Benjamin Koerber is Assistant Professor in the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures at Rutgers University. His work has appeared in the Journal of Arabic Literature, Jadaliyya, Ma3azef, and Wasla. He is currently at work on a monograph, entitled Conspiracy in Modern Egyptian Literature, under contract with Edinburgh University Press.
Al-Adab al-sirrī in 1990s Cairo: Literary Form and Political Affect
The paper examines two authors of al-Adab al-sirrī : Mahmud ʿAbd al-Raziq ʿAfifi (1951-????) and Muhammad Rabiʿ (1975-2008). Historically, al-Adab al-sirrī is a term that has been applied to a quite wide array of texts – Aljamiado or Judeo-Arabic literatures; political pamphlets; rumors; popular songs; prison literature; graffiti; chain letters; samizdat newspapers; latrinalia; internet erotica. Its use here is confined to imaginative works printed and distributed surreptitiously, or through unconventional means, by authors whose alienation from a perceived cultural establishment is at once the function of their stylistic idiosyncrasies and affinity for the obscene, and the basis for their embrace by a “cult following” of young, mostly male, bourgeois readers.
The paper begins by situating the works of ʿAfifi and Rabiʿ within the broader corpus of al-Adab al-sirrī in Egypt in the second half of the twentieth century. Our aim is not to bestow a putatively overdue recognition on particular authors, but to determine the textual and extratextual factors that position their works as “secret” or “obscure.” To what extent is “secrecy” here a necessity born of repressive political or moral regimes? To what extent does authorial affect (social reclusiveness, radical individualism, suspicion, paranoia) determine the form and reception of these works? And does obscurity represent success, or failure, for these authors?