Sami Alkyam holds a PhD in Arabic Literature and Cultural Studies. Sami was invited to join the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University in the Fall of 2012. Sami holds two Masters, the first of which is in applied linguistics and the second is in African Languages and Literature. On May, 2016, Sami has also earned his doctoral degree in Arabic Literature and Cultural Studies from the University Of Wisconsin-Madison. Sami’s research interests broadly include Modern Arabic Literature: Novels, Films, Poetry and Blogs; Postcolonial Literary Studies; Cultural Theory; Gender and Sexuality Studies; African Literature in Translation; Arabic Literary Translation; and Second Language Acquisition (Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language). At Harvard, Sami has been teaching a range of language, culture and literature classes.
Currently, Sami is working on a monograph where he examines the manifestation/s of dictators and dictatorships in contemporary literary genres—the representation of its various configurations, and the politics of re/writing history. Specifically, he focuses on contemporary Arabic novels that call attention to the parallel/s between narrative and the rhetorical processes and structures that once played a role in empowering dictators. Each novel, he argues, offers an articulation of history and history-making where it is conceived as a fluid narrative that is ideologically constructed through interaction, rejection, and recognition. He tries to open a discussion on how novels can be read as tools of dissent against “Arab dictators” ongoing rhetorical self-empowerment over their own people and nations. In his reading of such literary texts he revisits the famous concept of “art for art’s sake” which has become the target of pointed critique with the emergence of post-colonial theory, critical race theory, cultural studies and a number of area study models concerned with nation, cultural difference, history, ideology and other seemingly “non-literary” disciplines and issues. In agreement with the critiques, Sami tries to underscores that literature is inseparable from politics and social context. Nevertheless, the discussion far from ends with this affirmation. The larger question is not whether literature is political, but how is it political: more precisely, what kind of politics does and/or can literary fiction advance?
In focusing upon the representation of dictators in literary texts, Sami hopes that his project opens a discussion for a shifting space in Arabic novel to show what the “aesthetics spatial shift” in critical studies can do for the examination of the Arabic dictator novel. The “shifting space” chartered in his research, Sami hopes, thus encapsulates the social, political, economic, and cultural transformations that contributed to the emergence of a new experience in writing. Just like the experience of the writers of the sixties and the seventies in the Arab world incited a change in the norms of narrative, the upheavals and experience of the Arab world at the turn of the second millennium will incite literary innovations which will then transform the aesthetics of writing.
Moreover, Sami hopes that his research on this field will be a contribution, that is far from end, toward determining how far the Arab literary scene has managed to produce a body of texts that can be grouped together under the banner of dictator(ship) novel and initiate an independent genre similar to its Latin American counterpart—both regions being the most fertile of soils for the thriving of such a canon by virtue of their exposure to several of the twentieth century’s most ruthless regimes.
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