani for her advocacy of francophone values, promoting the French language, a culture of diversity and openness, as well as for her support for women’s rights. During the French presidential elections, Ms. Slimani accompanied President Emmanuel Macron in his visit to Morocco, encouraging Moroccan-French citizens to vote for him against the right-wing and ethnocentric Marine Le Pen. According to press reports, the French President initially wanted to appoint Slimani as Minister of Culture, but she declined. So he appointed her as his personal representative of francophone affairs.
In the first two decades of the 21st century, the Arabic literary scene has witnessed a new trend in fiction in the form of a dystopian narrative. Where Arabic research has mainly focused on Classic Western utopias as characterized by the writings of Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella, Samuel Butler, and 20th-century Western dystopian fiction, the rise of Arabic authors exploring the dystopian genre has caught the attention of Western readers. These new dystopian works by Arab authors have been defined as the start of a new literary genre in modern Arabic literature, written mostly in English or French, with any works written in Arabic quickly being translated into English, suggesting an interest and wish on the part of the authors and publishers for a presence in the Anglophone market.