Announcing KITABuDhABI

Our community reading forum, formerly known as “Abu Dhabi Reads,” continues on October 28 with Octavia Butler’s dystopian novel.

 

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Call for Submissions: 21st-Century Global Liberal Arts Education

A Virtual Roundtable about the promise and challenges of global liberal arts education in the twenty-first century at NYUAD and beyond.

 

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Theater Mitu's Hamlet/Ur-Hamlet

Gabrielle Flores writes a review that’s not really a review, about a play that wasn’t really a play
but a performance piece about how to think about a play.

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Twenty-First-Century Global Liberal Arts Education

An Electra Street Colloquium

 

 

 

Recently on Electra Street

 

Weird History: Headspace 1.0

In 2013, four NYUAD students began interviewing their classmates about their experiences in Abu Dhabi. As the starting point for the interviews, they used seven questions: Why are you scared? Why do you feel repressed? Why do you feel liberated? Why do you regret coming here? Why do you love it here? What are you hiding? Why are you proud? These interviews developed into a documentary theater piece called Headspace, which invited the NYUAD community to think about what it means to be a student — particularly a female student — in Abu Dhabi. Headspace was performed for two nights, to a packed audience of staff, students, faculty, and administrators; the show sparked tears of laughter and recognition among everyone in the audience. After the show, the four creators, Valentina Vela, Sachi Leith, Laura Evans, and Veronica Houk, talked with Cyrus Patell and Deborah Williams about the project’s origins and their creative methodology. We are presenting excerpts from that interview to commemorate that first Headspace and to set the stage for the second Headspace, which will be performed on Saturday, December 13 at 2 p.m. in the Amphitheater.   Valentina Vela: I was working on political theater in a theater class, and my professor, Deb Levine, asked what I would talk about in a political theater piece. I told her, “I want talk about our experience and about all the hard conversations we’re not having in a way that is not the Real AD Show, not open mic, not cafeteria conversation — to open a forum for more conversations. So I took a little bit of the model of... read more

Place, Language, and Literature

Part Two of a Conversation with the Judges for the 2015 Man Book International Prize [Editor’s Note: The Man Booker International Prize is a literary award given every two years to a living author of any nationality for a body of work published in English or generally available in English translation. Electra Street caught up with the judges for the 2015 prize — Nadeem Aslam, Elleke Boehmer, Wen-chin Ouyang, and Marina Warner (chair) — during their recent visit to NYU Abu Dhabi for a program at the NYUAD Institute on the subject of world literature. Click here for the first part of the interview.] Jamie Sutherland: At one point during your discussion at the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, Nadeem Aslam said that the writing desk is the only nationality of the writer, even though this writer is nevertheless still trying to show the world’s injustices. Do you think that world literature has managed to transcend national identities and biases? Could we describe it as supranational? Elleke Boehmer: I think that national identity is not as crucial as it once was. World literature’s concerns now may be the concerns of a region. Or the concerns of a certain minority. Or of a migrant community or a cross-border community. Or indeed of writers who simply feels that they’re representing themselves, their own particular situations. It doesn’t necessarily come down to national identity, which I think is how world literature was conceived in, say, 1895. Wen-Chin Ouyang: I once had a conversation with David Damrosch, in which he conceded in that world literature can look very different depending on where you are.... read more

Frankenstein and His Progeny

An Electra Street Colloquium

 

Reimagining a Classic

What I found most interesting about Organs, Tissues, and Candy Games, the recent NYUAD student production created in collaboration with the Zoukak Theater Company from Lebanon, was its exploration of the ways in which the human body can be appropriated for purposes beyond its initial, native intent. The play was structured as a kind of collage of ideas, or like a wheel with the idea of Frankenstein as the hub and all of the other ideas that interested the students becoming spokes for that wheel. So, for example, there was a meditation on the Frankenstein idea of re-appropriating organs and tissues and cells for the purpose of creating life where there was not life before. And then there was a lot of text around the idea of cloning. The played explored contemporary ideas about stem cell research and cloning, and then tied that to the idea of the creation of a monster. There was a lot of material about the intent, initially, to use human organs and cells to save people from disease, to elongate and perpetuate life, and the way that resulted in the creation of something monstrous. So the Frankenstein monster in the play was not physically deformed. It didn’t start out monstrous, but became monstrous in its humanity. It was played by two actors who were dressed identically and very innocently: completely in white with white knee socks and little sneakers and little white shorts and little white polo shirts. They were these seemingly innocent children, a pair of cloned humans, who very cheerfully moved throughout the play while speaking of the most horribly monstrous ideas... read more

Frankenstein in Baghdad

I’m speaking about Frankenstein in Baghdad, a novel by Ahmed Saadawi, an Iraqi novelist who was born in Baghdad in 1973. This novel won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction earlier this year. As its title suggests, the novel was inspired by Frankenstein, although it has a very different storyline and, of course, a regional twist. The Frankenstein-character in the novel is, appropriately enough, an antiques dealer, named Hadi al-Attag. When his assistant dies in a car bombing in Baghdad, Hadi goes to retrieve the body from the morgue. But he can’t find the complete corpse; none of the corpses there are whole. A morgue employee tells him casually, “Just pick any body parts you want and make your own corpse.” So . . . that’s what he does. He picks some body parts, goes back to his house, and assembles them. A nose is missing. He goes out and looks for another nose, from another car bombing site, and he sews it to the face. But he’s not sure what to do with the body he has reconstructed. He wants to give his friend a decent burial, so he waits for an opportunity to bury that body that he has just put together. Meanwhile, he goes out to buy his lunch and is wounded in yet another car bombing. By the time he gets back to his house from the hospital, the corpse, which he refers to as Ashisma (the “What’s-its-name”), has disappeared. What has happened is that the corpse has become inhabited by the soul of the guard at the hotel where the most recent explosion took... read more

Form, Deformity, and Frankenstein‘s Predecessors

My brief talk today comes out of some of the thinking that I’ve been doing about monsters — and bodies described as monstrous — in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature. Some of the most intriguing material from this period takes the form of broadsides or pamphlets that are printed with stories of what the texts call “monstrous births.” These accounts are often accompanied by woodcuts, printed images that represent the features of the “strange” body the text describes. For example, in the 1617 pamphlet, A Wonder Woorth the Reading, the narrator describes “a Female child, with a halfe forehead,” whose mouth and eyes are “miraculously placed in the sayd halfe forhead neere vpon the breast,” the eyes “being very bigg staring and very firy red.” The result, the narrator explains, is that the sight of this “monstrous” body “greatly terrifyed the midwife and all that were present” and everyone was repelled by the “hideous and fearefull forme” (sig. A3v). Other texts similarly describe a deformed body and the fear it inspires in spectators as they discuss how to interpret the features of this body—as you can see in this image from a broadside printed in 1568, entitled “The forme and shape of a Monstrous Child.”   This image, from a pamphlet entitled Strange Newes out of Kent published in 1609, appears on both the title page and within the body of the text. The subtitle proclaims that this “Newes” is “of a Monstrous and misshapen Child,” and along with details of the date and place of birth, the title page proclaims: “the like (for strangeness) hath never beene seene.”... read more

Monstrosity and Feminism in Frankenstein

I teach Frankenstein in a course that’s called Our Monsters, Ourselves and one of the perspectives that informs my teaching is feminism, which for some students is surprising – a student once said to me, “You’re a feminist? But you’re so calm,” as if somehow, those two things are mutually exclusive. Over the years I’ve noticed that when talk about feminist politics or gender roles in literature classes, students often assume that discussions of gender are always only about women. It’s as if by default “gender” must refer only to women because it’s only for women that “gender” is a problem. When I want to talk about a text from a feminist perspectives, however, frequently students will say that this or that text can’t be feminist, because they’re looking at the text for role models. For example, they’re looking for the female characters in a novel to be strong and noble and good and successful and so forth. But “role models” don’t necessarily make a text feminist, and that’s one of the ways that I use Frankenstein in class: to show that the absence of something can nonetheless be something.   Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by Richard Rothwell oil on canvas, exhibited 1840 29 in. x 24 in. (737 mm x 610 mm) Bequeathed by the sitter’s daughter-in-law, Jane, Lady Shelley, 1899 Primary Collection, 
NPG 1235. Used by permission. My teaching of Frankenstein is indebted to the work of the literary scholar Anne Mellor, who argues that Frankenstein is, in fact, a feminist novel. Students, however, often seem to be perplexed by this idea. They say: “But there... read more

Frankenstein and Technophobia

Let’s begin with a word that isn’t in either the 1818 or the 1831 texts of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: robot. In fact, the word robot wasn’t coined until 1921, when it first appeared in the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by the Czech playwright, Karel Čapek. The word was actually coined by Čapek’s brother, Josef., and it comes from the Czech word robota, which means “servitude” or “forced labor.” R.U.R. is an allegorical play that depicts a company whose founder is named Rossum, from the Czech, rosum, which means “reason.” He’s discovered how to make artificial persons. His nephew realizes, afterwards, that by simplifying his uncle’s process and stripping the artificial persons of feelings and other unnecessary attributes, he can create the perfect worker, the robot. Rossum’s robots are much in demand, but eventually, predictably, they are used as mercenaries with devastating results. When the wife of the company’s director secretly has one of its scientists enable the robots to transcend some of their limitations and to develop emotions, because she feels sorry for them, disaster ensues. The robots revolt. At the conclusion of the play, all the human beings but one, a worker, are killed. The play ends when two robots, one male and one female, develop fully-fledged emotions. And it’s they who will repopulate the Earth with a new race of super beings. The term robot is thus linked, from its very inception, to the idea that technology will destroy its creators if it isn’t used properly and responsibly. The play was a big success in Prague in 1921, and it opened opened the following year in... read more

From the Archives

Card Games in Nepal

The game is reasonably straightforward. Pass cards around from one player to another until someone collects a set of four. Each player can only hold four cards in her hand at once, and choosing to keep a new card means discarding another. Once someone has “four of a kind,” she grabs a spoon and the rest of the players follow. There are four of us and only three spoons – the only goal is not to end up “spoonless.” It is a game with the perfect combination of skill, eye contact, and clanging silverware. It is also a game our guide, appropriately called Happy, is particularly good at, and he spends most of the time with a half smile on his face that is transformed by his grin when we each lunge forward, scrambling for the silverware on the slanted table in the mountain side restaurant in Nepal. We have one day left of trekking on the Annapurna circuit, and my arms are one of the few parts of my body that aren’t excruciatingly sore. Today has been one of our longest days, with a 4:30 am climb up to see the sun rise from the 3210 meter Poon hill, followed by a full day hike to Ghandruk, the town where we will spend the night before finishing the trek in the morning. We should be exhausted, but Happy’s enthusiasm is infectious. Spoons proves to be an easily translatable game, which Happy well knows: only in his mid-twenties, just a few years older than I am, he regales us every night with a seemingly endless collection of stories about... read more

50 Dirhams a Day: Abu Dhabi

If you are looking to take a break from the overwhelming daily pace of Abu Dhabi, commit to an afternoon exploring the city. You’ll be surprised how far 50 dirhams will get you. Catch the number 5 bus to the Al Mina Port. Get off at the Electra Street stop, which is about thirty minutes from Marina Mall. Walk facing Electra, with your back to the park. Pay no mind to your fellow pedestrians’ hasty rhythm. Relax as you leisurely make your way down the street, watching people go by, and take note of all the little shops and restaurants that tickle your senses. Stop at any of them that strike your fancy, but I recommend you go on. Keep going until you find yourself face to face with the majestic El Dorado Cinema. There’s no way to miss the vibrant lights on its facade. The city’s first-ever movie theater, El Dorado stands as a proud memento from another era, completely out of place between the modern structures that surround it. A small number of dirhams will get you into a showing of one of the South Indian films they feature, from afternoon matinees to evening screenings. The entrance to the theater is on the other side of its Electra St façade. Across from the El Dorado there is a restaurant of the same name. Complement your movie with a delicious Southern Indian traditional meal for no more 15 dirhams. Be sure to try their delicious masala tea and chat with the owner, Omer. He tells interesting stories about the theater if you ask! Hang around the shops in... read more

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Electra Street is a multimedia journal of the arts and humanities published at NYU Abu Dhabi.

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