A Meeting With Rabih Alameddine
In May 2010, I attended “A Meeting with Rabih Alameddine”, organized by the Anis Makdisi Program in Literature and ASSABIL, Friends of Public Libraries, which also coincided with the publication of his latest book, “The Hakawat”. At the time, I was reading his novel “I, the Divine: A Novel in First Chapters”, after one of my closest friends introduced me to his writings by way of gifting me his breakthrough book “Koolaids”. Today, as I was updating my Goodreads Profile, I remembered that I’d sent that same friend a recap of his talk, and I thought it would be a good idea to re-post it on my blog now, since at the time, I hadn’t started it yet.
- He said: “People assume creativity comes out of nothing. It’s not true. Everybody plagiarizes everybody.”
- He said: “Stories have been told for thousands of years. They’re the same, but it’s how we tell them that makes originality.”
- He doesn’t write with a target audience in mind. He writes for himself. “I write for me, only that version of me is younger, taller and cuter,” he said.
- He believes in Nietzsche’s eternal return. Time is not linear. It’s cyclical and even elliptical. Reality is out of the fabric of time.
- As an author, he’s changed in that he’s become calmer. “And wiser,” he joked. “With age, comes calm, wisdom.”
- He always writes in English. His books have been translated to several languages but not Arabic. He mentioned “Koolaids“, the translation of which omitted several passages and comments, etc. In the end, the book wasn’t published. He also mentioned a Gulf-based publishing house that wanted to publish “I, the Divine” in Arabic. Then his agent received a letter from the publisher saying, “We regret to inform you we won’t be publishing the book. It has too much sex. The author will understand.”
- He quoted Nabokov a lot.
- He said it was important for the writer to keep some distance between him and the material. He said he probably couldn’t have written “Koolaids” if he was still in Beirut. He also mentioned that language plays a part in that. He considered English his mother tongue. He spoke of how it affected his writing, him being an Arab who writes in English. He could never write in Arabic because he wasn’t good at it.
- He doesn’t have a favorite book he wrote. He was particularly fond of “Koolaids“, simply because it was his first and it started everything.
- He doesn’t consider himself a post-modernist.
- He said that, in today’s world, the Hakawati could be seen in soap operas that run for months.
- He said something to the effect of never trust the storyteller, but the story. One of the characters in “The Hakawati” says something like that, and he borrowed the line from I don’t know who, who says don’t trust the artist, but the art.
- He said characters were always his creation. It’s not like once he starts writing, the characters take over and write themselves into the story.
- He said that he stopped writing and rewriting when he couldn’t stand to look at the story any more. That’s when he would send the manuscript for a few friends to give him comments. He said the ultimate deadline is the publishing date. While some authors did some rewrites between the hard cover and paperback editions, he never did. The same story goes everywhere.