In the summer of 2015, Mansur Aziz sent a text by Vilém Flusser, titled Betrayal, to a group of artists and activists. We were developing a series of lectures and interventions on representation at a youth camp. The series was another iteration of a project whose first round was centered on media practice and its formal concerns: writing, filming, and recording. Versed in disruption, Mansur was trying to point to a wider picture, challenging the media we consumed and practiced every day—its poor telling, void visuals, absent sound, and dead meaning— a media we lamented every night over wine and tea. The dramatic titling of Flusser’s text and its theorizing of betrayal presented an enticing deviation.
Flusser starts off by reminding us of the great treachery of Enlightenment intellectuals who betrayed their elated discourses by publishing them in newspapers. However, it does not take long in his short essay before he points to another permutation of betrayal, one inherent to media culture: that of a language entangled with vulgarity in a complex web of developing social histories. Flusser also doesn’t shy away from the ultimate betrayal he commits by publishing his own text.
In this edition of ArtEast, we too commit a series of betrayals: We think of writing not in terms of reproducing reality through descriptive accounts of the crises surrounding us, but in terms of its ambition, ability, or failure to intervene in this reality, or even transform it. We think of translation not just as a vehicle of knowledge, but in terms of a filtering process where language is an agent that, at times, facilitates, at others, mutates, and at some point, totally resists. We think of publishing not just as the triumph of divulging and popularizing knowledge, but in terms of the hidden corners it throws us into when we try to ignore it or protect our hearing cells from the screaming shouts of the media revolution. We betray personal conversations housed in private letters and intimate chatters, bringing out their own performativity in an attempt to live inside the questions we ask.
Borrowing from personal letters, Mansur Aziz and Cynthia Kreichati’s text depicts different transgressions and betrayals, walking us into unexpected trajectories. The leaks of a soldier, the screams of a writer, and the madness of a director are aberrations from that which we read, hear, and see everyday. But these aberrations also hold the key to a different lens on reality, perhaps to better resist the media we consume every day.
Sarah Rifky’s musings develop on a trail of thoughts and past writings that stem from ongoing conversations we have been engaged in over the past years. In a dying publication from Cairo called Egypt Independent, Sarah had written about linguistic exactitude and its transformative power in the face of an event. She also wrote about the promise of fidelity to a certain image. In another still alive publication, also running out of Cairo, Mada Masr, she wrote about writing less for oneself and others, and about the dysphoria of making meaning. In this edition, she gracefully responds to yet another call for writing by writing about not writing. Here, she thinks not of writing as a way to disrupt despair, but as a means to gently, but firmly, resist.
Jenifer Evans facilitates a conversation with MF Kalfat and Nael al-Toukhy, both translators and writers. She asks them to reflect on the choices governing the publishing industry, and the gap between individual interests and institutional tendencies. In a minor act of treason, the mediator goes off script to tease both interlocutors about their subjectivities and agencies, highlighting the politics embedded in the act of translation (particularly in the specific processes of translating from English, the lingua franca, and from Hebrew, a language loaded with a recent history of conflict). Finally, they talk about negotiation and impossibility, challenge and futility in the field of translation.
You will find hyperlinks in these texts because it is only normal to have hyperlinks in texts published online, and because historian Vijay Prashad once said that hyperlinks are an essential gesture of leftist journalism. The hyperlinks will take you to snippets of a conversation dating back to 2013, led by artist Adelita Husni-Bey with journalists of Mada Masr. Back then, Adelita drew a mind map of the conversation on Mada Masr’s wall, starting off from a central expression circled with a red felt pen which read: “Tahrir is not a square”. The mapping exercise questioned the terms we used and took for granted when depicting a tumultuous social and political context and becoming witnesses of a history in the making. What kind of tellers and witnesses do these terms make us? While the mind map persists on Mada Masr’s wall, the conversation behind it has slipped to an audio file whose transcription is now hyperlinked in phrases and words by other contributors in this issue.
This edition closes with an unexpected gift: Mohammad Hamama, a writer in Mada Masr, translated Flusser’s Betrayal to Arabic, and sent the translation to this editor’s inbox. Like this editor, when Mohammad engages deeply with a text, he tends to translate it. In the brief message he sent with the translation, he wrote: “I had a plan to write you a long letter, and I still have this plan. But until it materializes, here is a gift for you. I will wait for your opinion and ideas on how to improve the Arabic version. I won’t tell if we should publish the translation or not. But what I do know is that you are one of the secret betrayers.”