Tarek El-Ariss (PhD, Cornell 2004) is Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin and Associate Editor of Journal of Arabic Literature. He is the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political (Fordham UP, 2013) and editor of The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda (MLA, forthcoming 2017). His current book, The Leaking Subject: Arab Culture in the Digital Age (with reviewers, Princeton UP), examines the way that cyber modes of confrontation, circulation, and exhibitionism shape contemporary writing and critiques of power in the Arab World and beyond.
Adab in the Digital Age
Adab (literature, culture, ethics) in the nahda context involved a disciplining and refinement project that was meant to bring about the modern Arab subject. Most studies of modern and contemporary Arabic literature and culture continue to rely on this adab framework that ties in aesthetics (novel), politics (nation state), and intersubjectivity (public sphere). Yet, what we have been observing in the Arab digital age is the emergence of new aesthetics, politics, and social relations that break with adab in the nahda imaginary. This paper engages not only new adab practices but also explores the kinds of crossings between Arabic writing in the digital age and classical genres (most notably, akhbar). Focusing on Twitter in the Arab world, the paper argues that cyberspace has opened a portal into the classical, into the affective and the unruly, thereby staging the collapse of the epistemic break associated with the nahda as a comprehensive and historically circumscribed modernizing and disciplining project.