This paper analyzes vital works of the contemporary Middle Eastern and North African avant-garde in order to explore the rise of apocalyptic art in totalitarian societies. Each aesthetic example traces the complex profile of a figure engaged in some doomsday ritual amidst states of exceptional violence. In Ahmed Bouanani’s provocative novel The Hospital, an insane asylum captive details his intricate attempts to escape, sabotage, and ultimately destroy the institution from within, such that the language itself aspires to a manic conspiracy against disciplinary structures. In Sinan Antoon’s The Corpse-Washer, a graphic opening scene of ritual bathing of the dead takes one into the heart of the conceptual-aesthetic relation between cruelty and intimacy (against a backdrop of indeterminate danger). Lastly, Ahmed Saadawi’s ominous retelling of the Frankenstein narrative in present-day Baghdad includes the character of a half-blind old woman whose compulsive evening prayers aim to resurrect her dead son (dismembered during the war): as she wagers with her own increasingly miraculous dark powers, she becomes the necromancer who releases the creature upon the modern cityscape, his horrific limbs bringing further brutality to the already brutalized streets each night. Together, these textual-visual imaginaries enable us to perceive the cryptic association between the Eastern avant-garde and various doomsday practitioners set in extreme authoritarian zones: the lunatic, the gravedigger, the criminal, the watchman, the deviant, and the monster. To achieve this, we undertake a close study of the particular spaces, atmospheres, and movements involved in the construction of these elaborate anti-totalitarian, end-time visions.
Avant-Garde, Totalitarianism, Apocalypse, Doomsday, Middle East, North Africa
Arts Theory and History
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session
Associate Professor, Comparative Literature, Arts and Humanities, Babson College, United States
Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh is an Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Babson College. His focus is upon tracking obscure currents of literature, philosophy, and art in both contemporary Middle Eastern and western cultures, with particular attention to concepts of chaos, violence, silence, illusion, madness, and apocalyptic writing. He has published nine books to date--including The Chaotic Imagination (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Inflictions (Continuum 2012); The Radical Unspoken (Routledge 2013); Insurgent, Poet, Mystic, Sectarian: The Four Masks of an Eastern Postmodernism (SUNY Press, 2015); Omnicide: Mania, Fatality, and the Future-In-Delirium (MIT Press, 2019). He is also the co-editor of the Suspensions book series with Bloomsbury Press, and the co-founder of the 5th Disappearance Lab (www.5dal.com).