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  • Hacking the Modern:Arabic Writing in the Virtual Age
  • Tarek El-Ariss (bio)


With the proliferation of Arabic blogging, emailing, chatting, text messaging, and other forms of techno-writing, contemporary Arabic literature is undergoing a series of structural and linguistic transformations. Specifically, the encounter with the virtual and the effects of globalization are ushering in a new set of intertextual references that cut across languages, media, and literary traditions. A new generation of Arab authors is entering the scene of writing from the world of blogging and scriptwriting, publishing blogs as novels. In addition, many young novelists are appropriating the structure of blogs in their literary production, some veiling their true identity with pen names, others putting it on display through fantasizing narratives of persecution and censorship. A new Arabic writing is emerging from this back and forth between virtuality and print, the novel and the blog, and Arabic and English. In these writings, we find English words left in the Latin script or at times transliterated; stream of consciousness; the fragmentation of the narrator's function; repetition; and various subversions of narrative structure. In many instances, the difference between the blog and the novel is unclear. "The generation of an electronic environment has led to a break with former narrative modes," argues Marie-Thérèse Abdel-Messih.1 These writing modes are increasingly calling attention to the ways in which literature is understood, read, and circulated, thereby forcing critics to rethink textuality and canon formation. [End Page 533]

Examining aesthetic shifts and stylistic transformations in new Arabic writing, this article investigates the effects of techno-writing and virtuality on the theorizing and teaching of Arabic literature. I focus on Egyptian author Ahmed Alaidy's novel An takun ʿAbbas al-ʿAbd (2003) [Being Abbas el Abd (2006)] and read it as a postmodern manifesto for a new writing characterized by textual disruption, sabotage, and mimicry. I argue that this new author, likened to a hacker, infiltrates the publishing establishment from which he was excluded and disrupts the codes of Arabic literary production. Appropriated from techno-language and used as a verb in Alaidy's text, hacking functions as a literary subversion that empowers a new generation of writers to critique an Arab project of aesthetic and political modernity through a new language and media. Elaborating on literary and philosophical readings of new aesthetics in the works of David Damrosch, Alain Badiou, Sabry Hafez, and Muhsin al-Musawi, my investigation challenges readings of syncretism and hybridity that either celebrate these new texts or relegate them to globalization's neocolonial dynamics.

The Literary Scene

Both established Arab writers like Elias Khoury (b. 1948), Hoda Barakat (b. 1952), and Gamal al-Ghitani (b. 1945), among others, as well as new writers from across the Arab world are contributing to a flourishing literary scene. Internet savvy and conversant with the products and transformations brought about by globalization, this new generation relates to English not as a foreign language but rather as the language that is constitutive of their cultural landscape. From blogs and websites to satellite TV, films, and literature, global culture is pervasive in both these authors' psychological and material realms. In this cultural landscape, a new generation is looking for a literary voice, an articulation of a cultural experience that can no longer be understood in terms of neatly organized binary oppositions of resistance and imperialism, East and West, and tradition and modernity. Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, cellular phones and text messaging have allowed Arab writers to articulate new identities and experiences, as they mix languages, address the reader, and blur the distinction between traditional genres.

These new literary voices have benefited from technological development and the Internet but also from the decentralization and privatization of the publishing industry in the Arab world. Dar El Shorouk in Egypt is publishing many new works such as Khalid Khamisi's Taxi (2007) [Taxi (2008)] and ʿAwza atgawez (2008) [I Want to Get Married (2010)] by Ghada [End Page 534] ʿAbd al-ʿAal. Merit Publishers, which is Cairo-based as well, is likewise giving voice to many young literary talents who are coming to writing from the world of blogs, movie scripts, and...


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pp. 533-548
Launched on MUSE
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