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Interview with Eman Younis

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Many roads lead to the study of electronic literature – and eventually to the ELR. In this interview Eman Younis, a member of the Arabic Electronic Literature research group, tells us how she found her way to the New Media Studies and what challenges the research group meets when it is faced with cultural issues of tradition-conscious Arabic countries.


ELR: Eman Younis you are a member of the Arabic Electronic Literature research group. How did you start studying electronic literature and how did this organization come about?

Eman Younis: In fact, my interest in Digital Literature started by accident. I was looking for material on the Internet about Contemporary Youth writing in preparation for writing my Ph.D. dissertation in modern Arabic literature. In the course of my search, I came across articles that deal with Digital Literature in general – Arabic and Non-Arabic. The subject drew my attention a lot and aroused my curiosity and I started looking for more and more information about the field. When I was sure that there is sufficient information and data to conduct a scientific research, I decided to change the subject of my dissertation to ‘Digital Literature’. At that time, I was among the first Arab researchers who conducted a scientific research about this genre of literature.

Regarding the group of Arab researchers in Digital 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 Electronic Literature) that aims to put the Arabic Digital Literature on the World Map and introduce its most important Arab creators, researchers and critics in this field to the world.

ELR: In 2015 you published the essay titled “Interaction Between Art and Literature in Arab Digital Poetry and the Issue of Criticism” in which you discuss the critical approach to electronic literature. You suggest that an open and dynamic form of expression like electronic literature needs a “hypercritic” that allows the analysis of the audio-visual effects that interact with the literary text. Can you tell us more about this concept? Where is that critic? Which role does technology play in the analysis of works of electronic literature?

Eman Younis: Before I start talking about this term and concept, I want first to talk about the research from which the term emerged. Nearly two years ago, I and one of my colleagues wrote a research about the “Interaction between Art and Literature in Digital Poetry.”  We chose the poem “Shajar al-Bougaz/ al-Boughaz Trees” by the Moroccan poet Mun’im al-Azraq to be our sample of discussion and application. It is a very long and compound poem. What characterizes our research is that we are two researchers in two different fields. She comes from the field of art and I come from the field of literature. We decided to mix between the tools of ‘artistic criticism’ and the tools of ‘literary criticism’ in analyzing the poem and the result was amazing. We reached conclusions, which we would not reach if each of us worked separately.

In this way, the term and concept of ‘Hypercritic’ started to crystallize. We  found that the electronic text requires both an extraordinary writer and an extraordinary critic, which we called ‘Hypercritic’, who is a critic that possesses different critical tools that enable him/her to deal with a text within broader horizons. In my opinion, the most important one of these tools is the ‘tools of artistic criticism’ because Electronic Literature goes under the category which has become known by the name of Digital Art. If these tools are not available in one critic, then it is possible to rely on a group of critics from different fields as my colleague and I did in order to analyze the text.

Some people might object to the idea of Hypercritic from the point of view that each writer interacts with the text in a different way according to his or her culture, education and vision, but we believe that here lie the aesthetics of the Digital Text.

In reply to this claim, I say that we should differentiate between an ordinary reader and ordinary critic. When we talk about the reception of the literary work by the reader/receiver, there is no doubt that the process of interpretation remains confined within the abilities of the readers to decode the text, and each reader might reach with the work to a point that differs from the other reader. In return, when we talk about the reception of the text by a knowledgeable critic, we expect that he/her will reach with it interpretative points that are deeper, more stable and more convincing because his/her conclusions depend on serious theories and critical directions.

ELR: The AEL has organized an event together with the Rochester Institute of Technology dedicated to electronic literature which will take place in Dubai from 25 – 27 February 2017. What are some of the topics that you are especially looking forward to?

Eman Younis: As I have mentioned, the main goal of the conference is to put the Arab Digital Literature on the international map of digital literature. Lots of Western critics do not know anything about Arabic Digital Literature.  Besides, they are ignorant of our researches in this field due to the fact that this literature has not been translated into English. In view of this situation, the conference constitutes an opportunity for us to introduce some of the Arabic experiments and the most important academic and scientific researches and studies in this field.

In fact, we have put down several axes for this conference. The most important of these are: critical studies; the impact of the social networks on literature; experiences of individual writers; children’s digital literature; challenges and obstacles; future of the Arabic Digital Literature.

ELR: What does the panorama of the Arabic electronic literature look like to date? How many authors and academic scholars are there? Is there a development in the community?

Eman Younis: Digital Literature appeared in the Arab world in 2001, when Muhammad Sanajleh wrote his first interactive novel titled Zilal al-Wahed/Shadows of Oneself, which was followed by several other works. Very few Arab writers have followed his steps such as the poets: Abd al-Nur Idris and Mun’im al-Azraq and Muhammad Ashweka from Morocco; the poet Mushtaq Abbas Ma’en from Iraq and others. Despite these attempts, the Arab Digital Literature is still moving very slowly in quantity and quality in comparison with what is taking place in the Western World, not only on the level of the number of texts, but on the level of critical research and studies that accompany these works, and even on the level of electronic sites and magazines that take care of it.

In spite of the efforts that are made in the Arab world in this direction, the written literature still occupies the first place in the Arab countries. However, Digital Literature at this stage seems to be not more than a problematic experience that dangles between the tide and ebb of acceptance and refusal in the critical sectors.

Certainly, there are lots of reasons that hinder the rooting and establishment of the digital literature in the Arab countries such as: the political reasons that the Arab world suffers from these days, the economic conditions, and the abysmal digital gap between the developed countries and the developing countries. Digital Literature requires large economic resources and entails high expenses, which are not available to most writers in the developing countries. This situation explains the slow growth of Digital Literature in the Arab world and its absence in some countries of the Third World. Besides, a large number of the Arab writers, especially the older generation, suffer from “Computer Illiteracy”. Generally, the Arab mentality does not accept change and diverting from the familiar conditions easily. Thus, the Digital Literature entails breaking of many fixed postulates upon which we have grown regarding the concept of literature and the roles of the writer and the reader.

Furthermore, lack of interest in teaching Digital Literature in many institutes and universities in the Arab countries and its exclusion from the official teaching programs also constitute an additional crisis that hinders the movement of its development and awareness of its importance on the desired level.

I would like to point out here that I have written a study about this issue, which has not been published yet, in which I deal with the most important challenges that face the Arab Digital Literature these days, which is the subject that I will talk about at Dubai Conference, too.

ELR: What does the organization of the AEL want to do in the near future to develop the research, the discussion and the creation of works of electronic literature?

Eman Younis: This question can be better answered by Riham Hosni because, as I mentioned before, she is the person in charge of the project of AEL. However, in my opinion, our goal today is to show the world what we have achieved in this field so far regarding the creative experiences and critical studies on the one hand,  and our accompaniment of the international development and our benefit from it, on the other.

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We aim to introduce more readers to digital fiction and investigate digital fiction reading using cognitive and empirical approaches (funded by the AHRC).

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o primeiro poema a ser escrito que serve realmente para alguma coisa

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