Nelson Morpurgo was born to a Histrian family in Cairo. Raised between Cairo and Milan, he met Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and several other Futurists and, ultimately, helped secure a place for futurism in Cairo from the 1920s through to his departure in the 1940s. He organized theatrical performances, painting exhibitions, radio shows, cultural events and debates. My paper analyzes the cultural and linguistic bilingualism that this interstitial figure developed. Morpurgo’s activity is understood in three different ways: first, as the trans-national experience of a Futurist vanguard; second, as emblematic of the Italian community in Cairo; and third, as representative of the complexities of Egyptian cosmopolitanism. His writings allow us to reframe the relationships between the Egyptian arabophone scene and the often multi-lingual, eclectic foreign community. Morpurgo negotiates a position between the ideologically incongruous cultural lives of Marinetti and the local surrealist vanguard.
Labībah Hāšim (1880–1947), a Lebanese-born intellectual and writer, moved to Egypt at the very beginning of the twentieth century and took part in the literary life of Cairene circles, frequenting prominent intellectuals such as the lexicographer Ibrāhīm al-Yāziǧī (1847–1906). She is generally quoted as the founder of the periodical Fatāt al-šarq (Eastern Young Woman, 1906), and subsequently of the first Arab periodical in Latin America (Šarq wa-Ġarb, East and West) during her four-year experience in Chile. Her juvenile novel Qalb al-raǧul (Man’s Heart), published in 1904, is set during and after the social events that shook Lebanon in 1860. The story initially is based on the traditional topos of a contrasted, romantic love and then evolves into an original narrative, characterised by the acute observation of social reality. I highlight here how Hāšim’s narrative embodies a formal and substantial shifting from a romantic and pastoral narrative to a more realistic model. In particular, issues as love, friendship and the quest for self-realisation are vividly discussed throughout the novel, through dialogic and realistic scenes from the daily life of the merchant class.
In the early twentieth century, themes such as the emergence of a young, newly urbanized effendiyya, the idea of marriage nurtured by this new class, the choice of the bride, and the role of the wife and the husband within the family were crucial in the cultural and social debate in Egypt. Throughout the discussion of these themes, the relationship between genders and generations was established, and new social boundaries were negotiated.
After a short analysis of the trope of marriage in the first period of the Egyptian novel (1906–1945) this contribution focuses on Ḫiṭbat al-šayḫ (The šayḫ’s engagement), a text by the renowned Egyptian author and academic Ṭāhā Ḥusayn (1889–1973), published only in 2017 by Dār al-waṯāʾiq in Cairo. This novel, although unfinished, offers one of the first examples of epistolary novel in the Egyptian late nahḍa context. The text, which consists of fifteen letters of various lengths, written by five fictional characters, is fundamental in understanding the theme of marriage as a social positioning tool.
Indeed, through the mechanism of epistolography, Ḫiṭbat al-šayḫ mirrors the complex social debate, incorporating in its own structure the discussion of social boundaries by different social actors.
In his novel Ibrāhīm al-kātib (Ibrāhīm the Writer, 1931) the Egyptian poet, narrator, and humorist Ibrāhīm al-Māzinī borrowed several passages from his own translation—via English—of the Russian novel Sanin, by Mikhail Petrovich Artsybashev, which he had published in 1922 under the title Sanīn aw Ibn al-ṭabī‘ah (Sanīn, or The Son of Nature). In this article, I analyze several personal authorial accounts, including the introduction to the first edition of the novel Ibrāhīm al-kātib (1931), in which the author develops the idea of creative writing and translation as a mechanical process of filling in the gaps of a “lost original.” Alongside literary allegations raised by critics against al-Māzinī soon after the publication of Ibrāhīm al-kātib, I recontextualize this issue of self-borrowing in the light of two parallel processes: the changing politics of intertextual practices that took place in Egypt during the first quarter of the twentieth century; and the rise of concepts as “Egyptianness” and “aṣālah” (cultural authenticity), key ideas to a national canon. Both Sanīn aw Ibn al-ṭabī‘ah and the (partially) re-written Ibrāhīm al-kātib, are the outcome of a process of adaptation, in which translation, intertextuality, literary borrowing and manipulation of the text constitute a common working practice and are not isolated incidents in the author/translator’s career.
In the last decade, the field of Nahḍah Studies has been gathering momentum. Scholars from different subject-areas have highlighted several aspects of the 19th–early 20th century cultural fervor in the Arab and south Mediterranean area. Accordingly, the whole set of Nahḍah narratives has been readdressed. By “Nahḍah narratives” we mean both the set of theoretical readings, definitions and views developed by the nahḍawī groundswell, itself and the metacritical narratives developed by international scholarship on the Arab Nahḍah.
In dialogue with the recent scholarship, the papers collected here represent a contribution in questioning the “Arab awakening”: their theoretical approaches, crossing comparative literature, literary analysis, history of ideas — achieve a broader understanding of the movement, dwelling especially on intersections with other disciplines and widening the research on the Nahḍah from the point of view of cultural production.
The focus on modern Arab journalism, theatre, translation, political essays, prose and poetry writing which characterizes this special issue of Oriente Moderno attempts at going beyond the critical perspectives of a Nahḍah molded on Euro-centric modernity, on a diffusionist model of text circulation and on a “retrospective” idea of a modernity-to-be.