Please join us to celebrate Nouri Gana’s recent publication, Melancholy Acts: Defeat and Cultural Critique in the Arab World (Fordham University Press, 2023). He will be joined in discussion by 3CT’s director, Lisa Wedeen.
How do the literatures and cultures of oppressed societies survive and flourish in spite of the overdetermining conditions of precarity and injustice of which they are a product and against which they protest? Might the symptom of oppression become simultaneously the agent of its critique? Melancholy Acts offers richly nuanced reflections on these questions through a series of wide-ranging engagements with Arab thought, literature, and film in the aftermath of the 1948 dispossession of Palestinians and the 1967 military defeat of Arab armies.
Melancholy Acts offers a psychoaffective theory of cultural production that arises out of the disjunction between political impoverishment and cultural resistance to colonial and neoliberal oppression. Such a theory allows the author to trace the melancholy disposition of Arabic literary and filmic productions and to discern the precarious rhetorical modes of their critical intervention in a culture that is continually strained to its breaking point. Across six chapters, Melancholy Acts reads with rigor and sensitivity contentious topics of Arab contemporaneity such as secular modernity and manhood, Arab nationalism and leftism, literary and artistic iltizām, or commitment, Islamism, and martyrdom. The book tracks the melancholy politics that inform the literary and cultural projects of a multitude of Arab novelists (Ghassan Kanafani and Naguib Mahfouz); poets and playwrights (Mahmoud Darwish, Nizar Qabbani, and Saadallah Wannous); filmmakers (Nouri Bouzid, Moufida Tlatli, Youssef Chahine, and Hany Abu Assad); alongside the work of such intellectuals as Hussein Muruwwa, Malek Bennabi, Karima Lazali, George Tarabishi, and Fethi Benslama, from within the Arab world, as well as such non-Arab thinkers as Freud, Lacan, Adorno, Fanon, Spivak, Butler, and Žižek.
Melancholy Acts charts a fresh and bold new approach to Arabic and comparative literature that combines in interlaced simultaneity a high sensitivity to local idioms, as they swerve between symptom and critique, with nuanced knowledge of the geopolitics of theory and psychoanalysis.
Nouri Gana is Professor of Comparative Literature & Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). He is the author of Melancholy Acts: Defeat and Cultural Critique in the Arab World (Fordham University Press, 2023) & Signifying Loss: Toward a Poetics of Narrative Mourning (Bucknell UP, 2011/paperback 2015), and the editor of The Making of the Tunisian Revolution: Contexts, Architects, Prospects & The Edinburgh Companion to the Arab Novel in English (Edinburgh UP, 2013).
Lisa Wedeen is the Mary R. Morton Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science and the College and Faculty Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT) at the University of Chicago. Her publications include three books: Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria (1999; with a new preface, 2015); Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen (2008); and Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment, and Mourning in Syria (2019).