Monday, 26 July 2010

Adnan Mahmutović, the Scholar

So, we have reached the fourth and concluding instalment of Adnan Mahmutović month here at Thus Spake the Mighty Wha-keem. After having dealt with a general introduction, the script writer and the author, it is now time to have a brief introductory look at Adnan Mahmutović the Scholar.

Thus far, his scholarly work includes papers presented on various conferences and symposia between 2004 and 2009, in Norway, Sweden and Cyprus, dealing with subjects ranging from Tennyson's "The Voyage of Maeldun", to film maker Darren Aronofsky (with a focus on Pi and The Fountain), and the notion of Halal history in Salman Rushdie's early fiction (the latter of which is forthcoming later this year as an article in Textual Layering: Contact, Historicity, Critique under the title "Halal History and Existential Meaning in Salman Rushdie’s Early Fiction"). He has already published the articles "The Question of the Uncanny in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'" in The Coleridge Bulletin (Summer, 2007) and "History and the Nervous Condition in The English Patient" in The Journal of Contemporary Literature (2009), and has another article, "The Nomadic Home in Tabish Khair’s Filming" forthcoming in an anthology on Tabish Khair due to be published next year.

On May 8, this year, Mahmutović successfully defended his dissertation Ways of Being Free: Authenticity and Community in Selected Works of Rushdie, Ondaatje and Okri (click on the title to read the abstract) and earned his doctorate in English at Stockholm University. The selected works in question are Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Ondaatje's The English Patient and Okri's The Famished Road, and his approach is one steeped in existential philosophy and postcolonial theory. As such, it is an interesting study, proposing new ways not only of looking at the subject of these novels but also at how these novels can make us look at identity, freedom and postcoloniality through notions of history and death, and authenticity (the latter of which is tied into the notions of community and identity). It reveals Mahmutović's concerns with postcolonial issues of migration and nation, and the condition of the migrant, all of which, to various degrees are concerns that stand revealed in his fiction too.

While I am not always convinced by all the elements in his readings (e.g. his claim, in passing, that Linda Hutcheon's version of postmodernism is ontological in nature rather than epistemological suggests a misreading, or at the very least a mislabelling, of Hutcheon's work), and while the citations sometimes leave a lot to be desired (e.g. there are works cited (in abbreviated form at that) that problematically do not appear on the works cited list at the end, and sometimes citations are rather unclear in general), the ideas and readings presented are both interesting and valuable. The theoretical framework of existential philosophy and postcolonial criticism (in the case of the latter, in particular the kind that ties in with existential philosophy) is nicely placed in a wider philosophical context, which is very beneficial to the work as a whole. If I have one (perhaps minor) complaint in this department, it is that Mahmutović's reliance on in particular Sartre, Camus and Heidegger do a slight injustice to his equal reliance on Frantz Fanon. Fanon's idea of a "nervous condition" (see The Wretched of the Earth) comes across as a purely philosophical concept alongside Sartre's, without accounting for Fanon's being a trained psychiatrist who discovered signs of psychological nervous conditions in his (post-)colonial patients in Algeria during the rising against the French. In that context, the lack of any references to Freud or psychoanalysis in Mahmutović's dissertation does seem to be a weak spot, especially given that its focus on the "nervous condition" and the existential angst or anguish that he works with would probably be problematised further with that additional contextualisation of Fanon. And I say that as someone not overly enthused about either Freud or psychoanalysis.

I will not dive deeper into the individual readings here. This is not the forum for it; there is simply not space to go into a deeper critical discussion. After all, I would not want to bore you, gentle reader, with a too detailed and nigh endless (perhaps even overly academic) account of this piece of academic work and literary criticism. Nor, in all honesty, do I have the time to do so. Still, if the questions of the dissertation interest you or if any or all three of these authors or novels interest you, this is a dissertation well worth reading, if nothing else for its rigorous use of existential philosophy in combination with postcolonial theory in a manner in which it has not really been applied to these work before.

And with that, it is time to close the door on this four-parter, our Adnan Mahmutović month. I hope you have enjoyed it and that you maybe feel inclined to delve deeper into things Mahmutović; whether you opt for his blog, his film work, his fiction or his academic work (or why not combinations thereof). I am certain I will have reasons to discuss his work more in the future, but for now, in the undying words of Porky Pig, "That's all, folks!"

I will see you again next week, with all new topics to muse on.

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