Maggie Morgan went to see Soueif speak at AUC last week, and had this to report:
She began her talk by discussing the evolution of her own reception as an Egyptian in Britain. Initially, she encountered questions like, “Do you go to school on camels?” This gave way to “Tell us how oppressed the women are” and, later, “What are the censorship obstacles that you had to face as a writer?” and “Tell us about the conflict of identity you feel, are you an Arab or a Westerner?” Nowadays, she is expected to be the emblematic Muslim woman, invited to photo-shoots to represent “creative Muslim women”. She sees herself as continuously trying to fit “under the lines of a grid”…. More significant, though, than the obvious content of Soueif’s talk was her attitude. As I understood it, she was re-drawing the lines of her persona. In her introduction, Ghazoul described Soueif as a “linguist, author, critic, translator and activist”. The “activist” is relatively recent. At last Thursday’s talk Soueif demonstrated how she has crossed over from being a critic and a novelist to becoming an activist — not to say that the notions are mutually exclusive. She was more ironic and more involved than I have ever heard her before. But she also made more generalisations, more “us” and “them” statements. She simplified to make a point as activists often must; in order to critique racist imagery she resorted to a polemic based in absolute binaries.
Read the rest here.
I wasn’t there, but this seems somewhat unfair to me: to imagine we live in a world where there is no “us” and no “them” is naive. The whole idea of a mezzaterra implies that there is a land there and a land here, and that some are citizens of (t)here, no? I don’t know if that’s an “absolute binary,” only that seperation does occur when you are both one thing and another, and attempting to stand for something. I’ll just leave it at that.