The perceptions of the body and its role and actions, its tendencies and promiscuities, its motivations and confusions; these concepts were shared and described by the guest speakers of the discussion on Body and Literature that took place at the Italian Cultural Institute in Cairo on Saturday, 19 May, as part of the Cairo Mediterranean Literary Festival.
Fadi Awad, the moderator of the event, questioned how the concept and term "body" has diverted into its many uses and how the "body" has turned into the mode of expression - which even the guests strongly voiced.
From Italy, Viola Di Grado, novelist and winner of Italian literary prize, spoke about her award-winning novel, 70% Acrylic and 30% Wool. Di Grado’s main character had lost her ability to speak following her father’s death, “Camelia’s body was refusing to let words out. She would open her mouth but nothing happens.” The solution to her trouble was in the Chinese language that became her whole life: a character represents a whole word or part of a word, turning the thinking into symbols and expresses what she wishes to say through them, writes Mary Mourad.
“But her vocal anorexia soon turns to vocal bulimia: she would speak so much then suddenly discover she’s returning back to silence, to nothingness,” Di Grado describes.
The body of torture and pleasure
Ahmed Naje, journalist for Literature News and cultural events, and author of the novel Rogers, later translated to Italian, shared a presentation full of pictures of bodies: all type of bodies. Naje was attempting to look at the way in which torture, a punishment to the body, had turned into a means of humiliating the soul and extracting information. He spoke of the training given to police force, turning them into brutal animals who seek revenge from any anti-regime individual, showing their full contempt to revolution in the photographs where they’re holding guns and hitting women.
Taking it one step forward, Naje dived into the cyber world where bodies meet virtually, getting whatever satisfaction they may get in a world where there’s no social discrimination, no taboos, no haram (religiously forbidden) and no spying eyes.
On to Cairo, he imagined it a city (or body) difficult to interpret unless one finds a way into its back allies: the drug vendors, brothels, homosexual parties, Islamists conventions, Church gatherings, wife-exchanging hubs and the many other communities hiding beneath the dust and pollution.
Naje’s last point was directed at political Islam, with inability to offer alternatives, while speaking of beauty, freedoms and pleasures, yet behaving otherwise, considering in particular Abdel-Monem El-Shahat who spoke of Naguib Mahfouz’s literature as promoting prostitution.
Leaving the audience after this long scroll through all sorts of photos, Naje shared a view of the body as a means for extreme suppression as well as extreme pleasure; both existing next to one another in every dimension of this country and standing out openly since the revolution. The full body expressions came to life, whether through the open encounters between men and women in the revolution, or through expressing hatred for these scenes and standing against them.
The body and the revolution
The body, for Amr Ezzat, journalist and blogger, was in itself the means for the revolution. Ezzat obtained a degree in philosophy after completing his first degree in engineering, "gaining a certificate to philosophise" as he described. He borrowed a story from a French author who described a little employee who had to face his superior, and discovers that he doesn't know what to do with his: whether to sit, stand, or do something else with his body, eventually finding himself touching his superior's strange red ear, unable to control his curiosity, leading to his immediate dismissal from his job.
Ezzat remembers this story with the tears in his eyes on 28 January, The Friday of Anger, when the masses of people approached Tahrir Square, and he thought “it’s a revolution,” and wasn't sure what to do with his body.
For Ezzat, the revolution is a body acting politics and going to extreme radicalism, expressing itself physically. “The revolution is made of people who are able to bring their bodies bare in front of the regime body; not its politicians, but it's police and armed force. Here, decision, thinking and reaction are not too much under the control of the owner of the body, and the action itself is the message, not the deep thinking behind it.”
“It's a physical message that actually surprised the receiver; a call out of the normal traditions and conditions of things, therefore it incites anger. It reveals the face of authority: it's unwilling to take any risk to give up its authority over the people and shows its aggressive face against the bodies of the people, preferring to harm bodies to break the revolution,” Ezzat expounded. from ahramonline