Become Other: Sufism, Surrealism, and the Arab Mediterranean


ACLS Fellowship Program


Comparative Literature

Named Award

ACLS Pauline Yu Fellow named award


This book project identifies a group of Arab writers who, in the 1980s and 1990s, claimed that surrealism belongs to Arabic literary tradition. While conventional historiography puts the debut of surrealism in Paris in 1924, Become Other explores the logic whereby these authors recast the movement in an older lineage of Sufism, the mystical practice of Islam. Drawing on Francophone authors Habib Tengour (from Algeria), Abdelwahab Meddeb (Tunisia) and Salah Stétié (Lebanon); Arabic writers Adonis (Syria) and Edwar al-Kharrat (Egypt); and Anglophone poet and artist Etel Adnan (Lebanon), the project analyzes the ethical and political consequences of this reception. In the process, it both excavates a lost Mediterranean history of surrealism, and demonstrates how postcolonial Arab authors reclaim surrealism and fashion it into a political instrument, not only for writing the Middle East and North Africa into the history of European modernism, but for imagining a decolonized future.