The following essay was published in the “Troubled Landscapes” issue of Photographies Journal.
In 1936 William Faulkner wrote his tenth novel Absalom, Absalom! The novel marked the pinnacle of Faulkner’s career and secured him the Nobel Prize a decade later. The first pages of the book included a hand-drawn map of Yoknapatawpha County in Mississippi. At the center of the map was Jefferson, the county seat. The territory extended from Tallahatchie River in the north to Yoknapatawpha River in the south. The map came with a key of corresponding information, detailing surface area and population. It also included the statement:
William Faulkner, sole owner & proprietor.
But proprietor of what? The map? The land? Or the place? The map was atypical, not only due to the appropriative gesture by its author. The map did not feature places but events and characters in Faulkner’s previous novels and short stories, most of which took place in Yoknapatawpha. The eastern territories marked The Sound and The Fury, at the center was Light in August, and at the northwest was Absalom, Absalom! In fact, one might argue, Faulkner was not just the proprietor of the stories attributed to the place but the place itself. Yoknapatawpha was a fictional creation of Faulkner’s novels; it is not that stories were charted onto places. On the contrary, stories charted their territories. The map does not chart a set of diagrammatic abstractions in relation to spatial information. Instead, the map sets relations among novels where place functions, not as a backdrop to the narrative, but emerges as a textual operation through the narrative….
Read the essay (PDF)
The following essay was published in Fillip issue 18
While Facebook was a crucial tool for the mobilization of the public during the days of the Egyptian revolution of January 2011, Facebook after the revolution was even more vibrant, politically and visually. The proliferation in that space of image-posts—that is, images shared as a means of communication, specifically, political communication—was remarkable. This phenomenon was not unique to the Egyptian political context, but given that it arose with the onset of the revolution and then proliferated following it, it calls for some attention. The post-revolutionary period—roughly the year succeeding the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011—was a time of political strife in which the image-post acted less to the effect of mobilizing the populace than of gesturing toward political affiliations and positions. Compared with the early days of the revolution, the political landscape of its latter days is divided among different political factions, different ideologies, and a multiplicity of adversaries. In the post-revolutionary Facebook landscape, the social and political momentum and solidarity amassed against the Mubarak regime has diffused with the loss of a common foe, and as a consequence this momentum and solidarity has weakened. … Read PDF
* Read part 1, “Seen in action: aesthetics and politics on Facebook”.
* Read also “Image-operations”
* View an archive of image-posts here.
* This article was originally published in The New Left Project
Last week, Egypt’s minster of defense and army chief Abdel Fatah El-Sisi called for the nation to rally in support of the army on Friday 26 July, and in doing so grant him the mandate to take all measures necessary to fight terrorism. Three weeks before El-Sisi had deposed president Morsi in what is best described as “coupvolution” and allocated presidential powers to the head of the Supreme Court while retaining jurisdiction in matter of national security. That process went smoothly from the point of view of the military and the anti-Morsi opposition, and indeed turned out to be very popular. The security apparatus started cracking down on Islamists from day one. Why in that case would he seek a further popular mandate for what the military was already doing?
Despite being a key force on the political scene since the ousting of Mubarak this is the first time an army figure has called for mass protests or what is locally known as milioniyat (from millions). In doing so El-Sisi was invoking the people as the ultimate source of political power or what is broadly known as “popular sovereignty.” For someone who has just deposed a democratically elected president the resorting to tropes of popular sovereignty is crucial if one is to sanction his otherwise unconstitutional position. The symbolic weight of protest is appealed to in order to outweigh the representative power of elections.
* This article was originally published in openDemocracy
Since the deposition of the Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi by the military on July 3, debate has circled around whether to call this a coup or a popular uprising. History has traditionally placed the two concepts at opposing poles from each other. This time they have become entangled as never before.
Unorthodox positions have been taken up by political players on both sides: revolutionary groups, despite their previous attitudes to the military, have hailed the generals’ decision, while the conservative Muslim Brotherhood decries it a military coup on the basic premise of defending democracy. But the convergence of interest between the revolutionary forces and the military requires an altogether new term.
Coup is an unambiguous notion: when an army intervenes to overthrow a government it is a coup. Revolution on the other hand, is less amenable to such technical definitions. It is identified intuitively: we know it when we see it. We tend to register it as image, an image of the people in congregation against the sovereign, the acute surge that seems to come out of nowhere, reshuffles the scene and soon dissipates. But that is rarely the case. History is ripe with revolutions that lingered on without endpoints and became constant states under the rubric of revolution: revolutionary parties, revolutionary governments and revolutionary policies and even revolutionary countries. It is during this afterlife that revolution assumes its indeterminate and loose character, even to the point that it might subsume a coup under its semiotic cloak.
We can think of revolution according to two analytic schemes. Firstly, it is the event of a quasi-absolute consensus against a common target, namely the sovereign, followed by a mobilization of the populace. Consensus temporarily suspends discordances typically held among factions of the populace for the sake of the single antagonism. This mobilization is typically momentary, and as history has repeatedly demonstrated, unpredictable. The uprising against Mubarak’s regime in January 2011 could be read according to this definition.
This article was published in the journal Philosophy of Photography journal, volume 3 issue 2.
‘Image-posts’ is what I call those images posted and circulated on Facebook as means of communication. I exclude from this category personal photographs. Apart from that, any image can function as an image-post but usually they come in the form of digitally altered media photographs and with superimposed texts. Sometimes it is only a text on a seamless background—a virtual placard of sorts. As a matter of fact all image-operations are placards in the sense that they are enunciations rather than a constative denotations of events; they are modes of the communicative that refer to things beyond their ontic content. Another common feature is that they are usually of unknown origin, or at least their origin does not seem to be as important as their communicative function, hence the epithet ‘operations.’
* Read also “Seen in action: aesthetics and politics on Facebook” and “The Page That I Am: a biology of Facebook”.
* View archive of Facebook image-posts
The following article was originally published in Afterimage Vol. 40, Number 3 and was republished in Jadaliyya.
Sarageldine Palace, Cairo, 2006. Photo by Xenia Nikolskaya.
Dust: Egypt’s Lost Architecture (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2012) is a book of photographs by Xenia Nikolskaya about Egypt’s decaying colonial architecture. (A limited mock-up can be viewed here .) These are buildings in a pre-mortem state, or verging onto it; that is to say, buildings in a state of limbo. Nobody knows how long they will be around before being demolished and resold for more profitable use. Some of them are great works of architecture, yet they stand in purgatory collecting dust. They date back to what is regarded as Egypt’s belle époque. While the denomination itself could be contested as being an historiographic import from other geographic contexts, these buildings, being the progeny of colonial times, are indeed importations. It is hard to demarcate a precise chronological timeline for what is colonial and what is pre-colonial, but roughly speaking, the starting point is marked by the reign of the Europhile Khediv Ismail Pasha in 1863. It reached its apogee with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, lasted until the onset of the 1952 military coup, and eventually ended with President Gamal Abdul Nasser’s socialist reforms of the early 1960s. Read More
This article was first published in Afterimage Vol.40, issue 3.
Facebook image-post capture
“Community with the capacity to argue and make metaphors is likely, at anytime and through anyone’s intervention, to crop up.”
Facebook and the Egyptian revolution of 2011 were inexorably linked. The role Facebook played in initiating and maintaining a chain of mobilization, politicization, polarization, and eventual monopolization surpassed any role played by any single political individual or entity. Evidently, it is impossible to think of the revolution without Facebook. But would it be possible to think of Facebook without the revolution? This statement does not invert a relation of cause and effect, but could be seen as an attempt toward a future-history. It asks whether the revolution will always leave its mark on virtual social space in a way that affects experience, or perhaps the definition of the medium—a medium where politics and aesthetics interblend and coproduce political subjectivity.
The centrality of social media to the evolution was never really a subject of unanimous agreement; many commentators would argue that many who took part in the revolution did not have internet access to start with and used more traditional modes of communication. This is indeed true. But I will argue that the initial stir created by Facebook created a nidus of collectivity upon which more traditional modes of communicability and sociality came to build. Furthermore, it is important to note that the use of Facebook exploded dramatically in the post-revolutionary period, which is the focus of this article.