The Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center at CUNY is sponsoring a talk by Tarek El-Ariss entitled, “Eating Rotten Meat Does not Disgust them” Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804-1886) on British Food and Civilization.
This is a rare treat for discard studies scholars, since we often dwell on solid waste as the site of expulsion, disgust, and cultural contests of meaning and value. Moreover, we usually study this contest with documents created by those in power. With this talk, we can consider many of our core arguments in relation to food and subverting colonial powers.

“Eating Rotten Meat Does not Disgust them” Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804-1886) on British Food and Civilization
Talk by Tarek El-Ariss

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
6:30-8:30pm Room 9207
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, at 34th Street

Of all the questions that preoccupied Arab intellectuals from the nineteenth century onward, civilization was the most important. Arab thinkers engaged European theories of development examining the role of religion and social and political institutions in preventing or bringing about civilization. Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq (1804-1886), an exiled intellectual from Mount Lebanon, modernizer of Arabic language, fiction writer and satirist, and editor of a series of cultural and political journals, deconstructs in his work the discourse on civilization in the nineteenth century. Published after a nine-year stay in England and France, Revealing the Hidden in European Arts systematically undermines European understanding of what it means to be civilized. Pondering its true meaning and engaging it from different angles, al-Shidyaq exposes civilization’s inconsistencies, inherent contradictions, and its violent production through the binaries of race, class, dress, and eating habits. Prof. El-Ariss draws on theories of affect to argue that the body of al-Shidyaq is staged in the text as a site of ingestion and expulsion, incorporation and rejection of European food, practices, and ideological models. He reads al-Shidyaq’s ailments, fainting, and physical collapse as symptoms embodying his critique of civilization. In describing his visceral reactions to British customs and culinary practices weakening and poisoning him, al-Shidyaq exposes civilization’s violence to the body as epistemological, cultural, and political violence. Al-Shidyaq’s deconstruction of civilization operates as an early critique of orientalism and colonialism that moves the debate from the politics of representation and misrepresentation in the encounter between the Arab world and Europe to questions of affect and embodiment.

Tarek El-Ariss is Assistant Professor of Arabic Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Trials of Arab Modernity: Literary Affects and the New Political (Fordham University Press) and editor of The Arab Renaissance: Literature, Culture, Media (MLA Book Series, Texts and Translations), both forthcoming in 2013. His new project examines intersections of digital activism and experimental writing in the Arab world.

Tourist image of British food (haggis).