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In the shadows of Wust al -Balad: Modern migrants and the centrality of space in contemporary Egyptian literatureMara Naaman
Borrowing from the work of Timothy Mitchell, this project will examine a series of recently published Egyptian novels that take the district of Wust al-Balad in Cairo as one of their central objects. I will seek to show a causal relationship between the transformations in the city (as read through the changes in this neighborhood in particular) and what I read as a new attentiveness to urban space as critical to the production of identity in Egyptian writing. It is my contention that in the act of "staging" the performance of modernity in downtown Cairo from the mid-nineteenth century through to the mid-twentieth, the area of Wust al-Balad became a contested space. The battle over the ownership and function of this space may be read, in effect, as a debate over what it meant be modern (as was similarly the case in other bifurcated colonial cities). In an effort to revisit the symbolic value of an area that once was the center of Cairo, these novels literally trace the past history of colonial and social violences in this district by mapping certain iconic locations from the point of view of the underclasses, primarily Nubian and Sa cidi migrants to the city. In so doing, these works function as innovative counter-cartographies that confirm the significance of literary production to the ongoing process of psychic decolonization in Egypt.
Language, literature and linguistics; Arabic literature; Cairo; Cities; Egypt; Egyptian identity; Egyptian literature; Space; Wust al-Balad; Comparative literature; Literature; Middle Eastern literature; 0298:Literature; 0295:Comparative literature; 0315:Middle Eastern literature
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