Department of Middle Eastern Studies
Department of Middle Eastern Studies

El-Ariss's Trials of Arab Modernity Named Outstanding Academic Title for 2013

Tarek El Ariss's new book has been named Outstanding Academic Title for 2013

Tarek El Ariss's new book Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political (Fordham University Press, 2013) was named Outstanding Academic Title by Choices, the journal of the Associaiton of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association. The journal's review (Vol 51:No 13, Nov 2013), by Miriam Cooke of Duke University, referred to the book as "groundbreaking" and "highly recommended."

Focusing on the body as a site of rupture and signification, this book shifts the paradigm for the study of modernity in the Arab context from questions of representation, translation, and cultural exchange to an engagement with a genealogy of symptoms and affects. Trials of Arab Modernity traces a series of experiences and encounters arising from leaving home, aversion to food, disorientation, anxiety attacks, and physicalcollapse embodied in travelogues, novels, poetic fragments, and anecdotes from the nineteenth-century to the present. Tarek El-Ariss thus reframes Arab modernity as a somatic condition, which takes shape through accidents and events emerging in and between Europe and the Arab world, the literary text and political discourse.

This study challenges the prevalent conceptualizations of modernity, both those that treat it as a Western ideological project imposed by colonialism, and others that understand it as a universal narrative of progress and innovation. Instead, El-Ariss offers a close reading of the simultaneous performances and contestations—or trials—of modernity staged in works by authors such as Rifa‘a al-Tahtawi, Ahmad Farisal-Shidyaq, Tayeb Salih, Hanan al-Shaykh, Hamdi Abu Golayyel, and Ahmad Alaidy.

In dialogue with affect theory, deconstruction, and psychoanalysis, this book reveals the unfolding of these trials as a violent and ongoing confrontation with and within modernity, decentering yet also redefining and producing it. El-Ariss’s theoretical andcomparative approach offers a new configuration of Arab modernity at the intersection of historical, cultural, and aesthetic frameworks. The first study of its kind to bridge the gap between Nahda or the so-called Arab project of Enlightenment, or Renaissance, and postcolonial and postmodern fiction.

Since its publication, Trials of Arab Modernity has received high praise from reviewers, including that of Marilyn Booth in the Times Literary Supplement (January 17, 2014) who commented that "Not so long ago, scholars dismissed this period in Arabic literature as subliterary, derivative, uninteresting. The tide has now turned," and went on to praise the book for raising "that thorny issue of what makes modernity, and whether it can be historically situated."

Tarek El-Ariss focuses on contemporary Arabic literature, film, popular culture, and media; Nahda thought and literature; and literary theory. He’s published on new Arabic writing; The Arab Image Foundation; representations of Islam in US media; gender and sexuality in the Middle East; and hacking and scandal in contemporary culture. He is the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political  (2013) and editor of The Arab Renaissance: Anthology of Nahda Thought, Literature, and Language for the MLA series, Texts and Translations (Forthcoming, 2014).

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