Featuring Sarga Moussa
Join the Middle East Institute for a guest lecture with Sarga Moussa. The opening of the Suez Canal (1869) was celebrated as a world event (thousands of personalities from both ‘West’ and ‘East’ were invited by the Khedive Ismaïl), but the meaning of this event remains a subject of debate. Surprisingly, little attention has been paid to literary and cultural representations.This talk examines a range of representations and observations, including ‘poèmes de circonstance’ (poems written specially for the occasion) glorifying the progress of “civilization” and its “hero,” Ferdinand de Lesseps and a series of texts (speeches, articles, travel books…) that construct Suez as a “contact zone” resulting from the (ephemeral) concentration of East and West on a narrow band between two seas. It considers at greater length a case study, Edmond About’s Le Fellah (The Peasant) (1869), a novel based on a real stay in Egypt. The novel explores the encounter of French and English travelers with each other and with a rich Egyptian land owner (the so called fellah Ahmed, whose father died digging the Suez Canal). A central aspect is the complex position of the Egyptian hero, whose final recognition of the Suez Canal as a positive historical development doesn’t prevent him from criticizing Europe. In these readings, orientalist literature, as delineated by Edward Said, is explored as a field of dialogical viewpoints and ideological instabilities.Sarga Moussa is a Directeur de recherche at the CNRS, Unité mixte de recherche THALIM (Théorie et histoire des arts et des littératures de la modernité), Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3.This event is co-sponsored by the Columbia Maison Française and the Middle East Institute.