Spheres of Literature series

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been writing as frequently about Islam as of late. This is because I am working on a project that consumes all of my Islam-writing time. However, it’s centered around a specific realm, so I will still be writing little pieces on Islam in other areas.

As for the very present moment, I’d like to introduce a series to this website in which I describe books written by authors of different contents and cultures. The installments of this series will not be consecutive (because I have to read a large range of books before I choose which to discuss), so there will be Islamic posts in between. My goal is to demonstrate that although these books do not (always) overtly engage in identifying colonialist attributes, we often read them as a critique of colonialism merely by virtue of the conditions described and even the places they are about.

This is to say that we become uncomfortable with these books by our own doing. They may very well be books about colonialism, but the amplification of this fact is a consequence of our own defensiveness and awareness of past (and concurring) wrongs. The authors are merely telling their stories; these just happen to be stories that offend us, because we read stories of the Other with a different standard of evaluation than we read our own even though their stories are only as political as ours.

These books are about everyday people living everyday life, just like British or American novels are. The difference is in our perception–we are brought to confront how the characters’ lives got “that way” when we don’t stop to do this for “our own” literature.

How did our lives get “that way”? When you read a novel about the American pioneers, for example, do you think about who they had to kill to get “that way,” to the position that they are at the start of the novel? Of course not, because “white literature” has the privilege of being perceived as apolitical. Even when it is very, very political.

Out of our defensiveness, we are outraged at what literature written by people of color implies. When a character of color is living everyday life, (life that perhaps got “that way” because of a colonial presence) we accuse the author of being too race-focused, even when white literature is nothing but.

I will be arranging these installments by continent, but I acknowledge very forcefully that this is an arbitrary arrangement. (I think there are only six continents. Seriously. Why does Europe get its own continent? I AM TOTALLY going to say that there are only six continents. And if whether we designate a region of the world as its own continent is based on cultural and not geographical difference [hence justifying Europe], then there are definitely MUCH MORE than seven continents.) Civilizations within continents are not homogenous. So here is your disclaimer: the arrangement really means nothing, and I may decide to organize the series differently halfway through.

3 thoughts on “Spheres of Literature series

  1. Thijs

    first of all, best fo luck with your project!

    one question though, if we define continents purely on landmass, shouldn’t there be only 4. Since the Panama and Suez canal are both man made. Purely going by natural borders, what would Africa give the right to be a seperate continent as well? Same for south and north america. And then you’re only starting from the contemporary view of the continents. If natural borders and landmass are what defines continents, what about the millions of islands, are those also continents? if not, what makes an island and what makes a continent?

    Not attacking your view or anything, just wondering about it since the topic arrived…

    That being said, i’m looking forward to your project. it’s rather ambitious and will require a whole lot of work, but if you can pull this of, it could be really informative (and refreshing really…). so yes, again best of luck to you!


    1. Eh *shrug* I think the land connecting South to North America and Africa to Asia are too slim to the point where each of those continents are basically “surrounded by water,” which ever since I was in elementary school we were told is what defines a continent. Europe however connects to land on an ENTIRE side. (Islands, I was taught, are just smaller and therefore islands.)

      Of course that’s also entirely subjective and arbitrary (How much land is little enough land? Who gets to decide?) but my point is that if we are speaking culturally then there are MANY more than seven. And if not then there are less than seven (excluding islands.) If Europe must be its own continent then we have to commit to a set of standards here–if we’re speaking culturally in order to qualify it then that should be applied to every other region. Europe isn’t fucking special.


  2. Sada

    Wow, I’ve just read the first post on your series and, whoa, some of it really mirror my own feelings, being a citizen of a former colonial country…

    I (and many others) don’t have the access to read those “kind” of books because of geographical problems, so thank you Nahida :)



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