Detox: Sleep, reflect, deconstruct


Sometimes it feels like one works solely to reach the weekend; as if the promise of those two days is what pushes us to perform throughout the week. Labor should always be rewarded with sufficient rest, and that’s what we try to help with through our weekly Detox. And yet, some of us find themselves unable to unwind, no matter what they do, and it is to them we dedicate this song — about a man’s relentless quest for sleep — by iconic comedian Samir Ghanem, who turned 83 on the 15th of this month: 

The song is part of an album of children’s songs that Ghanem made in the 1980s. You can listen to it in full here.


-Also born on January 15 was Gamal Abdel Nasser, a man whose legacy is still the object of continuous fascination and contention. For this occasion, we recommend Ahmed Mamdouh’s piece in al-Manassa, titled “The Leader’s Fear,” which focuses on Nasser’s relationship with his Minister of Defense, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer. 

And because we can’t discuss Nasser and Amer without the Six-Day-War with Israel in 1967 being brought up, check out what historian Khaled Fahmy wrote about the subject on his website, this interview in which he attributes the rise of Islamism to Egypt’s defeat in that same war, as well as his reflections on Nasser’s relationship with prominent poet Salah Jahin. 

Another piece worth reading on the anniversary of Nasser’s birth is Belal Alaa’s “A Republic Deferred, Forever,” published on Mada Masr: “The army has an aversion to the hustle and bustle of masses, but at the same time it does not want the monarchy back. It wants people to be present in politics as an undifferentiated mass, but absent as a pluralistic society made up of diverse groups, each with their own voice and perceptions. In this formula, the individual can only participate as a ghost — an invisible individual in a populous crowd — that occupies an ambivalent position between citizen and subject.” 

Courtesy: Bibliotheca Alexandrina

-In her 2016 article titled How to Be a Stoic, American novelist and academic Elif Batuman (whose novel The Idiot was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2018) reflects on the process of reading Epictetus, applying the 2000-year-old words of wisdom of the Stoic philosopher to her own life in a secluded forest campus in Istanbul. An Arabic translation of the piece, by Sarah Shaheen, is now available through Boring Books: “The first line of Epictetus’ manual of ethical advice, the Enchiridion — ‘Some things are in our control and others not’ — made me feel that a weight was lifted off my chest. For Epictetus, the only thing we should ever worry about is our own judgment about what is good… Everyone feels those flashes of dread or anticipation. Being a Stoic means interrogating those flashes: asking whether they apply to things outside your control and, if they do, being ready with the reaction ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’”

-Japanese literary giant and perpetual Nobel nominee Haruki Murakami turned 71 on January 12. If you’ve never read him before, we recommend delving into the vast, enthralling world of his novels: Norweigan Wood (1987) and Sputnik Sweetheart (1999) are among our favorites and are both a good introduction to his work, as they’re not as “intimidating” as some of his larger novels. 

Meanwhile, here’s a 1992 short story of his titled “Sleep” (another one dedicated to our anxious friends), originally published in The New Yorker. Follow it up with this piece by the Japanese writer and musician Mieko Kawakami, who reflects on the representation of women in Murakami’s work, with a special focus on the protagonist of “Sleep.” 

And because Murakami is also a master of nonfiction, here’s a recently published, very personal text about the author’s layered and complex relationship with his father, titled “Abandoning a Cat.” 

Here, Literary Hub editor Emily Temple compiles a selection of writing advice from Murakami gathered from essays, speeches and interviews: “I get some images and I connect one piece to another. That’s the storyline. Then I explain the storyline to the reader. You should be very kind when you explain something. If you think, It’s okay; I know that, it’s a very arrogant thing. Easy words and good metaphors; good allegory. So that’s what I do. I explain very carefully and clearly.”

Many of Murakami’s works have been translated into Arabic, garnering him a wide fanbase in the region. The latest of these is the first volume of his 2017 novel Killing Commendatore, titled “The Idea Made Visible,” translated by Maisara Afifi and published by al-Adab. Less has been written about him in Arabic, but here we recommend Omar Alaa’s review of the author’s 2013 novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, published on Manshoor, and this episode about Murakami by BookTuber Nada Shabrawy (Doudet Kotob, or Bookworm). 

Also, we just discovered this very cool feature on the Murakami’s website, where you can take a tour of the author’s desk and discover the stories behind the objects that adorn it.

-We were put on to the condensed and evocative beauty of Colombian poet Lilian Pallares’s work through Ahmad Yamani’s Arabic translation of five of her poems here. In English, you can read three other poems of hers on Blackmail Press (one of them is accompanied by a film, which you can watch below), translated by Charles Olsen. 

-Reflecting on what he perceives as “The Fossilized 2020 Oscar Nominations,” film critic Richard Brody pens a brief but insightful analysis on why the Academy Awards have lost their relevance, as they no longer truly represent the industry they claim to celebrate: “There’s something assertive, declarative, polemical about awards; they’re criticism in action. Votes by those removed from the state of the art and the business are equivalent of social-media judgments flung from behind a mask of anonymity. At the moment, the Oscars reflect the Academy, but the Academy reflects nothing but its august name … Paradoxically, counting only votes from members with a stake in the image of the industry put forth by the industry would cast onto the Oscars the sharp light of accountability.”


-Ahmed Wael recommends The Crown

On January 8, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced they were giving up their royal duties as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. This real-life development marks the latest dramatic chapter in the life of the world’s most famous royal family, and it came only two days after Olivia Colman won a Golden Globe award for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in season three of the popular Netflix series The Crown

The latest season, which takes place almost entirely within Buckingham Palace, begins in 1964, upon the election of Labor Party leader Harold Wilson and amid rampant talk about his ties with the KGB. The queen appears to be concerned about Wilson’s win, and not entirely dismissive of suggestions that the new prime minister might indeed be a Soviet spy. 

The multiple intertwining storylines and spot-on casting make season three of The Crown a very gripping experience. As the secrets of this most privileged of families are unveiled before us, we realize that beneath all the wealth and the fame lie decades of unspoken pain, fear and resentment. Throughout the season’s ten episodes, we move from one story and one royal dilemma to the next, witnessing the queen’s attempts to grapple with the limits of her position, which requires her not to directly interfere in political or economic affairs. This expectation to basically not act proves more difficult to comply with as the nation struggles with simultaneous threats, from a military coup attempt to the floatation of the British pound. 

Yet the biggest challenge Elizabeth finds herself contending with this season is one that had been there all along, but she hadn’t been paying attention to it: her younger sister, Margaret (brilliantly played by Helena Bonham Carter), a woman relegated to the shadows, growing bitter under the weight she’s forced to bear as a main part of the royal family yet without the perks of a crown on her head. 

All three seasons of The Crown are available to stream on Netflix. 

-Currently playing in Zawya is Marianne Khoury’s latest documentary, Ehkeely (Talk to Me, 2019), which premiered in November at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) and later won the Audience Award at the Cairo International Film Festival. In the film, Khoury dives into the rich archive of her family in an attempt to deconstruct her relationship with her mother, Iris, but also turns the camera on her daughter, Sara, entangling her in the emotional and unpredictable journey. The film is a raw and courageously honest meditation on memory and motherhood, and while in many ways it is about Marianne herself — particularly as a daughter and a mother — it is ultimately collage-like character study of Iris; an enigmatic woman who defied definition, even by those who were closest to her (the film includes intimate interviews with Marianne’s brothers, her grandmother, her aunt, and the most famous member of her family, her maternal uncle Youssef Chahine). Throughout the film, Iris is largely absent (she is the only one whose voice we never hear), yet she remains a commanding, almost overpowering presence. “Someone has to die so the other can live,” Marianne says at the beginning of the film, and it is perhaps this painful statement that epitomizes the relationship she spent so many years trying to understand. 

Talk to Me runs in Zawya until January 29, and will screen in Zamalek Cinema on Tuesday, January 21, followed by a Q&A with the director. 


-Another gift to troubled sleepers: A member of our team “accidentally” subscribed to Calm, an application meant to help users relax, sleep or meditate. While we were incredulous at first, the application has in some ways proven helpful. One of its best offerings is a selection of soothing music that you can listen to while trying to fall asleep, and among the featured tracks is Above and Beyond’s Flow State, described on the band’s website as “a journey of ambient compositions and warm, neo-classical soundscapes for comfort, reflection and calm.” You can listen to the album in full below: 

-This recommendation might as well be part of our Read section, but another thing we’ve found useful when trying to fall asleep is listening to audiobooks (nothing tops the age-old notion of a bedtime story, right?). The New Yorker’s fiction podcast is a steady and solid source of compelling short stories by accomplished and lesser-known authors alike, each read in the voice of another writer. The one we’ve picked for you here is a story titled “Corrie” by Alice Munro, read by Margaret Atwood — and we’re recommending it less for the story itself (although it’s wonderful) than for the calm and comforting quality of Atwood’s voice. Listen to the story (as well as a discussion about between Atwood and the magazine’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman) here.

-This week we also modified and updated a playlist we previously shared with you, compiled by Ahmad al-Sabbagh and featuring remarkable tracks by female rappers or performers of trap. We expanded the list to include more tracks from the constantly evolving hip-hop scene in the Arab region, with a special focus on Palestinian-Jordanian artist The Synaptik. Enjoy: 


If you’re in Alexandria — or have the ability to go this weekend — make sure you check out Wekalet Behna’s screening program, Images of Labor (part of an ongoing artistic research project, organized in collaboration with the Jesuit Cultural Center in Alexandria and the Network of Arab Alternative Screens – NAAS), the first installment of which, titled Taraheel (Departures) started last week. The program explores how cruel and precarious labor conditions create and foster an urgent need to escape or break free in various ways. You can find the full program, which includes films like Ahmed Fawzi Saleh’s Poisonous Roses, Ghassan Halwani’s Erased, Ascent of the Invisible, Faouzi Bensaidi’s Volubilis and Mohamed Zedan’s I Have a Picturehere.  

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Cairo’s Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) hosts a conversation with filmmaker Sharief Zohairy, during which clips from his recently finished film, Seven Years around the Nile Delta, will be screened. The meditative, six-hour-long work was the result of a borrowed camera and an extensive journey across various cities and villages around the Delta, described by the filmmaker as “a cheap travelogue on the periphery of the battle.” Find out more about the event here


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