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Contemporary Arab Artists from the Middle East
Procreation and Ambivalence
Najwa Barakat
Intifada, Islam, desert, identity, remembrance, violence
Picture Gallery
Writing as an autobiography of the soul
Is writing an adequate alternative to despair?

A Sky so Close
The Jordanian Desert
Bedouin, satellite dishes and mirrors of stone

Paths through Literature and Exile
Thoughts on Music from the Orient
Imagining a Different Future
A Diary of Disorientation: Part 1
A Diary of Disorientation: Part 2
Najwa Barakat
???z?t is a journalist and writer from Lebanon, now living in Paris. She has published four novels in Arabic and one in French. The following is an extract from a talk she gave on her own poetology in Ammam, Jordan in 2000, where she discussed her relationship to her fictional characters. The text of her lecture appeared in al-Qods, an Arabic newspaper published in London.

Every day I find myself newly overwhelmed by the uncertainty of what might happen to the world I if I don’t write. Probably nothing. And every day I’m surprised by the conviction that the world is not harmed if I do.
Forever on the threshold, in a mixed-up time, on the borderline. That’s the place of writing—its time.
And because the novel is the art of uncertainty par excellence and the art of certainty par excellence, I live in the constant uncertainty whether I’m not unwelcome in this world, and I defy it. At the same time, I am always certain that the fictional novel form is the only reality able to lead me out of this long tunnel’s darkness.
Like a volcano. Like a primeval atom, a figure bursts out and heralds the explosion of a novel, like an atom bomb.
In the novel I, the author, narrate what might be my own story. In other words, I cease to be one person in order to start as another. I need this distance. How else could I explain my own failings and loss? But the distance between my life and its meaning can only exist when I suspend my life in the real world, relocating it in a place that enables me to reflect on it. So I am writing my life in order to reflect on it, since I will not permit it to be lost meaninglessly. My only comfort is that it has a meaning. I am writing my life and, in that way, give it a meaning.
And in the novel I, the author, narrate what might not be my own story. In other words, I invent figures that have no connection to me. Consequently, the meaning exists outside myself, in those limits making me the same as everyone else. I want to deconstruct the world around me to reach the symbol. Want to deconstruct the symbol to attain the meaning. In this way, I am in the essence of a character. I give her a value by a meaning, that meaning that remains beyond me.
The author’s relationship to the figure in the novel exists in ambivalence. The figure is the author’s desire to reproduce, the vehicle for immortality.
The “author” invents some figure, sets her down in the world and says: I bless you, and therefore you shall be fruitful and multiply, bringing forth peoples and nations. Be like the salt of the earth. I turn myself into a prophet and say: How can I not love you? Turn myself into the devil and say: How can I not curse you, since I wish you only evil, pain and suffering?
The author’s relationship to the figure in the novel exists in ambivalence and the figure is my misfortune, created with my own hands.
The “author” says: I disown my deed. This monster I created. She is neither man nor woman. Neither fish nor stone. She bears no resemblance to me. She is not the child of my parents and is not related to me. If she starts moving, I follow her. If I leave her, she follows me. Like a spy. She isn’t me, and I am everything she is. I’m not her and she is everything I’m not able to be. Between us there is no rancour and no hatred. No friendship and no love. Where has she come from? How could she take over my house and take it away from me? (...)
The author’s relationship to the figure in the novel exists in ambivalence but the figure is equally the writer’s victim and guinea pig.
The “author” says: I invent a figure and hide myself behind her in order to wreak havoc. I cry over what I’ve done and conspire with others against her. I send the figure off in front so that she gets hit by the first bullet and I can get away unharmed, unscathed. I sell her and leave her to her fate. Put in her mouth what I don’t dare say, what I repress, the things I am ashamed of (...)
The author’s relationship to the figure in the novel exists in ambivalence. How unimportant and lonely I’d be without her!
The “author” says: She confuses me! How she confuses me! She’s the riddle I created and now she rebels against me. Everything I care about prospers with her. Her meadowlands are green, her waters are pleasing and sparkling. Her family is my family and my heart circles for eternity in the trail of this glittering star. She comforts me when my soul is spread upon her dew-bedecked grass. Her trees are thick with leaves, and the breezes swirl from them, gently flowing into my window and setting my curtains dancing. She tastes of lukewarm milk. Tastes of my parents voices as they softly and peacefully talked us children into sleep.
Who have I got apart from her? Apart from her, who lets me regain my self-respect, innocence and purity? If I am not faithful, she takes my side. She loves me. Knows me. Is true to me. If I long for her, then I find her. If I ask her a question, she gives me an answer. There will never be peace between us but she is my place of rest. My glory. My language. My companion. My family. My progeny. My passion, my desire, and my deep love.
Figures in novel are our search for meaning, any meaning, and our relationship to them will always be through ambivalence.
Heroes who people our bleak world, making us love them and cling to them.
They live our lives for us, the life that rebels against us, as stubbornly as a mule, and so we envy them.
They cushion our fragile innocence as if on costly crystal, so we protect them.
They make us look ridiculous and expose us, so we hate them.
They tear away our armour and masks, so we resent them.
We need them. They are our bad luck and good fortune. More real than we are. But they are the ones with nothing in their veins but floods of words.

From the German by Andrew Boreham

Author: Najwa Barakat