On Saturday I spoke for 3 hours in Arabic about writing in the age of social networks.
I started with the pros and cons of using current technology to create “literature”. I then moved on to the history of technological innovations that helped to form existing literary trends, from Alan Turing’s 1936 proposal to build an electronic machine that performs the task of every other electronic machine, to designing the multitasking windows user interface in both Microsoft’s and Apple’s operating systems, and finally to the founding of Blogger, Facebook and Twitter.
I explained that the current “literary trend” in terms of form or content cannot be analyzed as personal quirks, or as the outcome of a single new invention (i.e. Twitter made people write shorter sentences, or Facebook made writing more narcissistic). A final point I intended to drive across was that the age of social networks is now at least 20 years old.
To help students analyze today’s mode of art/literature, I gave them a brief historical overview of the evolution of language, writing, and literature first in the age of the Abrahamic religions (focusing on Islam and Christianity and the way Arabic and English eventually became official global languages) and in Antiquity (focusing on myriad myths and their views on the transcendence of language).
In the last part of the lecture, writing in the age of Western colonialism, I led the students through the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt and its results on the subjects and structures of Arabic literature.
At the end, I reminded them that our writing technology and the politico-theological ideologies of the time contribute to the formation of our own thoughts. In other words, writing style and writing content are consistently determined by one’s material writing environment.
I concluded by reminding them that what is at stake in adopting superficial and synchronic methods of assessing literature in general is the conscious scripting of our future.
And hey, I learned in the process:
.أنباط, الفينيقيون, والآرامية
Overall, it was a very interesting experience, both for me because I taught in Arabic for the first time, and for them. One student, after the lecture, massaged her temples and said: “Your lecture is making me confront a number of holes and missing information in my head. I am now linking some together and it’s making me question everything.”
“Questioning is good,” I said. “Like, who the hell came up with the plural for emperor in Arabic?”