Aversion to Food: Shidyaq’s Critique of the Enlightenment in 1850’s England


Thursday, October 30, 2014, 4:00pm to 6:00pm


CMES, Room 102, 38 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA

The CMES Director's Series presents

Tarek El-ArissTarek El-Ariss
Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, University of Texas at Austin

This talk will examine the Arab encounter with Europe in the 19th century as a somatic experience, i.e., an experience anchored in the body. Looking at aversion to food, collapse, breakdown, and allergic reaction, Dr. El-Ariss will shed light on the trials and tribulations of Arab travelers in Europe in order to tell a different story of the East-West encounter, which is often examined through the lens of political and military conflict. Dr. El-Ariss will focus on Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804-1887), an author, satirist, translator, and polemicist who hails from Mount Lebanon and lived most of his life in England, France, Malta, Damascus, Tunis, Cairo, and Constantinople. A cosmopolitan Ottoman citizen par excellence, Shidyaq was born into the Maronite Christian faith and converted to Protestantism and then to Islam. Living in England from 1848 to 1857, he engaged with revolutionary ideas, industrial modernity, and knowledge production at Oxford and Cambridge. Focusing on his eating practices and food aversions, El-Ariss will examine the ways in which Shidyaq transforms his body and his text into crucible and playground, trying on and stripping down wholesale narratives of progress and enlightenment. Eating practices become in this context a site of embodiment and critique that contest and refigure discourses on civilization, knowledge, and cultural difference.

Tarek El-Ariss is Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin, and Associate Editor of the Journal of Arabic Literature. His research interests include contemporary Arabic literature, visual culture, and new media; 18th- and 19th-century French and Arabic philosophy and travel writing; and literary theory. He is the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political (2013), and editor of the forthcoming MLA anthology, The Arab Renaissance: Literature, Culture, Media. He also edits a series on literature in translation for the University of Texas Press entitled, Emerging Voices from the Middle East. His new book project investigates new media’s effects on Arabic artistic and political practices by examining the way modes of confrontation, circulation, and exhibitionism shape contemporary writing practices and critiques of power.

Contact: Liz Flanagan