Controlled Passion: On the Ghazal

by Claire Chambers Ghazal poetry is an intimate and relatively short lyric form of verse from the Middle East and South Asia. The form thrives in such languages as Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and now English. Like the Western ode, these poems are often addressed to a love object. Influenced by ecstatic Sufi Islam, the ghazal’s subject…

Benazir Bhutto in Life, Death, and Letters (Part 2)

by Claire Chambers In my last post but one I pledged to continue my discussion of Benazir Bhutto’s two premierships and eventual assassination by examining the legacy she left behind for novelists to explore. Then, of course, the pandemic took hold, and I couldn’t not respond to the global health and welfare emergency. However, now…

Benazir Bhutto in Life, Death, and Letters (Part 1)

by Claire Chambers In Owen Bennett-Jones’s ten-part podcast, The Assassination, which he made for the BBC World Service in 2017, listeners become immersed in the circumstances around the murder of Benazir Bhutto ten years earlier. They learn of the security concerns, sectarian hatred, and patriarchal demands faced by even this most privileged woman. Benazir, a dynastic…

A Languorous Look at Lahore 

by Claire Chambers A few tall, dreamy-eyed Sikh men were on my plane to Lahore. Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary celebration was taking place nearby about a month later, on 12 November 2019, so I guessed their final destination was Nankana Sahib, Guru Nanak’s birthplace. The British-Indians’ presence was a reminder, if any were needed,…

Heartless or Broken-hearted? Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Film and Fiction

by Claire Chambers Today is the anniversary of 70 years of Pakistan, and tomorrow it will be Indians' turn to celebrate their nation's Independence Day. I recently wrote about South Asian cultural production that portrays Nehru, the Mountbattens, and the Edwina-Jawaharlal relationship or affair. Today I turn my attention to depictions of the Quaid-i-Azam or…

Islamicate Literature, Literary Theory, and Criticism

by Claire Chambers In discussions of postcolonial and diasporic literature, questions of faith and religious identity have until recently tended to be subsumed under such categories as ethnicity, nationality, hybridity, and race. Rae Isles, a character who lectures on Middle Eastern politics in Leila Aboulela's The Translator, accordingly asserts: 'Even Fanon, who I have always…

The Real Deal: Authenticity in Literature and Culture

Authenticity is a term that often comes up in postcolonialism and especially my own subdiscipline of Muslim literary studies. But what does it mean to be authentic, and is the quest for authenticity a productive or stifling one? A fetishization of authenticity can trap apparently ‘authentic’ cultures in picturesque poverty and a pastoral past that never existed, ignoring their plural present. The anti-authenticity stance can also be challenged on academic grounds, because what is research if not a process of authentication? Authenticity cannot be so easily dismissed as a discourse of power, since it is one in the service of knowledge too.

Fight the Bannonality of Evil

by Claire Chambers In her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt argues that there is nothing in evil that is radical or lucid. Instead, she claims, even the most extreme evil is senseless and banal. Amos Elon summarized Arendt's argument in terms that cannot but resonate with the current political circumstances in the United…

A Permissive Circle: World Literature and Zumba Dance

​If you’ve ever read my blog posts for 3 Quarks Daily or columns for Dawn’s Books & Authors section, you will know me for my criticism of world literature. But as it’s the holidays, I want to write about something more frivolous. I have a confession to make: as well as being a lecturer in global literature, for the last five years I have also moonlighted as a Beto Perez and ZumbaZumba instructor.

The State We’re In: Global Higher Education

by Claire Chambers The current volatile state of global higher education raises urgent questions. Student protests broke out at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in March 2015. These demonstrations initially called to remove the statue of the racist imperialist Cecil Rhodes from campus. As Rachael Gilmour explains, the ejection of Rhodes's statue was…

‘Home Had Come Here’: Connective Dissonance and Split Selves in Leila Aboulela’s “The Translator” and Elif Shafak’s “Honour”

by Claire Chambers Leila Aboulela's debut novel The Translator (1999) is about a love affair between a Sudanese translator, Sammar, and her employer, the Scottish lecturer Rae Isles. Turkish novelist Elif Shafak similarly handles various transcultural love affairs in her 2012 novel Honour, but is more concerned with their darker aspects of jealousy and disgrace.…

Arab Muslim Writing in Britain

by Claire Chambers Since 1855, both orthodox and non-practising Arab Muslim writers have produced an exciting, politicized, and high-quality body of artistic work. Among other aims, it seeks to portray the concerns of British-based members of the transnational faith group, or ummah. My research indicates that, particularly in the years following the riots in northern…

‘Made-in-India Othello Fellows’: Indian Adaptations of Othello

by Claire Chambers I recently wrote an essay for Dawn on general postcolonial rewritings of Shakespeare's Othello. For the present column, I turn to what Ania Loomba has called 'the made-in-India Othello fellows'. In other words, I am interested in those Indian writers who, from Henry Louis Vivian Derozio onwards, have looked to this play…