In this week's edition, we hear from Tarek El-Ariss, associate professor and chair of Middle Eastern Studies. Author of Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals: Arab Culture in the Digital Age (Princeton University Press, 2019) and editor of The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda (The Modern Language Association of America, 2018), El-Ariss's varied research interests include contemporary Arabic culture, literature, and art; new media and cyber culture; digital humanities; Nahda literature, language, press, and literary theory; travel writing - among many other things.
What are your books about?
While "The Arab Renaissance" is about the project of Arab modernity in the 19th century, "Leaks, Hacks, and Scandals" is about the challenges to Arab modernity in the digital age.
Where did you get your ideas for this?
I'm a scholar of modernity and the enlightenment in Europe and the Middle East, and I'm particularly interested in examining how modernity and its fundamental constituents (nation state, subject, ethics, novel, public sphere) are evolving in different contexts and at different times. Transformations in digital communication combined with the political upheavals that gripped the Middle East since 2011 especially led me to examine the relation between politics and writing, public protests and cyber attacks, and the rational subject of the liberal nation state and the leaking and hacking subject online.
What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?
I spend a lot of time in my office surrounded by my books; this makes me feel safe. My books are my companions as they inspire me and serve as references. When I do my research, I take a lot of notes, hundreds of pages, which I then distill into articles and chapters. I'm a compulsive editor; I go up to 10 or 15 drafts for every piece of writing. Good writing is editing.
What do you think the library of the future will look like?
An interactive environment with touch screens that reveal books and point to where they are. The virtual and the material are not mutually exclusive. With new technology there is expediency and speed but also forms of intimacy that will give new meaning to our need to touch and hold.
What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?
Take intellectual risks, cross disciplinary boundaries, and edit edit edit!
And finally, what do you read for fun?
Graphic novels (from Maus to Persepolis), the Presocratics (Parmenides, Thales, Zeno), Alexandre Dumas, Diane de Selliers books, The Arabian Nights.