“Writing about a materially and discursively shattered home/land, whose history and collective memory are haunted by the scars and ghosts of dictatorship, wars, sanctions, and the aftermath of a neocolonial invasion, is a daunting task. Iraqi poets (as well as writers and artists) have had to confront this in the last three decades. The question of and the quest for the mode through which one can approach and represent Iraq and navigate its history, or how Iraqi subjects are constructed or destroyed are themselves recurring tropes. There are many Iraqs
, each imagined and re-membered by deploying and centering a certain historical narrative and privileging and foregrounding a particular iteration of the Iraqi subject. The spectrum ranges from sectarian imaginaries, further fueled by the institutionalization of political sectarianism post-2003, to iterations of ethnocentric, and nationalist, Islamic, or pan-Arabist ones. These narratives of the past accrue even more significance as a refuge when the very existence of the nation-state is threatened, or its genesis questioned, as was the case after 2003. The fragmentation and dismemberment, not only of bodies and communities, but of geographic and sociopolitical spaces and cultural memories, incite an intense longing for the perceived protection of the nation and its narratives and foundational myths. My remarks will address these questions in the works of the late Iraqi poet, Sargon Boulus (1944-2007), to trace how he navigates these dire straight and confronts a history of internal and external violence and competing victimhood without elisions or ideological appropriation.
Sinan Antoon is a poet, novelist, translator, and scholar. He was born and raised in Baghdad where he finished a B.A in English at Baghdad University in 1990. He left to the United States after the 1991 Gulf War. He was educated at Georgetown and Harvard where he obtained a doctorate in Arabic Literature in 2006. He has published three collections of poetry in Arabic; Mawshur Muballal bil-Hurub (Cairo, 2003,)Laylun Wahidun fi Kull al-Mudun (One Night in All Cities) (Beirut/Baghdad: Dar al-Jamal, 2010), and Kama fi ‘l-Sama’ (As in Heaven) (Beirut/Baghdad: Dar al-Jamal, 2019). His first novel, I`jaam (2003), has been translated into English as I`jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody (City Lights, 2006) as well as Norwegian, German, Portuguese, Italian, and Persian. His second novel, Wahdaha Shajarat al-Rumman (The Pomegranate Alone) (Beirut: al-Mu’assassa al-`Arabiyya, 2010, Dar al-Jamal, 2013), was translated by the author and published by Yale University Press in 2013 as The Corpse Washer. It recently appeared in Malyalam (tr. N. Shamnad) from Green Books in Kerala, India, Turkish as Yalnız Nar, (tr. Süreyya Çalıkoğlu) from Aylak Adam, and Macedonian. It was translated to French by Leyla Mansour and published by Actes Sud in 2017. The French translation won the 2017 Prix de la Litterateur Arabe for the best Arabic novel published in France. It was long listed for the Independent International Fiction Prize in 2014, won the Best Arab American Book Award in 2014, and the 2014 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Literary Translation. His third novel, Ya Maryam (Ave Maria) (Beirut: Dar al-Jamal, 2012, 2013), was shortlisted for the 2013 Arabic Booker. It was published in Spanish as Fragmentos de Bagdad by Turner Libros in May 2014, English as The Baghdad Eucharist (tr. Maia Tabet) by Hoopoe Fiction, 2017, and Persian (tr. Mohammad Hazbaie) by Hirmand, 2019. His fourth novel, Fihris, was published by Dar al-Jamal in January 2016 and was longlisted for the Arabic Booker. The English translation, by Jonathan Wright, was published as The Book of Collateral Damage by Yale University Press in 2019. Antoon’s translation of Mahmoud Darwish’s last prose book In the Presence of Absence, was published by Archipelago Books in 2011 and won the 2012 National Translation Award given by the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA). His co-translation (with Peter Money) of a selection of Saadi Youssef’s late poetry, Nostalgia, My Enemy, was published by Graywolf in November 2012. His translation of Ibtisam Azem’s novel, The Book of Disappearance, was published by Syracuse University Press in June 2019.His poems and essays (in Arabic) have appeared in as-Safir, al-Adab, al-Akhbar, Bidayat, al-Hayat, Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniyya, Masharef and (in English) in The Nation, Middle East Report, Al-Ahram Weekly, Journal of Palestine Studies, The Massachusetts Review, World Literature Today, Ploughshares, Washington Square Journal, the Guardian, and the New York Times.
He has published academic articles on the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, Saadi Youssef, and Sargon Boulus and on the history and politics of Iraq. His book The Poetics of the Obscene: Ibn al-Hajjaj and Sukhf (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) is the first study of the 10th century poet Ibn al-Hajjaj.
Sinan returned to his native Baghdad in 2003 to co-produce and co-direct a documentary film about Iraq under occupation entitled About Baghdad (InCounter Productions, 2004).
In 2016/2017 Antoon was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin. He has served on the juries of the National Book Award and the Pen Prize.
Antoon is an Associate Professor at New York University’s Gallatin School and co-founder and co-editor of Jadaliyya. You can follow him on twitter: @sinanantoon“