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Nearer to Truth than History

January 12, 2011

Gabrielle Calvocoressi interviews Reza Aslan in Guernica:

The day before the 2010 midterm elections, I sat down with Reza Aslan at his home in Los Angeles to discuss poetry, politics, and what comes next. In the most literal sense, “next” for Aslan is, in large part, centered around the publication of the groundbreaking anthology, Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East. As controversial as it is revelatory, the anthology marks a new phase in the life of the scholar and artist who, perhaps unenviably, is one of the most recognizable commentators on the modern Middle East (a term that Aslan is quick to point out is a Western invention) (…)

Aslan describes Tablet and Pen as a “pivot” in his career’s mission to “build bridges between peoples of the West and the Middle East,” and while that is true, it’s equally important to note that the book can also be seen as an entirely new way of envisioning the anthology form. (…) In this work, we see the history of the Middle East unfolding as a wide-ranging, passionate, sometimes discordant conversation. I was consistently struck by the interiority of the voices and how rarely, in these days when the “Middle East” is often the lead story in the news, we are given any sense of the intimate and varied intellectual and emotional life of its people. The anthologist’s job is about creating borders, be they historical, formal, chronological, etc. As an editor, Aslan makes a double music as he pushes against the notion of border and statehood imposed by the West while using the historical reality of partition and colonialism to bring forward the very specific ideas of exile and isolation that recur in almost all of the poems and stories in this book. [More]

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