‘If There is a New Feeling, There Must Be a New Word’: A Talk with Nora Amin

But now it is published. I deal with them in this not-so-conscious process of writing. I’m very happy if the feeling gets through. You don’t have the usual book design format. Reine Chahine: How would you describe your style? At the very end, at the very last line of the text, it is the first time that this narrator says: “I cannot see them anymore. Because I love physicality. Most of the unusual words are related to physical descriptions. Can you tell me more about your Arabic style of writing? It means that they are all embedded in our physical memory, in the events of our lives, in our subconscious. We don’t know who is this omnipresent narrator. But I feel that this kind of description in this intersection with dance can maybe inspire a kind of strange movement or choreography, that is not part of what we know is possible. Who is this ‘I’ suddenly appearing?” This is why it is also on a separate page.  My experience as an author of this is that I was the woman and the man. I’m aware there are a lot of painful moments in The Text. Nora Amin: Yes, because my body is in it. This is so relieving. Nora Amin: I would say that the suffering we endure as women deserves to be expressed and screamed out loud. Her long poem   “The Text /   النص” was published by the Berlin-based non-profit publishing house Falschrum in 2021. I find my own experiences reflected in The Text, and that it has somehow escorted me throughout other experiences of writing, because it was not really published. Maybe they are part of the ingredients of some seeds or water. What I really like is this sense of movement in the words. And not like a kind of pornographic text or whatever, but poetry, which can still look like pornography or erotica to some people. What could you tell me about this collaboration? In the middle, there are hundreds of years passing by, one century passes by another. So this is the first book I made that contains only poetry. Amin turns the book in her hands, looking at its unique binding, which allows readers to change the reading direction by placing two binding rings on the left or right side of the book, depending on whether they want to read it in English or Arabic. I reconnected even more deeply, because I had to look for the essence of what I want to say. Or to cover up for a crime or something like this. Nora Amin: I think the first collection of short stories was in 1994 or 1995. When you were describing the moment of the well, you were sort of appropriating that part of the text and reproducing it in your own words. A memory of the poem or a memory of the reader’s own connection or feeling during the reading. If you got in this hypnotic mode, you would wake up. [She laughs again.] “The Text,” pub. Then making translations into German, Arabic, English, French. Nora Amin: I am not sure if I can describe it, but, for me, time and space are also inside the body, not only outside. And then she dismantles. Nora Amin: It’s deconstructing the experience of a book. And then there is the other axis, which is space. I felt the struggle. It is another experience, and it is more fulfilling and more interactive with the readership. Falschrum After speaking about her work with different theater groups in Cairo, and her previous publications, among them four novels, four collections of short stories, three books of essays, and many theatre plays, the conversation focusses on Amin’s poetry. [She laughs] I feel, to have something like this is extraordinary. This is something new as well. Reine Chahine: How would you describe in a few words the relation between your text and her drawings? Nice! If it touches you like this, it works. I was both. Is there any motivation or background you could tell me about, that motivated you to write this text? Nora Amin: Actually, throughout the text you have the two voices: the man and the woman. Maybe it feels like a dance notation, but it could also be like scripting a performance. Is this the first time? So I feel, this passion with physicality is in the essence of my expression, whether it then transforms into dance or literature. Now I am experiencing this fresh moment. We have to suffer in order to enjoy. Very interesting! For me it was like a kind of the spinning of the earth, the planet itself. “The Text,” pub. But also in a literary form, that is so marginalized within the Arabic literary scene, not only in the Egyptian. Nora Amin: I wanted to talk about pain, gender roles, sexuality, but I was not moved by a theoretical idea or a message I wanted to convey. [Reading the blurb on the rear cover] “She uses a surrealistic form of poetic writing to deconstruct gender roles, sexual trauma, and patriarchal authority.” Oh my God! Reine Chahine: And make decisions! Reine Chahine: Do you want to take a moment, a break? And it is bilingual. And it means that this is not a kind of social activism. With each of these other languages there is something developing. It was a kind of childish writing. Reine Chahine: The text? What are your subjects? It is from the beginning to the end based on movement description and [the question is] how to make it poetic, how to make it visual, how to engage the imagination of the reader, how to speak to the reader not as a passive receiver, but as a partner in recreating this story through their own imagination. Shortly after the book was printed, the documentary filmmaker Reine Chahine met Amin for an interview and witnessed the moment when the author saw her book for the first time. It is another connection to these topics. And maybe struggling with the rings a little bit is also good. Can you describe how you “merge” these arts, how they intersect? We have the same circle.  Reine Chahine: Would you describe this as a journey of how we deal with our bodies as women and as men in different times and different spaces? It’s like a deconstructed book and you restructure it, but then it remains what you deconstructed, because it’s never really holding together tightly. We think of the mind of the reader, the eyes of the reader. Nora Amin There is one moment in The Text, where the man is carrying the woman and he is spinning with her. I swear, I will cry! Nora Amin: It is part of my body. I feel it is also releasing this feeling of taboo from my own body. Reine Chahine: Why do they disappear at the end? Nora Amin: Yes, I think so. And then the nature is a part of this transformation, too. It is a kind of dance notation, also, The Text. It has no function anymore, but I just love it. This is a neutral voice. Some of them were published in newspapers or magazines, but never in a book. I don’t want to cry! You see the movement totally different from our traditional image of the earth spinning. Reine Chahine: Speaking of interaction, tell me more about the design of the book! Somehow this also changes the traditional position of the readership, when you have this kind of book. Someone has to do it. Nora Amin with her book, The Text. For me, some of the drawings are like bringing back this sort of primitive sense of scriptures from the old caves, temples, and murals. So there is also the intention of making my own story of creation. Then—this is covering almost centuries and thousands of years of human life. Or you can change your mind and switch the rings to the other side. This was a nice chance to grasp that and follow it with passion. I believe, with this empathy and when we put ourselves as readers in the place of this woman, that is a moment of healing as well. My hope is that they are transformed into something within each reader, a memory maybe. It is too much crying recently. But it’s a strange experience. And there is also the aging body, the young body, the sexuality, the realization that we live with nature, that we are nature. Nora Amin: I think the first kind of intersection between dance and this text is to know the anatomy of the body. This is, for me, a kind of extension of my work as a dancer and choreographer. So, for me, this is a happy moment. Not that the people will fly, but at least that we can look at our physicality outside of what is usual, outside of what we know, outside of the usual gaze we have. And then there is something about the relation between the male and female and how it is being reshaped in different forms, and how, with each reshaping, you get a different power dynamic and a different form of sexuality, and how this keeps rotating throughout this “surrealistic” history. I decided to adopt a style that somehow reveals or uncovers those facts or those realities, as if the writing becomes a kind of document of the unspoken lives. I was intrigued by the amount of unspoken realities in daily life in Egypt and really impressed by how people can manage having double lives, having secret personas, and a whole neighborhood can have a kind of agreement not to talk about something that everybody knows is happening. Alright, okay. In order to express what, in her view, has not been spoken about before in Arabic literature—women’s perspective on sexuality, in its various forms, from lust to sexual trauma—the author saw the need to invent her own language, which impacts readers with its clarity and sobriety. Reine Chahine: When you started the poem, what did you initially want to talk about? For me, it is like the ideal formula to put things together that are experimental, surrealistic, and not traditional—on every level: writing, visual, book design. [She laughs] Reine Chahine: I would like to give you a hug, and I wish I could be closer to you! Maybe it is considered shameful—and I want to remove this shame. Nora Amin: It’s very weird to see one’s name mentioned as a “she.” My gosh! How you would move and how you would deal with gravity. And if there is a new feeling, there must be a new word. It was impressive. And this is liberating. And this is lovely! Reine Chahine: What are the intentions or motivations that led you to write the text? It is also a relation between the verbal material and the shapes. Falschrum Nora Amin: Because it is what I decided to write as a piece of mythology, a piece telling the creation [story] from my own point of view. Nora Amin: Yes! It has been evacuated. [She laughs.] So that’s the book, and here it is. You know like: “they walk, they sit.” I try to make it more choreographic. Nora Amin: I cannot describe how I feel. It was always a necessity to rewrite the story of creation against the religious notions. But it is also a way to make it a myth and mystery, somehow. How does this text relate to your theater work, to your choreography work, to you being a dancer? It is special to feel like: “Nobody is going to write this. Reine Chahine: When I was reading the book, I felt that it triggered a lot of my imagination, as you were saying. And it is nice not to expect the gender of this narrator. I like erotica. Nora Amin: The body and the lacking of the body in verbal form and the sexuality, how it is never there in anything I read in Arabic. So this is something totally outside of mainstream writing. It was really special, that somebody takes this extra step to understand and to experience also the kind of corporality I have with my dance work. Nora Amin: Because it is the Bible [She laughs]. Reine Chahine: When we talk about The Text, or your books in general, what are you writing about? Poetry and the embodiment of body and dance in a verbal form—this is something very exciting for me. It’s two opposites at the same time, as if it doesn’t exist anymore in my mind. Now, I think it was very childish and very innocent. Then comes another important intersection, and it is about what is not doable with this anatomy of the body: gravity, size, weight, and so on. So it was a real exchange. There are loose pages, it is bilingual, you have to read the instructions when you receive it, decide where to place the binding rings, if you want to read it from left to right or from right to left. I mean, I am being sarcastic. It is also nice to be surprised while reading. So there is this feeling that, until a certain text is published, it is like being locked inside your own body. Nora Amin: I had different stations in the journey with   The Text, because there is the phase of writing it in Arabic, and then almost redoing it again, writing it again in English and French. I feel, in German, it sounds a bit strange, the kind of expressions or how some sentences are formulated… But then, when we arrived at the end, it is also liberating to say that I don’t see anything anymore and it is over, and I can close the book. You wanted to talk about us, women with our struggle and with our body, us, human beings with our struggle with pain? And in that sense, I feel, as if talking to the imagination of the reader, it pushes the experience to its full potential. Yes, for me it is like a bible. It’s an emotional moment, and yet it’s kind of a distancing from the initial emotional moment that produced The Text. As I said: it doesn’t follow a clear rational [line]. It becomes a new experience for me, where I feel that maybe the seed comes from the text, but now in its full form it is no longer the linguistic text alone. Nora Amin: The design was made by Eps51. I felt the time passing. But also when I answer, when I talk about the well, somehow it triggers me, so I re-live the experience of being in the well, while I’m answering. When the woman was pulled out from the well, for me it was this experience where I really felt, I’m in her place. Reine Chahine: As an Arab, I noticed something in the Arabic version of the poem: some of the words are not common. And my own experience of femininity is. Some of them we are not used to seeing in literary texts, because they belong more to physical descriptions from a scientific field or anatomy. And your own words touched me and made me understand that it is succeeding, this form of writing. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintLinkedInRedditTumblrWhatsAppPinterestTelegramPocketSkypeLike this:Like Loading… They are now out of the text.” And this means that they maybe transformed into something else, but did not totally disappear. What really matters and what makes it so special for me is this kind of surrealistic style, where nothing follows the ordinary logic or the rational. It also means that they are outside of the author’s authority. And how maybe it also has a kind of resonance in the body of the reader, because we never think of the body of the reader. It is also interesting because, I feel, this last line could also trigger [the reader] to go back a little bit and see: “Ah? We are at the beach, we are in the desert, we are in the room. Where are the words? And her body is spinning around him. I kind of like this, really. I’m happy. Reine Chahine (@reinachahine) is a documentary filmmaker between Beirut and Berlin. Nora Amin: No. I like to deal with descriptions of the body. You can see the shapes and the colors. At least I perceive it like this. Reine Chahine: Is this your first book of poetry or have there been any before? I’m asking this because, in your poem, there is a timeline. You can be several bodies and, with each change, this impacts the kind of movement you would do. Nora Amin: I wrote several poems and pieces of poetry. Reine Chahine: The Text—what does it mean to you? I think, sometimes, that we are so done with that what already exists. Reine Chahine: Can you tell me about the experience or the journey to write this text? As you were saying, it’s a long timeline. Reine Chahine: What do you feel now that you see your book published? Reine Chahine: Because you are a choreographer, too? Maybe some of the sexual details are not taboo. It is enough for now. The actions that the bodies make are also transforming time and space. The bilingual, Arabic-English booklet is the result of Amin’s collaboration with the artist Katharina Marszewski and the design studio Eps51, and was funded by the Arab-German Young Academy of Sciences and Humanities (AGYA). But then, why am I a choreographer? It is the dance that cannot be danced, but only written. Reine Chahine: Talking about The Text, how would you relate what you just said about your style of writing to this poem? Reine Chahine: Why? And in that sense, with this book design, Sascha [at Eps51] has made of the reader a book producer as well! Nora Amin: I like to write in a very personal and intimate way. ‘If There is a New Feeling, There Must Be a New Word’: A Talk with Nora Amin August 3, 2022August 2, 2022 by mlynxqualey Nora Amin is an Egyptian writer, performer, choreographer, and theater director. It is as experimental as The Text itself. The hair becomes like worms. It is a kind of actually poetic catharsis, maybe. I felt the pain she is feeling. And this is a lovely thing! So this could be one beautiful place, where they have disappeared. I was seeing the scenes really in front of me, or next to me, or within me. In the interview, part of which Chahine turned into a short film to be watched on the publisher’s website, www.falschrum.org, the author talks about her work between the theater stage, the dance studio, and the desk, in which the language of the body and verbal language intersect. Repetition, repeating. Parts of her body fly in different directions, as if those parts are creating parts of our earth, the sea, the forest, and so on. And there is a third voice that is watching them and describing. There are many moments where, for instance, they disappear in the sand. And this is nice. .  Nora Amin: With Katharina Marszewski, a visual artist, it was a very special experience, because we talked, we met, we exchanged ideas, and then she came to my dance classes. Nora Amin: There is something like a part of the canon—what is part of the canon, what we have read before, what we think we can write, because we have read before, because it is approved, because it is within all these traditions of linguistic expression. And trying to write both was for me a really huge experience and a way for my own decolonization of gender roles and gender understanding. [She laughs] Each person has to create their own physical book. Nora Amin: This is a long piece without interruption, and it is written in a surrealistic form. So it has to be done. And then, when it is out there, when it is released, it is no longer yours. Nora Amin: The relation is a collaboration. Reine Chahine: So you feel you put this in your text? She is the artist who made the drawings and the visual material in the book. I know that the two of you met and talked.. I feel that I have a tendency to dig deep and get things out on the surface which nobody really wants to be confronted with. Reine Chahine: I would like to talk now about your cooperation with Katharina Marszewski. You don’t find the figures of style and the rhetoric, that usually, as Arabic writers, we are so keen to exhibit—our linguistic capacities. How would you describe this whole experience of a consciousness of the body in different situations—sexual, intimate, pain, fear—at different times and spaces? But this motivation is also bringing us back again to the feeling, that this kind of bible or The Text, the unspoken, what needs to be told. It deserves also to be embraced and felt. So I got to write it as a dance piece that is hopefully poetic. With this movement of climbing the well over several years, her body is swollen, and her footsteps are like elephant footsteps.  With each traumatizing sexual experience, we have to climb out of that well on our own and connect with the pain, with the heaviness, with the body that becomes known with the impossibility of explaining. I have, or somebody has, to do this.” It is similar to the experience of the “Theatre of the Oppressed” and many other projects, I have made. It becomes a dance, but with this dance it becomes blurred, because they start spinning so quickly in the text. [Rules of social distancing due to Corona making this impossible at the time of the interview.] Nora Amin: Very nice! Why did you describe situations like these and go so deep into them? There are some of those terms throughout the text. It is a conversation and also a resonance. Reine Chahine: Why did you call it The Text? In many parts throughout The Text, her artwork is really somehow becoming like a visual kind of resonance of the surrealistic form. But all this is just impossible. But I am also experiencing the possibility that there is no censorship of this, because it is published here in Germany. Reine Chahine: I would like to talk with you about some details of The Text and what I felt the moment I read it. Nora Amin: Yes. My own gender identity is also transforming and being many things while writing. But they are no longer visible to the writer or narrator or to the author. And what cannot be done is the surrealistic part. How can you call a book The Text if everything is a text? It is not a text, it is the text. It is always like an insinuation, a symbol. You feel you have created something genuine. When I write about and describe the body and its movements, it is not just like an ordinary description. So it is my text. And then to know what can be done in terms of movement with this anatomy and how also the shape and the size of the body changes throughout one human life. It also sounds a bit strange in some languages. I feel that the journey towards healing has to go through pain. I have no clue what to do with it now. Credit: Reine Chahine. And I feel that there is a kind of revisiting of our imaginaries and how, within those visual imaginaries, there are a lot of similarities and connections.

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