A lecture by Waïl S. Hassan, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
This presentation is part of ongoing research on Arab-Brazilian literary and cultural relations that, among other things, argues for greater attention to the South-South dimension in discussions of world literature. The questions I ask in this paper are: if Orientalism represents a discourse of Western mastery over the “Orient,” as Edward Said argued, what happens when it “travels” to another part of the imperialized world? What are the contours of Brazilian Orientalism? If not driven by imperial or foreign policy imperatives, what are the ideological investments of this derivative discourse? This paper addresses such questions by focusing on the representation of Morocco and Islam in O Clone (The Clone), a specimen of the highly popular genre of the telenovela, or television soap opera. O Clone first aired on Brazil’s Globo TV network from October 1, 2001 to June 15, 2002. With an ostensible focus on the controversial topics of human cloning and drug addiction, the novela also featured a “forbidden love” story that, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, quickly became the main thematic focus. This Orient is both a locus of otherness (strange customs and sexual mores, Europe’s Other) and solidarity (another part of the Third World, a partner in the anti-imperial struggle). It is at once the repository of authentic (even Catholic) spirituality as well as anti-modern and tradition-bound—“just like us” and radically different. These paradoxes bespeak the problematics of identity in twenty-first century Brazil.
Waïl S. Hassan is Professor of comparative literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of Tayeb Salih: Ideology and the Craft of Fiction (Syracuse UP, 2003) and Immigrant Narratives: Orientalism and Cultural Translation in Arab American and Arab British Literature (Oxford UP, 2011); co-editor of Approaches to Teaching the Works of Naguib Mahfouz (MLA 2012); and translator, from Arabic into English, of Abdelfattah Kilito’s Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language, (Syracuse UP, 2008) and, from Portuguese into Arabic, of Alberto Mussa’s O enigma de Qaf, forthcoming in Cairo, Egypt, under the title of Lughz al-qaf. He is currently writing a book on Arab-Brazilian literary and cultural relations.
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