“Literature has persistently been all that I’ve loved” – 5in10 with Mona Kareem
Mona Kareem earned her PhD in Comparative Literature from The State University of New York Binghamton in 2018. She is the author of three poetry collections and two book-length translations. Her translation of Ashraf Fayadh’s Instructions Within was nominated for the Best Translated Book Award 2017. She has been a fellow at the BANFF Centre in Canada and the Norwich Writers’ Centre in the UK. Her research interests include the contemporary feminist novel, the Arabic prose poem, strategies of literary translation, and subaltern subjectivities. Mona is a EUME Fellow of the 2018/2019 academic year, where she is associated with the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin.
What was intriguing to you when you were a child? What is it that you always wanted to know about the world?
Literature has persistently been all that I’ve loved and wanted to know about the world. It has simultaneously fed and expanded my curiosity. It helped me to reimagine history and reality, contest them, escape them, and thus become more critical of them. It showed me the power of art, via form, style and medium, in helping us to survive and create new destinies.
How do you explain your current research project to your students?
My research on the Arab feminist novel and its sociopolitical accounts is an ambitiously interdisciplinary and multi-dimensional project. Generically, it’s a study of a persistent literary phenomenon of feminist writers using literature as a vehicle for public intellectualism while analyzing the challenges that contemporary women writers face in a publishing industry that appeals to western interests and masculine tastes. I study the contemporary novel, reading into its politics and aesthetics, subjects and issues, and create the opportunity to contextualize these narratives within a larger history of the Arab Gulf.
Which stops of your academic journey were particularly formative to you?
I would say studying with the Argentine philosopher Dr. María Lugones was a turning point for me as a feminist thinker and writer. Taking her class on decolonial and postcolonial feminisms changed my life. She was the kind of challenging teacher I was hoping to meet; someone who helped me to be articulate with my questions before the answers, whose knowledge is so immense that I felt lucky to have access to it, and most importantly, she was someone who helped me to find my place in the world as a stateless Arab woman struggling to navigate through all the layers of oppression and positions I move between. Reading her work Pilgrimage/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions (2003) pushed me to not shy away from becoming a sophisticated writer with powerful poetics and theoretical interventions to offer.
After my graduate studies, I feel lucky to have become a EUME fellow at the Forum Transregionale Studien where I got the opportunity to work with scholars of different disciplines, yet within the same area studies, hailing from different places. It is a fascinating experience to see what pressing questions and concerns exist at other scholarly centers and meeting points. Also, being in Berlin at this very moment, where many Arab writers, scholars, and artists have been sharing and growing their cultural and creative capital, is also another exceptional opportunity I am very much enjoying and I feel excited to see it formulate into radical and inclusive collectives and platforms over the coming years.
Which publications or academic events (workshops, conferences, lecture series…) inspired you recently?
Most recently, I enjoyed the “Power in Medicine: Interrogating the Place of Medical Knowledge in the Modern Middle East” symposium, which took place in April. It brought a unique group of Middle East scholars with varied interests in the history and language of medicine. I especially enjoyed the keynote lecture by Dr. Omnia El Shakry, whose work, The Arabic Freud, was a great learning experience. Translation theory is one of my areas of expertise and I feel excited to see it thrive in the hands of Middle East scholars across the globe.
How is it to do research in Germany?
Berlin is naturally a vibrant cultural and academic center. There are always conferences, events, exhibitions, workshops taking place, and authors and scholars passing by, allowing us the opportunity to collaborate and share each other’s work. My stay in Berlin during the past eight months has been very productive. I was able to present my work at various occasions, form a professional network, and publish articles. I am sure I will continue to return to this center and continue to build on the work I’ve taken part in here.
Citation: “Literature has persistently been all that I’ve loved” – 5in10 with Mona Kareem, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 06.06.2019, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/18753.