“Who are you, Nadja?” Unsī al-Ḥājj and the Encounter of Arabic Literature with Surrealism

Seminar, 26.05.2016, OI Beirut

Public research seminar by Alfred El-Khoury
6–8 pm


When the Lebanese poet Unsī al-Ḥājj (1937–2014) adopted the program of Surrealism in the late 1950s, identifying himself with the most radical figures of the Parisian movement (Antonin Artaud and André Breton, among others), he was not unaware of the implications of such a mission. For Surrealism was, for many Arab intellectuals in that period, the emblem of literary “heresy”, “anti-Arabism”, and “Western decadence”. Al-Ḥājj thus had to face the indignation of critics and poets alike, and soon became the enfant terrible of Arabic literature, and the most despicable of all his peers. By exploring his encounters with pivotal surrealist figures, this lecture will trace the itinerary of al-Ḥājj and shed light on his subsequent literary and intellectual developments. It will also consider his reception as a surrealist and avantgardist figure in later generations of Lebanese and Arab writers.

Short biography

Alfred El-Khoury holds a Masters degree in Arabic Language and Literature (American University of Beirut, 2015) with a thesis on Unsī al-Ḥājj and French Surrealism: From Delirious Body to “Mad Love” and is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at the University of Bamberg, Germany. His research focuses mainly on Arabic poetry, both pre-modern and modern. His interests also include rhetoric, the theory of metaphor, Surrealism, and modernist trends. El-Khoury taught Arabic at the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (CAMES) and in the Summer Arabic Program at AUB.