Revisiting the Myth of the Suez Canal: French Writers and Travelers in Egypt around 1869

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017 @ 12:30 pm2:00 pm

Join the Middle East Institute for a guest lecture with Sarga Moussa. The opening of the Suez Canal (1869) was celebrated as a world event (thousands of personalities from both ‘West’ and ‘East’ were invited by the Khedive Ismaïl), but the meaning of this event remains a subject of debate. Surprisingly, little attention has been paid to literary and cultural representations.

This talk examines a range of representations and observations, including ‘poèmes de circonstance’ (poems written specially for the occasion) glorifying the progress of “civilization” and its “hero,” Ferdinand de Lesseps and a series of texts (speeches, articles, travel books…) that construct Suez as a “contact zone” resulting from the (ephemeral) concentration of East and West on a narrow band between two seas. It considers at greater length a case study, Edmond About’s Le Fellah (The Peasant) (1869), a novel based on a real stay in Egypt. The novel explores the encounter of French and English travelers with each other and with a rich Egyptian land owner (the so called fellah Ahmed, whose father died digging the Suez Canal). A central aspect is the complex position of the Egyptian hero, whose final recognition of the Suez Canal as a positive historical development doesn’t prevent him from criticizing Europe. In these readings, orientalist literature, as delineated by Edward Said, is explored as a field of dialogical viewpoints and ideological instabilities.

Sarga Moussa is a Directeur de recherche at the CNRS, Unité mixte de recherche THALIM (Théorie et histoire des arts et des littératures de la modernité), Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3.

The lecture will take place at Knox Hall, Room 208 // 606 W. 122nd Street, New York.

This event is co-sponsored by the Columbia Maison Française and the Middle East Institute.

From Columbia Maison Française


Wednesday, April 5, 2017
12:30 pm – 2:00 pm
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La Maison Française (Columbia)
Buell Hall, 515 West 116th Street
New York City, NY 10027 United States


La Maison Française (Columbia)