The aesthetics and politics of rumor in modern Egypt
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This thesis is an investigation into the aesthetic and political functions of “rumor” in modern Egypt. While previous studies have emphasized the formal or structural features of the genre, I seek to analyze the discursive, political and technological contexts that contribute to its persistence as such a powerful and ambivalent way of imagining speech. The scope of my analysis is a collection of texts culled from the tradition of Arabic letters in Egypt, beginning with early works of historiography (16th century), and into the political journals, newspapers, and novels of the 20th century, as well as the blogs, search engines and internet forums of the 21st century. I argue that specific discourses and imaginings of the rumor – contingent and mutable – emerged as an inseparable feature of the elite author’s textual encounter with the masses. Anxieties over the agency of various mass subjects – the urban crowd, the citizenry, and others – have contributed to the ways in which different writers reify speech. The final chapters of my thesis turn to focus on rumors about the death of President Husni Mubarak, in order to analyze the role the genre plays in contests over national political authority. Here, the rumor is an index of fears, passions, fantasies and other narratives that the writers both draw on and contribute to. Foregrounding these associations becomes a powerful aesthetic and affective process that allows actors to "fix" - solidify and treat - the agency and subjectivity of others.