Benjamin Koerber

  • Fellowship Dates 2015-2016
  • Research Topic Styles of Paranoia in Modern Arabic Literature
  • Fellow or Grant Type Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
  • Affiliation Post-doctoral candidate Rutgers University
This project investigates the changing representations of “paranoia” (al-bārānūyā, junūn al-irtiyāb) in 20th-century Egyptian fiction and literary criticism. Defined briefly, paranoia is an extreme form of suspicion that seeks to resolve personal traumas through strategies of over-interpretation, within a framework of apocalyptic drama. As much an aesthetic style as a psychological condition, it has recurred at the center of works by both canonical and marginal authors – including ʿAbbās Maḥmūd al-ʿAqqād, Nagīb Surūr, Muṣṭafā Maḥmūd and Gamāl al-Ghīṭānī – but its precise nature, historical development and literary significance have yet to be examined. Through a series of case studies of these works and the lives of their authors, this research explains the rising appeal of paranoia as a narrative trope in the last century and accounts for individual differences in its forms and functions, both locally and in a global literary context. Although Arabic literary criticism has investigated related themes – melancholy, mourning, trauma, memory and even “madness” in a general sense – al-bārānūyā (also: junūn al-ʿaẓama, junūn al-irtiyāb) has received almost no critical attention. This research addresses this critical dearth and investigates the images, tropes, debates and metaphors through which authors construct their paranoiac protagonists and personas. Telling the history of al-bārānūyā in Egyptian literature promises to reveal the sources and significance of this prevalent style not in the depths of the psyche, but in the literary, critical and biographical texts through which authors conceived their fictions.

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