Fellow 2013/14, 2014/15
For over twenty years Magdi Youssef was Professor of Comparative Literature and Drama Studies at Cairo University. The first to introduce modern Arabic literature and culture studies courses at a German university, he has taught in comparative socio-literary disciplines at the universities of Cologne, Bochum and Bonn for seventeen years. He is president of the International Association of Intercultural Studies (IAIS).
Youssef’s critical works have so far been published in six European languages and in Arabic. Among his most widely read and cited studies are The Myth of ‘European Literature’, Rotterdam, 1998; Socio-Cultural Interference and Intellectual Independence, Cairo, 1993; From Socio-Cultural Interference To Cross-Cultural Interaction, Cairo, 2001; Critical Debates, Cairo, 2007. His book Brecht in Aegypten, Versuch einer literatursoziologischen Deutung (Brecht’s Theatre in Egypt. A Socio-Literary Interpretation), Bochum, 1976, was reviewed in European, Canadian and US periodicals until 1990.
Magdi Youssef is a scholarly consultant to UNESCO. In 2009 he organized the IAIS congress entitled The Contemporary Arabic Contribution To World Culture – A Western-Arab Dialogue at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
When I witnessed the performances of “Les sans papiers” by North African labourers in the course of the mid-seventies in Aix-en-Provence, Avignon and Marseille, two aspects stunned me: firstly, the earnest purpose and attempt to achieve a specific social goal; secondly, the amount of pleasure and amazing aesthetic enjoyment these plays transmitted to the spectators – a diverse audience that comprised Arab expatriates as well as non-French and French people.
I have attempted to trace these extremely vivid and aesthetically inventive performances ever since, holding them in high esteem as theatrical innovations even though they were geared towards a purely practical goal, i.e. that of winning the solidarity of the spectators with regard to the very difficult situation of immigrants without official papers, which meant that they were subjected to racist marginalization, material exploitation and exclusion from whatever social rights existed in French society.
Most of the performances that took place in Southern France at the time made use of the legacy of the Maghrebinian Halaqa (round) ‘theatre,’ to present their situation and cause in truly enjoyable interactive ways, spontaneously involving the spectators in the play, which consequently turned into an ‘inter-play.’
Yet, when some of the ‘fighters’ who had staged these plays later tried to present their work in the context of what is considered “theatre proper,” their entire artistic achievement was lost and the original troupe fell apart. I would like to investigate why the transition from street theatre to so-called serious, established theatre resulted in failure.