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Contemporary Arab Artists from the Middle East
Paths through Literature and Exile
Hussain Al-Mozany
Intifada, Islam, desert, identity, remembrance, violence
Picture Gallery
Writing as an autobiography of the soul
Is writing an adequate alternative to despair?

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

Thoughts on Music from the Orient
Imagining a Different Future
A Diary of Disorientation: Part 1
A Diary of Disorientation: Part 2
Hussain Al-Mozany, born in 1954 in the south of Iraq, grew up in Baghdad and has been living in Germany since 1980. After publishing numerous works in Arabic, he wrote his most recent two novels in German. The central theme of his writings is the search for an identity in a foreign land. Hussain Al-Mozany works as an author, translator and journalist. In the following, he gives an insight into his understanding of his writings, his exile, and contemporary Iraqi literature.

1. You wrote your most recent books "The Marsh-dweller" and "Mansur, or The Allure of the Occident" in German. Have they been translated into Arabic, and are your works known in the Arab literary world or are you considered there to be a “German” writer?

I first developed the basic idea for the novel "Mansur, or the Allure of the Occident" in an Arabic version; it appeared as a short story in my Arabic collection "Harif al-Mudun" (Autumn of the Towns) in 1995. But there’s neither an Arabic version nor a translation of my first novel "The Marsh-dweller". After having published for decades in Arabic, I didn’t see any real point in continuing to write for the Arab feature section anymore. It meant a double alienation for me, writing for a fictional Arab reader and continuing to remain anonymous. In the end I felt I was in a position not only to use German but also to write for a real reader. And that meant I could see a way out of my own self-inflicted anonymity.
This led to a critical dialogue with modern German, both language and literature. For me, writing implies first, an aesthetic processing of feeling and second, the technical aspect of dealing with the potential in the German language. That’s why I’m no longer concerned about the reactions of the Arab press—and that’s also true of my stance towards the Arab literati. It is a non-intentional break with the Arab world and their interests still preoccupy me, of course. But I don’t want to be a bilingual writer any more.

2. In your picaresque novel "Mansur, or the Allure of the Occident" you caricature both German immigration policy and the Arab exile community in Germany. Is your literature an attempt to mediate between German anxieties and Arab-exile self-admiration?

I leave it to others to judge whether my literature is a mediation between the German policy of exclusion and Arab formality. Basically, I don’t want to mediate at all; at most I wish to communicate. I’m interested in dealing with my experiences abroad. It is about this almost insurmountable “how”. How can I create a work of art after ten year’s of studying literature and after the ordeal of constantly living in an exceptional situation?

3. You left Iraq in 1978 and have lived in Germany since 1980. Do you still have much contact with Iraq and what is your relationship with the Iraqi exile scene in Germany?

Unfortunately, for about 25 years I’ve only had sketchy contact with Iraq. Iraqis in Iraq know of the importance of the writers in exile. But if they return, their fate will be no different from that of the German exile writers—the most famous, such as Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht, received an enthusiastic welcome and were honoured, the less famous were ignored.
The intercultural relations of the exiled Iraqi literati naturally become difficult as literati are problematic even under normal circumstances. Nevertheless, this fact is essential for the development of those in exile. Having to endure a creative “isolation” is more productive and even perhaps healthier than sinking into melancholic nostalgia. In the end, exile remains a terrible experience even when it is experienced amongst contented Germans.

4. Do you know if there is a literary scene in Iraq today or is the significant contemporary Iraqi literature written outside the country?

There may well be propaganda writers who idealize Saddam Hussein’s machinations and wars. Entire libraries have been created based on fear, hypocrisy, and sycophancy.
As for the second part of your question, first have a look at the situation of intellectuals in Germany and Austria under National Socialism. With few exceptions almost all of the important creative artists left their homeland. Although German exile literature was shaped by the cruelty and destruction of a ruthless dictatorship, it provided a vivid example of intellectual resistance.
The situation of Iraqi literature is comparable. Hundreds of writers left the country. In contrast to German exile, Iraqi exile has lasted twice as long to date, and there’s no prospect of any return in the near future. Despite all of this, exile is a chance, at the very least a chance of survival. Of course many Iraqi exile writers feed on the old glory, although some others experiment, struggle for their own style, but most are preoccupied with gaining any foothold in a foreign environment at all. Since in Iraq conformity is rather more the rule, Iraqi exile literature plays a prominent role because of the potential inherent in it - above all, the possibility of freedom.

From the German by Stuart Vizard

Author: Hussain Al-Mozany