Interview of Elias Khoury by Geneviève Simon
Conducted in Beirut, published on La Libre Belgique 22.11.2011
Translated by Cathia Jenainati
For the Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, the fantastic is the essence of literary work. A meeting with this privileged witness of the Arab Spring, anxious to see Beirut on the brink of losing its soul.
Interview in Beirut, 31 October 2011.
In the taxi that winds its way through the unrestrained traffic, punctuated by incessant tooting, the conversation quickly turns to the Lebanese’s principle preoccupation, a source of palpable anxiety: the situation in Syria and its inevitable consequences on Lebanon. Elias Khoury agreed to meet us at Achrafieh, a quarter of East Beirut where he lives. Since three years ago, the writer of “Gates of the Sun” quit his post as editor-in-chief of the cultural supplement of the daily newspaper “Annhar” and is now directing the “Journal of Palestinian Studies” all the while residing four month per year in New York where he teaches comparative literature at NYU. This is a meeting with a writer who is a star in his own country.
“If you have really seen what you recount, this means that you have seen extraordinary things and, if you have not seen what you recount, this means that you are a good writer.” Does this quote, by Calif Harun, used as the moto of “Coffre des secrets(i)”(Actes Sud, 2009) guide your work?
No, it’s the difference between the imaginary and the real. I think that writing is a big window, that the imaginary leads us to the unknown, whereas we fabricate the real, the concrete. This relationship between the concrete and the unknown takes us to a world that the ancient Arabs called the marvelous. And the marvellous is not totally detached from reality but is its ultimate manifestation. I found this translation in an ancient book. It moved me and gave me proof of what I have always tried to do in my writing: a world invented by stories which are themselves mirrors of stories. This world takes us to the marvelous, to the unknown which is, I think, the essence of literary work.
How did you become a writer?