In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Why Valeurs?Comparative Literature in Mid-Century Alexandria
  • May Hawas

La littérature des prochaines décades sera moralisante […] elle cherchera quelles valeurs sont acceptables pour l’homme du XXe siècle […] La relève des écrivains sera morale et, je le crains, moralisante; soucieuse d’en finir avec la valeurie de l’avant-guerre, elle essaiera d’imposer des valeurs neuves. Mais la fonction de l’écrivain n’est pas seulement morale. Elle consiste surtout à grouper les mots et les idées de telle facon qu’en jaillisse de la beauté. Ecrire est un métier, plus malaisé que beaucoup d’autres, et qui requiert un long apprentissage. Pour moi, j’ai employé trente ans de ma vie avant de me former du style une idée qui me satisfaisse.

(Étiemble, La littérature française de 1950 à 2000 36-37)

René Étiemble ends his manifesto on the crisis of comparative literature by writing that any of his suggestions, famous or infamous, simply reflected the inseparability of research from pedagogy. He stressed: “I have chosen to read the theorists of our discipline only after elaborating some ideas springing from my indissociable experience as professor and writer” (60).

Since comparative literature makes pedagogy and research indissociable, it is apt to dwell on literary transnationalism as a form of pedagogy, particularly in the work of wandering scholars who create international networks. This article will focus on the Francophone scholars working in Alexandria in the 1940s, placing Étiemble in the centre. The article will analyze the reception of the work of these intellectuals in Arabic, French, and English periodicals and memoirs of the time; and it will suggest some ways in which the pedagogical heritage of comparative literature overseas might be relevant to current discussions of world literature.

Étiemble spent four years in Egypt as Head of the French Department at the Faculty of Letters from 1945-49. As soon as he arrived, this young, erudite thirty-five-year-old realized that the French literary scene in Egypt was well established, and had its own societies, newspapers, rituals, and theatre troupes, all directed, staffed, [End Page 370] and sponsored by Francophone Egyptians. Despite British occupation, it was French, the language of the Levant, that had been established as the cultural language of Alexandria early on (Mansel 245). As Gaston Zananiri,1 one of the foremost patrons of culture in Alexandria, put it:

Si la communauté anglaise vivait en marge de la société alexandrine, les Français, comme les Italiens et les Grecs, y tinrent une place de choix, dans ce monde cosmopolite où leur langue était parlée couramment, bien souvent avec élégance, si l’on doit tenir compte des nombreux écrivains d’expression française qui, pendant plusieurs générations, apportèrent leur contribution à la mise en valeur de la francophonie […] Le français devint la langue véhiculaire qui permit à quelque cinquante organismes sociaux de coordonner leurs activités.

(36)

Major cultural mouthpieces included the Amitiés Françaises, the French missionary schools, the Lycée français (the first Mission laïque school in the country), and L’Atelier of Alexandria (Association d’artistes et d’écrivains).2 A bulwark of local periodicals in French were sponsored by local businessmen and cultural patrons, including Zananiri himself as well as Aḥmad Zaki Abu Shādi, the eminent Egyptian Romantic poet.

Arriving three years into the war, Étiemble was welcomed with a great show of support in the newspapers. The professor from France, the saviour of ‘our’ universal French culture, had arrived, Egyptian newspapers such as La Réforme, Le Progrès égyptien, and Le journal d’Alexandrie (Supplément de la bourse) claimed.3

If Auerbach, Spitzer, Said, and others became worldly due to exile, even melancholy, the case of Étiemble and company in Egypt is rather different, and certainly much less melancholic. Then again, they were French, not German. Although he was partly a refugee from World War II, Étiemble’s position in Egypt is slightly humorous in retrospect. The same ‘emmerdeur’ of the academy, the man who called for placing Chinese, Japanese, and Arab cultures at the heart of the French canon, the first...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-9659
Print ISSN
0319-051X
Pages
pp. 370-379
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-09
Open Access
No
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