Imaginary School Program

A Workshop with Alia Mossallam

For Minds Prone to Mystery: Re-Imagining the City

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“Certain people, whose minds are prone to mystery, like to believe that objects retain something of the eyes which have looked at them, that old buildings and pictures appear to us not as they originally were but beneath a perceptible veil woven for them over the centuries by the love and contemplation of millions of admirers. This fantasy, if you transpose it into the domain of what is for each one of us the sole reality, the domain of his own sensibility, becomes the truth. In that sense and in that sense alone (but it is a far more important one than the other), a thing which we have looked at in the past brings back to us, if we see it again, not only the eyes with which we looked at it but all the images with which at the time those eyes were filled. For things...as soon as we have perceived them are transformed within us into something immaterial, something of the same nature as all our preoccupations and sensations of that particular time, with which, indissolubly, they blend.”

PROUST 1993B.284

How much of this city we inhabit do we know by experience; and how much of it is an inherited memory whose source we cannot trace? Much of Cairo's layered history speaks to us through its architecture and ruins, the names of its streets and its inhabitants abundant with stories of their pasts. Much of our consciousness of these layers however is dictated by the faint echoes of songs, poems, films and stories we've read or heard. Echoes of a past, often imagined or imaginary, haunt us just as strongly.

Through this workshop we will explore aspects of the city's past through novels, songs, poems, and oral testimonies. We will talk about the importance of testimonies, oral history, or people's stories in reading into the city's sites and memories. How much do these fragmented histories matter? What do they tell us that other sources (history books, or writings on the walls) may not? We will look at how the stories of a city's inhabitants can help us piece the puzzle if its histories together. Help us understand why it operates the way it does, but most importantly, why it feels the way it does.