“My Study Vacation in Syria was Fundamental for my Career” – 5in10 with Arturo Monaco
Arturo Monaco is a PhD holder in Civilizations, Cultures and Societies of Asia and Africa, Sapienza University of Rome (2016). His PhD dissertation explores the surrealist trend in modern Arabic literature, with a special focus on the surrealist manifestations in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon between the 1930s and 1960s. During the academic year 2016/17, he was a lecturer of modern Arabic literature at Sapienza University of Rome. His research interests include modern Arabic poetry, Arab literary press, intercultural exchanges between Arabic and foreign literatures. In 2018, he was an affiliated EUME–CNMS Fellow in Berlin and Marburg.
What was intriguing to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?
As a child, I was very fond of fables and stories, with a specific interest in those drawn from the ancient mythology. The books concerned with the life of Greek or Egyptian gods were among my first and favourite readings. I cannot say what captivated my interest at the time. Probably, the depiction of great, marvellous, and unusual characters answered a desire for heroism, fantasy and surprise, which is something very common among children I guess.
How do you explain your current research project to your students?
My current research project is very much linked to my PhD one, which aimed at studying the first surrealist expressions in Arabic literature. What concerns me now is the analysis of the poetic production of one representative of this trend, the Lebanese poet ‘Iṣām Maḥfūẓ, who emerged both as a critic and as an author of poetry and drama. Given his manifold, transcultural interests, I opted for an analysis that considered not only the surrealist echoes in his works but also the interaction with local and traditional ways of expression, such as sufism. My research questions relate to how he understood and mixed the surrealist and sufi trends in his poetic production, relying on the concept of soufialisme elaborated by Hédi Abdel-Jaouad. Consequently, the research will try to contribute to the relatively long debate around the contacts between sufism and surrealism.
Which stations of your academic journey were particularly formative to you?
I believe that my study vacation in Syria during the third year of my academic career was fundamental both for the linguistic fundamentals I acquired and for the love that Syria stimulated in me for the place and the culture of my studies. This was coupled with the subsequent sojourns in Irbid (Jordan), which I did during the more advanced station of the PhD. The contact with a remarkable academic environment in an Arab country opened my mind to new perspectives on my studies. The acquisition of a new consciousness of what I was studying and of the way of doing it was definitely a decisive turning point in my formation.
Which publications or academic events (workshops, conferences, lecture series…) did inspire you recently?
Recently, I was inspired by the summer school “Practicing ‘Blickwechsel’: Entangled Perspectives on Theory, Arts and History in the Field of Arabic Literary Studies”, which was organized by AGYA International Bilingual Summer School and held at the American University of Beirut in September 2017. It was a unique experience where young researchers could confront themselves with more experienced scholars in Arabic literature, coming both from the European and Arabic academic institutions in a multilingual context that fostered the use of Arabic for academic purposes in addition to English.
How is it to do research in Germany?
I spent six weeks at the Philipps-Universität Marburg and four weeks at the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin. In both experiences, I have been very impressed by the quality of the research, the supportive and stimulating academic environment, the significance of the scientific and human exchange among the colleagues, and the existence of all the necessary research facilities.
Citation: “My study vacation in Syria was fundamental for my acaemic career” – 5in10 with Arturo Monaco, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 25.07.2018, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/10086.