Sonja Mejcher-Atassi , Dr. phil.

Associate Professor of Comparative and Modern Arabic Literature

American University of Beirut

Born in 1972 in Tübingen, Germany
Studied Modern Arabic Literature at the University of Oxford and Arabic and Comparative Literature at Freie Universität Berlin


In Search of Jabra Ibrahim Jabra: a Life in Literature and Art Between Palestine and Iraq

Jabra Ibrahim Jabra (1920-94) can be described in many ways: a Palestinian exile in Iraq, a modernist, a humanist, an intellectual, a literary writer, a poet, a novelist, a translator of Shakespeare and Faulkner, a founding member of the Baghdad Group for Modern Art, an art critic, and a lover of classical music. The first comprehensive study on Jabra in English, my book project explores Jabra's quest for an Arab modernism. At the same time, it opens a window on the cultural life of the modern Arab world and the close interplay of its cultural and political fields. It shifts the traditional focus from the Levant (especially Egypt and Lebanon) to Iraq, which played a central but today often forgotten role in the cultural life of the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s. The book offers an overview of the wide range of cultural practices Jabra was experimenting with, while giving in-depth analysis of selected works. It thus provides a captivating account for the general reader as well as an insightful study and resource for the more specialized student and scholar of modern Arabic and comparative literature.
The book consists of seven chapters. The first three provide a general study of Jabra's life and work that does not follow a chronological order, but rather explores his life and work along conceptual lines: 1. Exile: "knowledge peddlers" in Palestine and Iraq; 2. Modernity: "take what is alive and leave what is dead to the academics"; and 3. Freedom and Commitment: "voices crying in a wide intellectual wilderness". These chapters are supplemented by another four chapters, which focus on different forms of cultural practices to which Jabra contributed – poetry, the novel, art and art criticism, and translation – and give in-depth studies of selected works. Each chapter can be read separately, but read together they offer insights into the close relations between them.

Recommended Reading

Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja and May Muzaffar, eds. Rafa Nasiri: Artist Books. Milan: Skira, 2016.
Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja and John Pedro Schwartz. Archives, Museums and Collecting Practices in the Modern Arab World. Farnham: Ashgate, 2012.
Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja. Reading Across Modern Arabic Literature and Art. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2012 (= Literaturen im Kontext 34).

Publications from the Fellows' Library

Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja ( Beirut, 2017)
Fusūl min tārīkh al-sharq al-awsat

Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja ( Milano, 2017)

Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja ( 2013)
Art and political dissent in postwar Lebanon : Walid Sadek's Fi annani akbar min bikasu [bigger than Picasso]

Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja ( 2012)
Contemporary book art in the Middle East : the book as document in Iraq

Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja ( Wiesbaden, 2012)
Reading across modern Arabic : literature and art Literatures in context ; 34

Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja ( Farnham [u.a.], 2012)
Archives, museums and collecting practices in the modern Arab world

Panel Discussion11/16/17

State, Public, Private Museums: Challenges and Dynamics in the Global Art World


Tuesday Colloquium - Work in Progress01/30/18

Dienstagskolloquium - Arbeitsbericht, Tuesday Colloquium - Work in Progress