Ghostly presence – Ismail Fayed

January 14, 2011
Dear All,

I apologize for not being able to be physically present amongst you. I believe I am going to use one of Adham’s strategies of hospitality and only have a ‘ghostly presence’, very much in tune with with the ghostly writing of Cixous and Derrida.

I have written a text that more or less reveals the many points of engagement I had with the three texts, since I have read them all before at various points in time and this is the first time I engage with all three consciously, at the same time for the purpose of this seminar. So my writing, like the grey matter in my brain, will try to find connections and bridges between the three monumental texts.

I have kindly asked Adham to be my voice. To speak on the behalf of those who can not speak (you see I am ‘hosting’ other ‘guests’ in my body and I don’t believe they would let me be) and through his voice and my text I hope it gives you some insight into how and why these writers and these texts had a tremendous impact on our (by ‘our’ I mean various subjects cut asunder as Woolf would say) own perception of language, identity and the physical boundaries of the body.

Again, I sincerely wish I was amongst you in flesh as in voice and I look forward to any reactions you might have (a comment, an afterthought, an image, a movement, a sound, a gesture,…etc).

All my best,

Ps Below are some links I think are like graphic illustrations of the text and right after is the text.

Um Kalthoum’s ‘gaze’ from her 1967 concert in Morocco

Nasser’s Funeral – a moment where we witnessed the death of post-colonial dream

Writing Cixous while Hosting Other Things

I first came across Stigmata at the library of the American University in Cairo. In what was once the old campus.
I was scouring the shelves of the French section, the area of post-structuralist literary criticism, right on the third floor.
The library building was ‘A Gift from the People of the United States to the the People of Egypt’.
It was a gift styled after architectural brutalism, as I got to learn later. Where the belief that the constitutive matter of a structure is a valid supra-layer as any building material there is.
The edition I found of Cixous, had the image of a little girl running a cross what seemed to be a Moorish landscape, trying to run away from the book cover, the frame and the landscape.
Little would I know that Cixous’s texts are just as wild as this girl. They seem to want to run and escape from the page,
to be liberated from an oppressive material textual reality, into other possibilities of being.
The book cover instantly reminded me of the cover of Wuthering Heights, the windy, Gothic landscape of Emily Bronte. I read the novel translated into Arabic, at a time when I was unable to receive ‘The Gift of the American People’.
The oversaturated poetics of Emily Bronte moved snugly, comfortably into Arabic, and the description of the landscape staid within my mind till the very moment I am writing these words.
The frantic, restless imaginere of Emily would begin a long term infatuation of Victorian, Gothic Romanticism. It represented to me a climax of writing that explored and fetishized inner, ‘exotic’, landscapes that borderline the exotic and the fantastical. The writing of Eve Sedgewick (specifically The Epistemology of the Closet) rekindled this love affair. Her stoic, almost plebeian prose in dissecting Gothic landscapes of Victorian writers affirmed, sanctioned my own introverted


Cixous liberated these ghosts. By a certain choreography of words, she willed them to come forward and speak their names and like hers, fly off the page, and escape.
And it was a liberating experience. In every sensational sound of this expression.
It did overwhelm my senses.

Like Cixous I left Cairo (Egypt is Cairo, no?) but at the age of six, instead of three. I

was sheltered by my privileged existence in the once Belgian colonial district.
Fatalistically, my first visited country was Belgium. Brussels. The original birthplace of
my ‘home’.
The district that was so beautifully designed, that is now considered an ‘Egyptian National
Heritage’ – whose heritage? the Belgians or the Egyptians?.
But the moment I landed I was confronted with my ‘identitertianism’. Not identity. But a constructed set of ideas about what and how my identity should be.
The Belgians ‘knew me’, as Said would say, and that in itself is suffice, more than suffice
to lash me with words and insults. To enact violence on the parameters of my identity and
all the way to my sheltered inner landscapes.
I was confronted with my poverty and their (the Belgians?) affluence, their whiteness and my skin, my Muslimness and their civilization, their illegal immigrants and my valid visa, their Human Rights Charter engraved on a plaque right above my head and the inhumanity I was dealt
with as I was dragged and my belongings were confiscated and searched till the very last email I exchanged with my ‘hosts’ (the Kunstenfestivaldesarts).

There it was. I received ‘The Gift of the American People’, the library, the books, I embraced it, and internalized it, and unconsciously hoped that it would atone for my skin,

my sin my faith and my existence.

Myopia was my fault.
My eyes were covered, not because I did not want to see, but because I could not see.
My eyes oscillated, wavered, dared to gaze from the position of the white master.
They were veiled, by the cloak of Tongues and the Mantle of Enlightenment.

I remember telling Adham, part of the readings should be Franz Fanon ‘Black Skin, White Masks’.
We created a fabric weaved by threads of white and dark (not black – black can be a chromatic tone, but dark is a quality) and as Adham always says, black matter is not invisible,

but too dense to see.
I had ‘darkness’ (made from my skin, my faith, my passport, my gaze) all over my eyes, the things I saw were

that of mixed essences. Only those myopic like me can see them. Or those who embrace density. Not fetishize it, but those who ‘regard’ it, as in repeat one’s guard, look back yet again, in an intention – in regard – of accepting, to ‘regard’ as to look back with respect, at that which is not white, exotic, Muslim, poor or has facial hair.

It becomes impossible to read Said without feeling the indebtedness of the text to psychoanalysis and Foucault.
The ‘locus of power’, ‘the discourse’, ‘the history of studying the Orient’ (did anyone know that the American University in Cairo was first called the American School of Oriental Studies?), the ‘Western Unconscious’,….etc

Notion after notion, idea after idea, unfold in this thicket density of a text.
And we can see Said’s indignation as a Palestinian Arab, who had the misfortune, like Cixous, of being a religious minority in a land torn by conflict and brash colonialism.
Nothing can be more telling than his own quotation of Karl Marx, ‘They must be represented’.

But who represents ‘them’? The inflected form of the personal noun, in the objective case. Maybe Marx’s inevitable humanism sheltered this inflection by using ‘they’, the subjective case.
They are a subject alright, but they have to be ‘represented’.

Can they be ‘present’, be there in a point in time, to be ‘represented’?

Who speaks for them and what do they say?

Is that the texts that waver and flicker and fall off the edge of the page? And creates shrouds and fabrics like Derrida and Cixous?

Or is that the text we see at passport control in every major European city saying ‘Help us arrest the terrorists’ adding the image of a dark-skinned man with unruly facial hair?

Is that the text of the Human Rights Charter engraved on a plaque in the room where they detain illegal immigrants in Brussels?

Or is the text that necessitates that everyone from ‘Africa’ applying for a Dutch residency should be tested for Tuberculosis?

Or that the text uttered by passport control officer, censuring me ‘Sir please do  not smile’? As if I will hide a bomb beyond my high, oriental cheeks..

I leave you at this point, as I battle my own internal guests, as we construct, destroy and exchange all kinds of toxins in the true spirit of ‘hosting’.

I see this ‘hosting’ (bringing the AmCH Seminar to Cairo) as decomposing veils, pulling threads, and weaving new ones. I leave you toregard ‘them’, those who can not be presented or present, in way that opens possibilities and gives new meaning.







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