What Makes a Man?

[ Middle Eastern Studies ]

What Makes a Man?

Sex Talk in Beirut and Berlin

Rashid al-Daif and Joachim Helfer. Translated by Ken Seigneurie and Gary Schmidt

This “novelized biography” by Lebanese novelist Rashid al-Daif and pointed riposte by German novelist Joachim Helfer demonstrate how attitudes toward sex and masculinity across cultural contexts are intertwined with the work of fiction, thereby highlighting the importance of fantasy in understanding the Other.

January 2015


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5.5 x 8.5 | 266 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-76310-4

In 2003, Lebanese writer Rashid al-Daif spent several weeks in Germany as part of the “West-East Divan” program, a cultural exchange effort meant to improve mutual awareness of German and Middle Eastern cultures. He was paired with German author Joachim Helfer, who then returned the visit to al-Daif in Lebanon. Following their time together, al-Daif published in Arabic a literary reportage of his encounter with Helfer in which he focuses on the German writer’s homosexuality. His frank observations have been variously read as trenchant, naïve, or offensive. In response, Helfer provided an equally frank point-by-point riposte to al-Daif’s text. Together these writers offer a rare exploration of attitudes toward sex, love, and gender across cultural lines. By stretching the limits of both fiction and essay, they highlight the importance of literary sensitivity in understanding the Other.

Rashid al-Daif’s “novelized biography” and Joachim Helfer’s commentary appear for the first time in English translation in What Makes a Man? Sex Talk in Beirut and Berlin. Also included in this volume are essays by specialists in Arabic and German literature that shed light on the discourse around sex between these two authors from different cultural contexts.

Rashid al-Daif
Beirut, Lebanon

Al-Daif has written three volumes of poetry and more than a dozen novels, six of which have been translated into English and a number of other languages.

Joachim Helfer
Berlin, Germany

Helfer has authored four novels, as well as collections of novellas and essays.

Ken Seigneurie
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

Seigneurie, translator of Rashid al-Daif’s essay, is Associate Professor and Director of the Program in World Literature at Simon Fraser University.

Gary Schmidt
Macomb, Illinois

Schmidt, Professor of German and Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Western Illinois University, is the translator of Joachim Helfer’s commentary.

“This intriguing new compilation will be of interest to any reader attached to gender and gay studies or contemporary Lebanese culture.”
A Jadid


Editor on Understanding the Middle East through Translated Literature

Wendy Moore, publications editor for UT Austin’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, discusses the art and value of translating works of literature.
Series: The University of Texas Press Podcasts

Author: | Date: Monday, 03 August 2015 | Duration: 23:09

Our conversation with Wendy explores the difficulties, rewards, and impact of translation. She discusses what’s next for the CMES Modern Middle East Literatures in Translation series and how important it is to find cultural commonalities through translated literature.

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