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What Makes a Man?

What Makes a Man?
Sex Talk in Beirut and Berlin

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.

Series: CMES Modern Middle East Literatures in Translation

Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas at Austin
January 2015
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266 pages | 5.5 x 8.5 |

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.

  • Publisher’s Note
  • Translators’ Notes
  • How the German Came to His Senses
  • The Queering of the World
  • Essays
  • Irony and Counter-Irony in Rashid al-Daif’s How the German Came to His Senses (Ken Seigneurie)
  • Colonial Discourse and Dissent in Rashid al-Daif’s and Joachim Helfer’s Contributions to the West-Eastern Divan (Rebecca Dyer)
  • The Hermeneutics of the Other: Intersubjectivity and the Limits of Narration in The Queering of the World (Michael Allan)
  • Writing, Reading, and Talking Sex: Negotiating the Rules of an Intercultural Language Game (Gary Schmidt)
  • The Temple of Heteronormativity: Rashid al-Daif’s How the German Came to His Senses, Joachim Helfer’s The Queering of the World, and Navid Kermani’s Thou Shalt—A Comparative Reading (Andreas Krass)

RASHID AL-DAIFBeirut, LebanonAl-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 HELFERBerlin, GermanyHelfer has authored four novels, as well as collections of novellas and essays.KEN SEIGNEURIESurrey, British Columbia, CanadaSeigneurie, translator of Rashid al-Daif’s essay, is Associate Professor and Director of the Program in World Literature at Simon Fraser University.GARY SCHMIDTMacomb, IllinoisSchmidt, 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.


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