A Whole Imaginary World: The Incomparable Fiction of Waguih Ghali

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Egyptian author Waguih Ghali's 1964 English-language novel Beer in the Snooker Club has been until now largely neglected in scholarship on the literature of the Arab world. It portrays the privileged but aimless existence of a young man in 1950s Egypt who, in the course of his travels between Cairo and London and in his interactions with his snooker-playing friends and his elite social circle, is constantly negotiating cultural and ethnic boundaries. I argue here that the theoretical models of cosmopolitanism and hybridity often used to interpret works like Ghali's position them within a system of binaries, distinct identity categories, and historical facts within which these fictional narratives become primarily instruments for representation, witnessing, and activist politics. Reading Beer in the Snooker Club against the backdrop of these theories, this essay explores the way that fictionality operates in the novel both thematically and as a literary device to unsettle notions of truth, identity, representation, the East-West encounter, and cosmopolitanism itself. Ghali's text is also analyzed here in light of current debates in world literature and comparative literary studies over how global literature should be read in the Western academy, the limitations of the comparative method, and what constitutes "world literature" as a set of scholarly practices and/or as a canon of texts. Ultimately, this essay proposes a method of study that, by attending to the aesthetic and imaginative qualities of texts like Ghali's that speak from the linguistic and cultural margins, allows them to emerge as literature within the discourse of academic scholarship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-267
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Arabic Literature
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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