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Barra and Zaman

Youssef Rakha
Youssef Rakha
Fellow cinephiles, ancient and modern:
Please be apprised of the fact that Barra and Zaman – a piece of creative nonfiction in 200 numbered paragraphs – has been scheduled for publication on 7 December 2020. Subtitled Reading Modern Egypt in Shadi Abdel Salam’s The Mummy, this textual engagement with the classic film is part of the Palgrave Studies in Arab Cinema series, and is appearing out as a Palgrave Pivot volume.
It’s only an essay, I know, but I haven’t had a book out in any language since 2017, and I’ve never written anything like this anyway, so I feel it’s enough of a big deal to merit its own newsletter. 
And so:
First, in his brilliant preface Nezar Andary, who commissioned, edited and fought for the book, wrote, “Barra and zaman: what does this mean? Simply, ‘outside' and 'time’. But this book imbues these Arabic words with much more meaning. In effect, Rakha accomplishes that masterful ‘task of the translator' proposed by Walter Benjamin.” And this must be the highest praise I’ve ever received. No words can begin to express my gratitude for all that Nezar has done.Secondly, here’s Paragraph No. 32: 
The Naksa was a locus of distress but the sense that Egypt is in decline – that as Arabs, Muslims or fellahin, Egyptians have for centuries been in decline – had been pervasive for centuries when it happened. It was pervasive when I was born nine years later, and remains pervasive today. When you say barra – “abroad” in Egyptian Arabic – the implication is automatically of somewhere better. Likewise zaman (“in the past”): the two components that combine in Shadi to make The Mummy possible – European education, and nostalgia for Egypt’s past – can be described as preconditions for any 20th- or 21st-century discourse on Egyptian identity. Much of what Shadi says about The Mummy – whether to clarify his intentions or to comment on its positive reception in Venice, Locarno, Paris, London and elsewhere – suggests he saw it as an affirmation of Egyptianness. But it would be disingenuous to miss the deeper negative impulse within that affirmation. The Mummy is obviously also about why it hurts. 
Finally, some very important people also read the book and said some very flattering things about it, for which I’m also tearfully grateful but which I have the audacity to share with you:
  • An electrifying, cubist portrait of a classic film’s place in the world — Mark Cousins, director of The Story of Film
  • I’ve never seen The Mummy, but it’s now one of my favourite films — Peter Florence, Hay Festival Director 
  • As acerbic, exciting and politically astute as listening to The Last Poets with Godard-esque jump cuts — Kaleem Aftab, author of Spike Lee: That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It
  • Read this erudite, candid, and soul-searching essay — Nasser Rabbat, Aga Khan Professor of Architecture, MIT
  • The aphoristic prose recalls Derrida and the sad-faced irony of Vonnegut is never far away — Kevin Blankinship, Brigham Young University
  • An anecdotal and ultimately engaging meander through the imagined pasts and disjointed legacies of Egyptian history — Tim Power, author of The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate
Look out for it, have a watch of The Mummy and a read of it for Christmas, and remember Shadi (pictured at his glamorous best in an Aloha shirt below).Ever your movie-going companion,Y
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Youssef Rakha
Youssef Rakha @Sultans_Seal

In 1963, when he came to Alexandria, David Hockney used Cecil Hotel stationary to make a beautiful sketch…

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