electronicliteraturereview

Interview with Reham Hosny

with 3 comments

What do Scheherazade, a Persian mathematician and the Rochester Institute of Technology have in common? Electronic literature!

The Arabic culture has contributed in many different ways to the history of electronic literature and there are many works of Arabic electronic literature. The ELR has interviewed Reham Hosny, the director of the Arabic Electronic Literature research group which aims to the creation of a network of Arabic authors and scholars and the promotion of Arabic electronic literature.

 

ELR: Reham Hosny you are a member of the Arabic Electronic Literature research group. How did you get involved with electronic literature and what is your role in the research group?

Reham Hosny: Well, it just so happened that I started working with Sandy Baldwin at WVU and then RIT in my Ph.D. project, which focused on digital poetics in the Arabic and Anglo-American contexts. I am lucky to be the first Arab scholar to study e-lit internationally with a prominent professor like prof. Baldwin who has become my role model and mentor. By the time, I have participated in many conferences focusing on the development and pedagogy of e-lit and proposing new perspectives on e-lit such as my newly presented concept of Cosmo-Literature.

This start opened many avenues for joint projects in the field; an important one of them is Arabic Electronic Literature (AEL) network. It is the first project of its kind ever that is interested in globalizing Arabic e-lit and putting it on the world map of the field. Prof. Baldwin and myself noticed that the Arabic e-lit and the Arab e-lit authors are not represented in the world e-lit scene. Much of the digital poetics is drawn from a small range of Anglo-American texts and critics. To get a broader understanding of the field, we should reflect upon different perspectives on e-lit from different parts of the world. We felt that it’s the time to shift the world e-lit community interest from the western e-lit to e-lit in other parts of the globe such as the Arabic e-lit as well as propose new concepts and ideas on e-lit derived from the Arabic culture specificities.

In September, 2015, we launched arabicelit website with many goals in mind: Firstly, uploading the data of Arabic e-lit writers and their works upon the world databases of ELMCIP to be available for researchers. To do that, we created connections and networks with all the Arabs interested in e-lit. The first stage was completed by uploading the personal data of Arabic e-lit writers. The second stage will include uploading data about their creative works. Secondly, considering holding a conference on Arabic e-lit at RIT Dubai in Feb. 2018. There might be a follow-up conference that will take place a year later at the RIT-Rochester campus. Thirdly, creating academic programs and workshops, publishing research papers on Arabic e-lit works and making comparisons with the world e-lit works to define the place of Arabic e-lit on the world map of e-lit. We will deliver the first of these workshops in the Dubai conference. Moreover, some research papers in English have come out recently addressing Arabic e-lit aesthetics.

Our efforts in the field have already started paying off. For the first time, the Arabic e-lit community was represented on a world interactive map designed by Scott Rettberg depending on the data that we uploaded on ELMCIP. The Arabic e-lit is more recognized now in the world e-lit community than before.

ELR: You participated in the ELO Conference 2017 which took place last July in Portugal with a paper entitled “Roots and Shoots: History and Development of Arabic Electronic Literature”. The Arabic culture has an important influence in the electronic literature. The word algorithm, for instance, derives from its inventor Al-Khwarizmi, a Persian mathematician and also the literary work “1001 Nights” is often quoted as an early example of hypertextual work of literature. What is your point of view on this matter?

Reham Hosny: The Arabic culture is one of the richest cultures that has its effect on different literary and scientific fields. The Arabic language is the official language of 22 countries and one of the most spoken languages around the world. The Arabic calligraphy undergone many changes to arrive at its present shape with three components: The plain unpointed letters, a pointing system above or under some letters to differentiate them from other similar letters which is called “i’jam”, and supplementary diacritics that control pronunciation which are called “tashkil”. These three components of the Arabic calligraphy along with its writing from right to left in a cursive way make it a visual language that can be used in decoration and artistic works.  

In “Roots and Shoots: History and Development of Arabic Electronic Literature”, I addressed the printed genealogies of Arabic e-lit. The reason behind my interest in following these precursors is the fact that “innovative e-poetry will continue to exist in relation to innovative print poetry” as Glazier believes.  

“Alf  Layla wa-Layla” (“One Thousand and One Nights”) which is considered a canonical text in the Arabic cultural heritage since the heydays of the Islamic civilization represents, with its succession of linked stories, a hypertextual precursor to e-lit. The concrete and visual poetry of the Andalusian age in the Twelfth century and the Mamluk and Ottoman ages after that represent rich precursors of e-lit. Moreover, the experimental modern Arabic poetry has many examples that could be considered precursors to Arabic e-lit.

ELR: The Manifesto of Arabic Electronic Literature reads that the community intends to look beyond the hegemony of English language. One interesting development in this respect concerns the creation of a programming language in Arabic as we can see in the code work of Ramsey Nasser and also in the work of the Quwaiti company Sakhr Computers that arabised the programming languages BASIC and LOGO back in the 1980s. What is your opinion about the development of an Arabic code language?

Reham Hosny: Unlike the languages that change every century, the Arabic language is consistent and rich language to the extent that texts from 1400 years back are still readable and understandable. The English language is the dominant language of programming; however, there are some infamous Arabic programming languages. One of the objects of AEL is to create a network and connections among Arab e-lit writers and programmers for future joint collaboration.

Qlb by Ramsey Nasser is an artistic piece that mocks the hegemony of English language in programming to show how biased the field of computer science is. This ambitious work is a good step upon the way of developing programming in languages other than English.

Sakhr is the first leading software company in the Middle East that depends on the Arabic language as its main medium. It has played a great role since 1980s in Arabizing some programming languages, manufacturing computers, and providing different kinds of Arabic language-based software.

I believe that one day, an Arabic code language will be developed to provide many potentials and privileges to the computer science field.

ELR: Another point of the Manifesto is that the community of the Arabic Electronic Literature wishes to expand its field of work and influence. In 2018 the city of Dubai hosts the first conference dedicated to Arabic Electronic Literature. Could you tell us more about the event?

Reham Hosny: As I stated before, holding an international conference on Arabic e-lit is one of the AEL project goals. The conference will be hold on Feb. 25-27, 2018. We already launched a CFP and received many submissions from all over the world in Arabic and English on the topic of Arabic e-lit. The prominent digital critic Kate Hayles will be the keynote speaker of the conference as well as the Moroccan critic Zohor Gouram. We also organized a meeting with many Arab and international scholars in March, 2017, at RIT Dubai to figure out the details and logistics of the conference.

The first workshop of its kind in the Arab World will be delivered at the conference to highlight the digital tools used in creating e-lit and featuring new e-lit genres that are not famous in the Arab World. Additionally, a digital cultural project focusing on the theme of Dubai and Arabic heritage will be coincided with the conference in collaboration with RIT New York and RIT-Dubai. It is supposed that a model of the project will be presented at the conference and Expo 2020 after that. The scientific and organizing committees of the conference include renowned international and Arab scholars. The conference is organized by RIT, New York, hosted by RIT, Dubai, and sponsored by many great foundations like ELO.

ELR: What do you foresee or wish for the future of Arabic literature?

Reham Hosny: The field of Arabic e-lit still needs many sincere efforts to explore its potentials and specificities. We need much collaboration with the world e-lit community to get more experiences on the ways of employing digital media in literature. We also need to close the digital divide in the Arabic e-lit community to compete internationally by training young writers how to use advanced software in writing. A lot of attention should be paid to the Arabic e-lit pedagogy because teaching e-lit in Arabic universities will guarantee its development and circulation. Most Significantly, we are in a bad need of adopting an archiving project because software like Flash is no longer in use that is why some Arabic e-lit pieces were lost.

I dream of Arabic electronic literature that helps rediscover the potentials of the Arabic culture and to be represented and appreciated internationally . AEL is a leading initiative in this vein and our future hope is to get more support to complete achieving its message and join the great project CELL as a partner.

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  1. […] Literature, they are a small group of researchers whom I joined by recommendation of the scholar  Riham Hosni, who is in charge of this project. She thankfully initiated  the building up of a special Website under the name of AEL (Arabic […]

  2. […] her first interview for the ELR in which she presented the AEL research group and its projects, Reham Hosny talks here about the […]


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