Zombie Publics and Leviathan Regimes: Literary Figuration and Political Affect in Recent Egyptian Fiction

By Benjamin Koerber
Submitted to Session P4862 (The Beast in Image, Text and Politics, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The paper examines the proliferation of monsters, human-animal hybrids, and physical and mental deformity in the recent dystopian fiction of three Egyptian authors: Ahmed Naje, Mohammad Rabie, and Youssef Rakha. In three novels – Book of the Sultan’s Seal (2011), Year of the Dragon (2012), and Using Life (2014) – anti-heroes with attitudes stand as hapless witnesses to the destruction or disfigurement of the city of Cairo. In addition to their shared reliance on apocalyptic narrative structures, vulgarisms of vocabulary and style, and tropes of conspiracy, the novels visualize extremities of urban decay and social and political corruption through striking, if sometimes cliched, images of monsters, humans, and creatures in-between.

Three types of monsters loom large in these works: figurations of the state (the lion, the Leviathan, the dragon, rat), figurations of the public (zombies, animals, dogs, oversexed freaks), and figurations of external enemies. The paper analyses the process of figuration not merely as a strategic intertextual gesture (the borrowing of tropes from other works), but as a semi-conscious expression of anxieties related to personal and political agency. Many of these monstrosities, it is argued, channel what has been described as a “paranoid” (Sedgwick), “critical” (Felski), or suspicious concept of agency as a force that is wielded either in full and without obstruction (the omnipotent antagonist), or not at all (the browbeaten anti-hero). In other instances, hybrid creatures appear to offer alternative, more complex, entangled, or reparative conceptions of agency similar to the figurations (cyborgs, companion species, actor-networks) championed in recent theories of post-humanism.