“Reading together” in multilingual contexts beyond monolingual methodologies

International Workshop at Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale, Naples 11-12 April 2019

Co-organised by SOAS, University of London ERC MULISOGE project: http://mulosige.soas.ac.uk/


This workshop seeks to move beyond monolingual approaches in history, literature, and cultural studies. In these disciplines, dominant research practice tends to focus on texts and archives in only one language, even when the research concerns plurilingual societies with overlapping and intersecting traditions in multiple languages. As a result of monolingual approaches, linguistic traditions that occupy the same social and cultural space are separated, reified, and often located in different disciplines. These monolingual practices tend to produce selective single language research, literary and disciplinary histories (e.g. Arabophone or Francophone in Morocco, Hindu or Urdu in North India, Amharic or Oromo in Ethiopia), which in turn foreground communal, religious, ideological and regional divisions that are more reflective of modern and contemporary divisions in these multilingual societies.

The workshop aims at exploring comparative multilingual methodologies that (a) draw on multilingual archives and literary texts, (b) look at multilingual contexts as a systemic whole instead of following only one language-tradition, (c) look at the historical, cultural, political, and aesthetic interweaving and co-constitution of these multilingual texts, sources and archives.

  • How can we “read together” different textual traditions in multilingual contexts?
  • How can “reading together” challenge the problematic monolingual framing of multilingual literary traditions in Asia, Africa, and Middle East?
  • How can bridge the perceived divide between cosmopolitan and vernacular languages, print (e.g. written archives) and oral cultures (e.g. oral performances) in multilingual contexts?
  • “Reading together” may paint a more comprehensive picture of offer the various facets of the same social, historical and cultural contexts and show areas of convergences, but how do we also draw attention to exclusions and silences?  Can this methodology open up the fields of history, cultural and literary studies to local vernacular cultures?
  • To what extent can “reading together” practices help in blending academic and popular notions of art, culture and knowledge?

Conference Programme

Thursday 11th April

9.30- 9.45 Registration

9.45- 10.00 Welcome

Prof Michele Bernardini:  Head of the Department of Asian, African and Mediterranean Studies (DAAM) (Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale)

Prof Flavia Aiello (Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale)

Prof Francesca Orsini (SOAS, University of London)

10.00- 11.30 Panel 1: ‘Reading together’ beyond the cosmopolitan/ vernacular divide  

Chair: Francesca Orsini

Flavia Aiello (Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale )

“Exploring ‘hidden’ productions for ‘reading together’ plurilingual literary contexts: Sando Marteau’s Swahili lyrics in the Lubumbashi scene (RDC)”

Roberto Gaudioso (Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale)

“‘Beyond languages’ and ‘language of Being’: Kezilahabi’s project for a literature as living event”

Silvia Riva (University of Milan)

“The perceived divide in Congolese texts: others stories to be written and told (colonial consolidation, decolonisation, and the current globalising moment)”

11.30- 12.00 Coffee break

12.00- 1.30 Panel 2:  Blurring disciplinary boundaries: the Co-constitution of the Literary and the non-literary

Chair: Flavia Aiello

Jack Clift (SOAS, University of London)  

“Multilingual and manifold: Methods for ‘reading together’ Hindi and Urdu historical fictions”

Karima Laachir (SOAS, University of London)

“Reading together the Aesthetics and Politics of Decolonisation:  a View from Morocco”

Francesca Orsini (SOAS, University of London)

“Reading together village/modernity”

1.30- 2.30 Lunch Break

2.30- 4.00  Panel 3: Constructing Nations and Identities

Chair: Itzea Goikolea-Amiano

Massimo Zaccaria (University of Pavia)

“Beginning of writing in Tigrinya in Eritrea by non-elites: A ‘reading together’ of the Archives”

Maria Elena Paniconi (Università di Macerata)

“Egyptian Bildungsnarratives and the Prism of Identity in A beer at the snooker club by Waguih Ghali (1964)”

Sara Marzagora (SOAS, University of London)

“Deceit and divination in Amharic and Swahili theatre: Mängǝstu Lämma, Ebrahim Hussein, and the prophecy of national liberation”

4.00- 4.30 Coffee break

4.30- 5.30  Panel 4: ‘Reading together’ the Politics of Representation

Chair: Fatima Burney

July Blalack (SOAS, University of London)

“Ghosts of Smara: A Bilingual Reading of a Sufi City’s Memory”

Itzea Goikolea-Amiano (SOAS, University of London)

“Tunisia seen with Foreign Eyes: Reading Together Aḥmad al-Timbuktāwī’s naṣīḥa and Louis Frank’s Description de cette Régence”

Friday 12 April

9.30- 10.30 Panel 5: Multilingualizing Ethiopian literary practice

Chair: Karima Laachir

Ayele K Roba (SOAS, University of London)

“Towards Literary Multilingualism: representation of Linguistic Diversity in Novels in Amharic and Oromo”

Michele Petrone (Université Catholique de Louvain – Phil And Project)

“Manuscript heritage and Oromo ʻaǧamī: a first assessment of the situation”

10.30-10.45 Coffee break

11.00-12.00 Panel 6: Beyond Anglo-Globalism: the Multilingual dimensions of ‘Anglophone’

Chair: Sara Marzagora

Rossella Ciocca  (Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale)

“Beyond Anglo-globalism. Multilateral translation for multilingual world canons”

Fatima Burney (SOAS, University of London)

“From Sugar to Soil: Towards Plural Models of Indian Multilingualism”

12.00- 3.00 Lunch and roundtable discussion: Comparative reflections on ‘Reading together’ in Multilingual contexts

End of conference

Conference Abstracts

Flavia Aiello (Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale)  

Exploring “hidden” productions for “reading together” plurilingual literary contexts: Sando Marteau’s Swahili lyrics in the Lubumbashi scene (RDC)

In my presentation I argue that carrying research on African-language contemporary creative scenes normally obscured by mainstream literary studies, which are still much influenced by narrow, elitist and written-centred notions of literarity and deal mostly with African creative writings produced in ex-colonial languages, can help in “reading together” the complexity of African textual productions and drawing attention to the plurality of practices in multilingual contexts, which often challenge hierarchies modelled over the colonial and post-independence years. This is the case of the contemporary Swahilophone creations by artists based in Lubumbashi, such as Sumba Maly, Patrick Mudekereza and Sando Marteau who, by composing poetic texts in Swahili in a context where, differently from East Africa, this language is not promoted in the public, media and educational sphere, are defying common perceptions of art and culture as formed by separated, di/triglossic spaces. These local conceptualisations are largely linked to the history of this city, grown at the beginning of the 20th century around the Belgian mining industry, where Swahili has developed from an exogenous language used at work into a local variety (Kiswahili yetu, “our swahili”) spoken by the population in everyday life, along with the regional languages of cultural identification (Kiluba, Kibemba etc.), Lingala, the language promoted during Mobutu’s rule, and French, the official language, associated with prestige and education. Moreover, another form of Swahili (called bora, “excellent, best”), modelled on the East-African standard, has also emerged in the religious and educational sphere during the colonial period. This remains a model for higher language registers (such as religious preaching or writing), but is a vague, little known norm today, since Swahili has played an insignificant role in post-independence school education. In this multilingual context, greatly characterised by code-switching practises, Sando Marteau composes his poetic texts prevalently, though not exclusively, in Lubumbashi Swahili, in order to promote this local variety, often perceived as a simple, imperfect language (being not standardised), inadequate for “serious”, engagé artistic purposes, normally associated with “classic” works in French, while local Swahili is seen as the medium of “popular” comedies and songs.

July Blalack (SOAS, University of London)

Ghosts of Smara: A Bilingual Reading of a Sufi City’s Memory

One of the crowning achievements of the 19th-century Sufi resistance leader al-Shaikh Māʼ al-ʻAynayn was the construction of his flagship zāwiya Smara. Smara was a fortress and a fully-functioning town. It became a Saharan center of resistance, scholarly exchange, and spiritual training. As Smara was built about 100 kilometres northwest of Marrakech in what was previously a no-man’s-land, its creation changed the geography of the Maghribi desert. According to al-Wasīṭ fī tarājim udabāʼ Shinqīṭ, the seminal work on Moorish history and literature, Smara at one time supported 10,000 seekers, students, and resistance fighters. However, in 1906, French colonial forces advanced as far as Tagant and Māʼ al-ʻAynayn retreated to Tiznit. The population of Smara dwindled. The final blow was dealt in 1913 when Colonel Mouret’s forces sacked Smara and burned down its library (Norris, 1954). By the time later French colonists arrived, the description of what Smara was and what it had become was stark:

“La colonne continuant sa route arrive le 28 février a peu de distance de Smara, la zaouïa de notre ancien ennemi irréductible Ma el Aïnin…Cette zaouïa, véritables ksar fortifié, entourée d’un mur d’enceinte, était beaucoup plus importante que ce que l’on croyait trouver, elle était du reste vide, un seul télamide la gardait qui réussit a s’échapper a la faveur de l’obscurité, seuls un captif et deux femmes resterant entre nos mains” (Gillier, 1926, p. 231).

Yet Smara continued to live on through descriptions in both Arabic and French texts. The descendants of Māʼ al-ʻAynayn composed Arabic poetry mourning the fall of Smara in the city eulogy (rithāʼ al-mudun) tradition (Tharif 2003). In 1930, the idea of reaching Smara became the obsession of French explorer Michel Vieuchange, whose posthumous travelogue went through several editions in both English and French (Vieuchange 1987). These descriptions and depictions have never been read together, thus depriving Smara of a plurivocal account of its significance. Through embracing a wide range of texts, from the geographic to the poetic, this paper aims to fill this lacunae with an account of Smara across the French and Arabic literary memory.  

Fatima Burney (SOAS, University of London)  

From Sugar to Soil: Towards Plural Models of Indian Multilingualism

The resurgence in scholarly attention to multilingual culture––of which this conference is one example––responds in part to a wider divestment from programs of foreign language study and comparative literature. These interventions point out that among the monolingual frameworks that now dominate academic approaches to literary studies, none is perhaps as prevailing as the field of “global anglophone”. As scholars working within this rubric know only too well, ‘global anglophone’ not only gestures to writers working beyond the geographical territories of the United States and the United Kingdom but often to writers for whom English is one of many operational languages to choose from, often a second- or third-language. Yet, even as the term ‘anglophone’ facilitates comparisons across the vast geographic range of its usage, it remains oddly coy about the multilingual depths of its origins. As a preliminary step towards resituating the multilingual dimensions of ‘anglophone,’ this paper will juxtapose examples of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poetry and poetic criticism that highlight the multilingual origins of Indian Anglophone with contemporaneous commentaries on Persianate literary culture in India by British philologists like John Gilchrist and S. W. Fallon. I pair these moments of nineteenth-century Indian Anglophone with British commentaries on Indo-Persian literary culture to reveal the disparate conceptions of ‘second-language’ that were held by prominent British philologists and the native scholars (munshī) they worked with. I hope to use this snapshot from the early hours of anglophone ascendancy to stimulate a discussion on the field’s ongoing tensions with linguistic multiplicity and to propose avenues of analysis that respond more directly to the language politics of its current constitution.

Rossella Ciocca  (Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale)

Beyond Anglo-globalism. Multilateral translation for multilingual world canons.

In experiencing Indian multilingual-multicultural scene from the perspective of Anglophone and Postcolonial Studies, I have met a number of conceptual problems I would like to discuss in order to contribute to the project of reshaping world literature beyond monolingual framing. In my talk I‘d like to structure my considerations around the following problematic issues: postcolonial studies and anglo-globalism; linguistic translation Vs cultural translation; inter-disciplinarity and area studies. In my final remarks I’d like to participate in the promoted ‘reading together’ practice and hint at, as an example, the multilingual canon of Partition narratives in English, Urdu and Bengali.

Jack Clift (SOAS, University of London)  

Multilingual and manifold: Methods for ‘reading together’ Hindi and Urdu historical fictions

The ‘reading together’ of Hindi and Urdu fiction allows for contextualised comparisons of literary production between two languages that are often read as belonging to distinct political, religious and cultural traditions, particularly in the decades since 1947. More specifically, bringing together historical-fictional writings in Hindi and Urdu makes possible nuanced interrogations not only of the intersections of these linguistic traditions, but also of the broader literary and historical traditions with which these languages are entangled, drawing into focus points of similarity while also recognising instances of cultural specificity. In this paper, I bring together Indian and Pakistani historical novels written in the 1940s and 1950s to explore the variety of levels at which ‘reading together’ can be conducted, highlighting interactions between – and, in some cases, the co-constitution of – the ‘historical’ and the ‘fictional’ across purported linguistic and cultural dichotomies. At the level of textual content, for instance, a ‘reading together’ of the novels of Krishna Sobti and Qurratulain Hyder – writing in Hindi and Urdu respectively – reveals a shared emphasis on gendered experience that forges links between acts of violence in the historical past and their reinscriptions in the present, transcending the political and religious legacies of events such as Partition. Juxtaposing the historical-fictional novels of the Urdu author Naseem Hijazi and the Hindi writer Acharya Chatursen Shastri, meanwhile, illuminates similarities between their approaches to historical fiction on a conceptual level – with Hijazi appealing simultaneously to the genres of tārīkh (‘history’) and dāstān (‘story, tale’), and Chatursen bringing together the concepts of itihāsa (‘history’) and rasa (‘literary taste’) – while at the same time noting the specificities that arise from the different literary traditions, and distinct audiences, to which they were speaking. Historical-fictional narratives also allow for the ‘reading together’ of distinct artistic and academic practices at a disciplinary level: a comparison of a Hindi novel by Rangey Raghav and various archaeological records from the early twentieth century not only elucidates the archive from which Raghav drew inspiration, but also clarifies the extent to which fictional narratives carried forward archaeological ideas, revealing an example of co-constitution between disciplines and corpora that are often treated as unrelated. While the particularities of these case studies vary, taken together they underscore the manifold possibilities for methodologies within the broader rubric of ‘reading together’ that are responsive not only to the particularities of Hindi and Urdu historical-fictional narratives but also to other specific literary genres and forms.

Roberto Gaudioso  (Università degli Studi di Napoli L’Orientale)

“Beyond languages” and “language of Being”: Kezilahabi’s project for a literature as living event.

Euphrase Kezilahabi speaks Kerewe as first language, but in the middle of 60s he wrote his first poems in English, then he translated them into Swahili: they constitute the first section of his first Swahili collection in free verse Kichomi (Tearing Pain 1974). This change from English to Swahili occurred in 1969 when he wrote in Swahili his first novel Rosa Mistika. He sent this manuscript to a competition for Anglophone novel in East Africa. The commission could not award Kezilahabi due to his use of Swahili, but they were impressed by Rosa Mistika that they decided to publish it. Swahili was for Kezilahabi the African language of liberation and detribalization in accordance with the project of Nyerere, who drove Tanganyika to independence and to the union with Zanzibar as the first President of Tanzania. In middle of 80s Kezilahabi’s poetics, strongly influenced by Nietzsche, found a quasi romantic solution in the Heideggerian existentialistic “language of Being”. He read it as poetry capable of overcoming time, space and language itself. However, this conception brought him to a contradiction in 2000s, between his use of Swahili and a ‘localization’ of the idea of language of Being as mother language (Kerewe). How can poetry so strongly set into language be situated beyond language? How literature, that is constituted by language, can project itself beyond its matter? Which is the textual tradition of a writer like Kezilahabi, who wrote his first poems in English, then later only in Swahili, whose work was strongly influenced by both the Kerewe oral literature and German philosophy? How can we ‘read together’ these textual traditions? These questions are the focus of my paper. They can help the reconsideration of what is context in literature and its role as art. Moreover, they challenge literary critics that in these decades focused too much on cultural or political aspects to rethink literature as art, thus reconsidering the aesthetic dimension of literature (which is not less political neither more decontextualized).

Itzea Goikolea-Amiano (SOAS, University of London)

Tunisia seen with Foreign Eyes: Reading Together Aḥmad al-Timbuktāwī’s naṣīḥa and Louis Frank’s Description de cette Régence

This paper reads together two early nineteenth-century texts: one written in Arabic in 1808 by the West African scholar Aḥmad b. al-Qāḍī al-Timbuktāwī, the other published in French in 1816 by Louis Frank, appointed personal physician of the Bey of Tunis in 1806. Both texts discuss socio-cultural aspects of Tunisia as seen by foreign authors who sojourned in the country, yet are different in scope: while al-Timbuktāwī’s naṣīḥa was directed to the authorities of Tunis and aimed at persuading them to ban the religious practices of the sub-Saharan populations in the Regency, Frank’s Description was written for a European audience and discussed historical, geographical, sociological and ethnographical issues. The paper will first situate the texts within their historical and literary landscape, and it will discuss them in light of comparable texts from the Mediterranean and the Islamic umma, both historical and modern. It will map the trans-regional debates about Islamic reform, slavery, and European imperial expansion, and the literary forms that these adopted. The paper will then focus on the stylistic and rhetorical techniques of both al-Timbuktāwī and Frank, the ways in which they constructed and legitimised their authorship and how that shaped the texts. In al-Timbuktāwī’s naṣīḥa the normative character of the text is spelt out from the very title of the letter: Hatk al-sitr ‘ammā ‘alayhi sudānu Tūnis min al-kufr, or Unveiling the Infidel Religion of the Blacks of Tunis. On the contrary, Frank’s Description de cette Régence purports to be a ‘truthful’ narration of Tunisian history, society and culture – although the author neither read nor spoke any of the local languages, and in fact the printed version included notes by the linguist Jean-Joseph Marcel, whom Frank had met during the French campaign on Egypt. From a historical point of view, reading these two texts together enriches our knowledge of early nineteenth-century Ottoman Tunisia, in general, and of the multicultural and multilingual aspects therein, in particular. How does the method of ‘reading together’ help us shed light on the relation of these texts – did they belong to and shape completely distinct literary genres and traditions or did they overlap or relate to each other, and how? – and on what they conveyed – what do the textual and paratextual elements in each of the texts address and what do they render invisible, and how?

Towards Literary Multilingualism: Representation of Linguistic Diversity in Novels in Amharic and Oromo (Ethiopia)

Ayele K. Roba (SOAS, University of London)                               

This paper presents two main concerns in the study of Ethiopian novels. On the one hand, it explores the possibility of applying the approach of ‘reading together’ to the most divergent and highly polemicized field of Ethiopian literary studies where the literary texts do not seem interact both in their purposes and themes they address. Karima Laachir(2016), who introduced the approach of ‘reading together’ to the study postcolonial novels in Arabic and French in Morocco, argues that this approach helps us locate the ‘common ground and mutual influence’ between novels in different languages that circulate in the same region as well as the link between the novel and the pre-modern literary tradition including orature. However, we hardly find the ‘common ground’ in the literatures in the two widely spoken Ethiopian languages, Amharic and Oromo, which are characterized by a colonial-like antagonistic relationship, and Ethiopian literary studies and most novels in both languages have reinforced the divergence and disjunction between the literatures in the two languages. Using two novels, Yeburqa Zimita (Amharic) and Yoomi Laataa? (Oromo), both semi-fictional and semi-historical, the paper attempts to contest this practice.  On the other hand, drawing on the approaches of ‘reading together’ and ‘multilingual locals’, the paper presents the fictional representation of linguistic diversity in the country and its implication for multilingualizing Ethiopian literary practice. Finally, the paper concludes with my argument for literary multilingualism as a form of resistance that individual authors employ to counter literary monologism and linguistic monolingualism that imposed by the Ethiopian language policy.

Karima Laachir (SOAS, University of London)

Reading together the Aesthetics and Politics of Decolonisation:  a View from Morocco

Moroccan thinker Mahdi Elmandjra (1996) states that cultural decolonisation remains an unfinished project in the intellectual and political evolution of the Maghreb and the wider Arabic speaking world. The attempt to decolonise Arabic thought haunted a generation of Maghrebi intellectuals who were predominantly steeped in French colonial schooling and largely influenced by the metropole’s intellectual trends of the 1960s and 70s. This paper focuses on two Moroccan intellectuals: Abdallah Laroui (b. 1933) and Abdelkebir Khatibi (1938-2009) both considered “radical critics” who invented a decolonial language of Arabic critique in both Arabic and French that draws on local and global paradigms (Sharabi 1988, Aboul-Ela 2018). Laroui’s philosophical and historical works, mostly written in French, are widely studied and translated, but his literary works written in Arabic are little known or studied. In fact, there are no studies that read Laroui’s critical works together with his literary ones; in the case of Khatibi, whose critical and literary works are in French, the combined analysis of the critical and the literary remains limited. This paper proposes to read together comparatively Laroui’s novels: Al-Ghorba (Alienation 1971) and Al-Yatim (The Orphan, 1978), with Khatibi’s La mémoire tatouée: Autobiographie d’un décolonisé (1971), while engaging with questions of the aesthetics and forms of creativity that for both authors, expand the critical field. I argue that reading Laroui and Khatibi’s literary works together can shed important light on their decolonial aesthetics and politics, particularly on how they perceived the unfinished project of decolonisation as being aimed at imperial hegemony as well as at the internal exclusions of ethno-nationalism.

Sara Marzagora (SOAS University of London)

Deceit and divination in Amharic and Swahili theatre: Mängǝstu Lämma, Ebrahim Hussein, and the prophecy of national liberation

This paper “reads together” two plays: first is the Amharic-language drama Ṣärra Kolonyalist (“Anti-colonialist”), written by Mängǝstu Lämma, one of Ethiopia’s literary giants, in the 1970s and staged in the 1980s. The second is the Swahili-language play Kinkejetile (from the name of the protagonist) written in the late 1960s by one of Tanzanian most prominent poets and playwrights, Ebrahim Hussein.

Both plays are set during the colonial period, and their narration of anti-colonial resistance revolves around a prophecy of national liberation. The paper investigates the role of the prophecy – first of all as a plot device used to collapse past, present and future and retroactively talk about the nation-building process as a destiny to be fulfilled. This destiny, though, is continuously questioned, and the prophecy of national liberation is used by the authors to reflect over the process of myth-making and the formation of political ideologies. Both prophecies urge unity – and in both plays the prophesized unity allows the authors to constantly interrogate themes of identity and tradition. The two playwrights arrive at somewhat different conclusions, Mängǝstu reaffirming Ethiopia’s dominant historical and national narrative, and Hussein demonstrating a much more sceptical and disillusioned vision. The paper will conclude that the prophecy is functional to a semiotic reflection over meaning and language, which adds a layer of philosophical self-reflexivity to the two plays.

Francesca Orsini (SOAS, University of London)

Reading together village/modernity

In the anticolonial movement, the village (republic) was a potent symbol of authentic India. In the 1950s in the context of post-independence “Congress Raj”, competing Cold War interests, political and literary critiques, and state-led visions and cinematic fantasies of nation-building, the village appears at the crucible of very different imaginaries and discourses. Of “true India” vs the West, of social and economic underdevelopment vs (urban) mobility and industrial development, of bureaucratic indifference vs dangerous politicization, of idyllic past and dystopic future, but also dystopic present vs radiant future. At the same time, it kind of exited Indian English fiction and was “left” to writing in Indian languages.

This paper “reads together” the asymmetry of literary representations of the village in Hindi fiction and English magazines of the 1950s, and triangulates them with visual depictions of the village in state and private advertisements, and with the “village turn” in Indian anthropology, which in this decade shifted from “book-view” to “field-view” (Jodhka). Reading together helps us move away from monolingual literary genealogies, but also makes us see literary treatments of the village in the 1950s not as examples of quaint, off-mainstream “regionalism” but as forms of knowledge production (usefully read in dialogue with anthropological studies) and contributions to nation-building discussions. The presentation will consider the English magazines Quest(sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Freedom) and Illustrated Weekly of India, owned by the Times of India group; the Hindi novels Paratī parikathā(Tale of a Wasteland, 1957) by Ph. Renu, Alag alag vaitaraṇī (Many Vaitaranis, 1967 but set in the 1950s) by Shivaprasad Singh, and Satī maiyā kā chaurā(Sati Maiya’s Shrine, 1959); and S. Wadley’s Behind Mud Walls and S. Jodhka’s study of anthropological village studies.

Maria Elena Paniconi, Università di Macerata

Egyptian Bildungsnarratives and the Prism of Identity in A beer at the snooker club by Waguih Ghali (1964)

The “canonical novel” in Egypt was triggered by a political project. Several scholars have highlighted how the emergence of a precise type of novel, characterized by realistic language and plot, and dealing with juvenile stories, romances, encounters and travels, was chosen at the beginning of the Twentieth Century as a leading form among other types of novel to bring a narrative of national identity, Egyptian territorialism, and modernity. In this context, the Bildung telos is always drawn by the relationship the hero entertains with the Nation and his own perception of being an Egyptian citizen.

After a brief discussion on these narratives, written in Arabic and traditionally perceived as seminal national allegories, in Egypt and in the Arab world, I will focus on the masterpiece A beer in the snooker club (1964) by the Coptic Egyptian Waguih Ghali.

This novel was written in English and translated into Arabic only in 2007. Although it has been enormously popular in Egypt, it has not received much attention in the academic field so far, as it does not fit the traditional literary categories. Trying to express a prismatic Egyptian identity in English, overcoming the duality of postcolonial narrative, interrogating the nostalgic discourse of the old Egyptian cosmopolitan life, Ghali’s humoristic masterpiece, set both in Cairo and London, articulates a multi-faceted critique of both the British colonial rule and the Nasser-brand nationalism.

“Reading Ghali “together” with its Egyptian arabophone context will open up new vistas on concepts such as “authenticity” and “Egyptianness”, beyond the Nasser’s brand of Arabophone / Panrabist nationalism”. In particular, I will compare Ghali’s masterpiece with a corpus of Egyptian Bildung-like narratives published between the Fifties and the Seventies, including Al-bāb al-maftūḥ by Latifa al-Zayyat (1960), and the “Desillusionment  novels” by Mahfouz (1945 – 1954).

Moreover, reading the novel against the National(ist) Arabophone Bildungsnarratives will show how the novel echoes and, at once at the same time, interrogates the established notion of “Egyptianness” and the literary canon which was built on it.

Michele Petrone (Université Catholique de Louvain – Phil And Project)

Manuscript heritage and Oromo ʻaǧamī: a first assessment of the situation

Islam in Ethiopia has been studied as a non-autochthonous phenomenon, due to the perception of the country as primarily Christian and to the lack of documentation of local textual production. The Islam in the Horn of Africa Project (IslHornAfr, 2013-18) has brought to light a large patrimony of Islamic manuscripts, mainly in Arabic but also in ʻaǧamī of Ethiopian local languages. Texts are mainly devotional poems produced in and for Sufi circles (Qādirī and Sammānī). These new materials can be the first occasion to shed light on local production of Islamic poetry in both languages and to study the position occupied by Oromo poems in Arabic collections. Why those specific poems were written in Oromo? To what extent Arabic religious poetry influenced the production in Oromo? Which role Arabic and Oromo play in bilingual poems? Do they vehiculate different meanings or are they used when dealing with specific topics? The lack of a standardized system of transcription demands for further steps of research and fieldwork in order to properly answer these questions. At this stage I will provide a description of the methodological framework of inquiry that aims to insert local poetic production in the larger domain of Arabic religious poetry. “Reading together” Arabic and Oromo is an attempt in challenging the vision of Ethiopian Islam as a foreign, imported religious phenomenon.

Silvia Riva (University of Milan)

The perceived divide in Congolese texts: others stories to be written and told (colonial consolidation, decolonisation, and the current globalising moment).

My aim is to question the perceived divide between oral heritage and imaginary and Congolese literary francophone texts, to show how old (colonial and postcolonial) and new (global) dynamics and strategies of creativity have always been used to co-construct literary regional and cosmopolitan heritage.

Through the presentation of some case studies (taken from Ciluba and French), I will highlight that the struggle for expression has shaped the Congolese literary landscape since the beginnings of colonialism; that it is a never-ending success story, in which the old narrative of imitation and assimilation to the metropolitan literary field has to be reduced.

Massimo Zaccaria (University of Pavia)

Beginning of writing in Tigrinya in Eritrea by non-elites: A ‘reading together’ of the Archives