Issue 3: Dictationship


Mirene Arsanios, Iman Mersal, Ghalya Saadawi

The poet Theresa Hak Yun Cha opens her book Dictee (1982) with a transliteration of a high school dictation exercise in French. Commas, semicolons, and full stops are spelled out. Hak Yun Cha foregrounds grammar as content, or function as form, while making knowable that the languages we speak and write—in her case the colonizer’s—are dictated to us before we internalize them. Language bears the marks of our historical, material oppressions. The labor of writing partly consists in identifying the various mythologies operating within the act, while re-inscribing, or re-formulating language in its double-edged materiality.

Every issue of Makhzin is an invitation as much as a challenge. Our last open call for poetry, prose, and essays, titled Dictationship, solicited writers in English and in Arabic to engage with the manifold relationship between writing, dictation, and dictatorship. By dictatorship we don’t only mean states and societies run by visible tyrants, but also that the "dictator" is well distributed in liberal democracies and tyrannical dictatorships alike. Despite appearances, dictatorship’s conditions remain pervasive and shape-shifting. We have set these terms in the hope of allowing the issue to travel across the formal and contextual, linguistic and political constraints and junctions in which writers find themselves; what is preventing or enabling their voices in the first place. In other words, with Dictationship, we hoped to read how contemporary forms of dictatorship/dictation are present in both the content and the forms we write, and how writers may be underscoring the linings and the sutures of these "dictationships" to us.

Given asymmetries between call and response, how then do we create a meaningful thread across a geographically and formally scattered set of voices? The selection and editorial process is an indirect negotiation with what we want to read, what we actually receive, and what we ourselves write. As such, the third issue of Makhzin is not a representation or translation of a theme, but an offshoot that spawned its own buds.

The linguistic forms and the textual traditions alluded to in the responses to our call vary widely. Authors such as Rivers Plasketes and Aarti Sunder engage in meditative, biting texts that explore the formation and dictation of the self through constructions such as the unproductive, or destructive character, or by examining the dualities of self and mind, and self and body. Duna Ghali questions dictatorship and the impossibility of writing female desire, in particular under the authority of dictation. On the other hand, Christina Olivares approaches the writer Audre Lorde’s archive by inserting herself in Lorde’s notebooks, diaries, personal objects, thereby performing the erotics that Lorde sought to achieve in her own work. Swaying between embodiment and abstraction, a history of selfhood is explored through these contributions.

Daisy Atterbury and Jake Davidson, albeit in different ways, narrate the screen. In her poetry, Atterbury transcribes images to text, literalizing how gender performs for the camera, re-scripting the image as a way of exposing male objectification of female performance. Davidson’s essay returns to the issue of how our proximity to changing screen technologies impacts our reception of events, and how a desensitization occurs and is orchestrated through selective representation.

Rami Karim and Sara Deniz Akant’s poetics are concerned with American liberalism and identitarian politics, with Karim trying to enunciate patriarchy’s transposition into histories of migration and immigration. Dara Abdallah’s tripart narrative draws lines then erases them. His place and voice as a Syrian emigre to Germany details scenes only to tell us what they betray; that proximity and alliance are not always what they appear to be. Asiya Wadud’s lyrical poems bridge the spiritual to the material conditions of refugee life in Europe, her invocations reviving and expanding upon scriptural language and its valence.

Dia Felix exalts the fluctuations of a weekday. Her poems are in conversation with the quotidian via forms belonging to a North American, poetic avant-garde. Therese Bachand outlines shadows, their reproducible colors and immaterial manifestations. In a different, more macabre quotidian, Ali Eyal takes an austere, post-monumental approach to narrative when he animates the daily life of an Iraqi poet’s monument, which in turn is transformed into an urban witness. Dalia Taha, a Palestinian poet and playwright, reinvents the concept of protest in modern Palestinian poetry; her poem doesn't scream, it whispers, witnessing the impact of occupation on a domestic landscape rather than through military confrontation.

Dictationship also features a special selection of poems from Iraq written by a generation who grew up in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion and its calamitous outcomes. Ali Thareb, Reem Al Wazzani, Mohammed Kareem, Aya Mansour, Mazin Mamoori, and Kadhem Khanjar write their version of Baghdad from afar: suicide bombers ordering coffee in a cafe; the fear of slaughter that makes an individual hide her head under her underarm; the tomb that will soon be home. In this selection, these young Iraqi poets write the irony of their horrors.

Although the global conditions that govern us can be said to be universal, where our contributors are writing from and for whom they write—the implicit and explicit locale—evidently also governs their output and by extension the issue. How do the uses of metaphor, metonym, syntax, tense, irony, and flow relate to the determinations of place? Through the (at times) dissonant juxtapositions in this issue, certain voices become audible to us. Part of the task we have set ourselves is to create a platform in which texts reveal what they are or are not via other texts.