By Magda Magdy
Writing to me is more like venting, an act of release where I verbalise in words what I tend to internalise. It is hence considered therapeutic in nature. Sometimes it comes out in English, sometimes in Arabic, sometimes a mix of both and sometimes neither. I believe in the limitations of language, of grammar and syntax as much as I obssess over each aspect. I hover between these extreme sides of my personality. In Port Said I avoided the written word and sought another medium of expression, I made video diaries that served as dailies of what I was thinking/feeling/reflecting upon throughout the workshop. I haven’t had time to reflect a lot in Alexandria and given my already complex love-hate relationship with the city, I’ve sort of been detaching myself in purpose and taking the time to process everything all at once. I don’t even know where to begin. But I’m starting to see the flesh in things. I’m aware that whatever image I have in my head is partial in nature and I can never know the absolute truth, but it’s just an attempt to fill the gaps, or missing jigsaw pieces of the puzzle, or adding colour to the black and white images, providing extra dimensions to the one-sided truth we were spoon fed as history in our schooling. The early 20th C was a very perplexing moment. Very similar to what we’re witnessing and feeling today. What with the idea of Nahda, progress, civilization and global radical culture, where passports and borders didn’t exist and migration to Alexandria was at its peak. But there was also this sense of defeat and hopelessness over the failure of uprisings and revolutions in the region, a moment very similar to the one we’re in, What is remarkably evident is the resistance of men, women etc.. how they fought back the censorship in the arts specially in the press and in theatre performances, how they used to create small “breathing spaces” such as the Baracca Rossa or the Free popular university which was again very limited in its scope by any means. Occasions like the anniversary of the Paris Commune were celebrated and even acted in coffeeshops. Nevertheless it was impossible not to encounter the prevalent nationalist discourse that was tied with the national identity and embraced by the entire population. But looking at subaltern literature by largely unknown Alexandrian authors, such as Abd El Rahman Shukry you could sense the nihilist nature of their writings which reflected their individual sense of despair also in relation with the socioeconomic context, given they were witnessing wars, bombardments, failed revolutions and despotic regimes. We’ve never been in a state of “stability” regardless of what the state dictates. I compare uprisings to palpitating pulses that are small in effect yet ultimately push the momentum forward on the long run. It’s a dreary long battle, inevitable and non ending, so it’s natural to feel hopeless, confused, pessimistic somewhere in the middle. I’d like to think we’ve not only inherited the traumas of past generations, their nihilism or pessimism but their sense of resistance as well. So let’s take a long deep breath (and a long break if that’s what it takes), and continue to fight the system.