A Bouquet of Subversive Ideas, Dedicated to Censorship

by Hisham Bustani
translated from the Arabic by Emily Sibley
[view as .pdf]

Censorship nearly put an end to my second book, The Monotonous Chaos of Existence, because of the story that you have read here, “Faisaly and Wehdat.”

As its title reveals to anyone who knows Jordan well, the story brings up the explosive subject of the sociopolitical and identitarian crisis linked to origins—origins east or west of the Jordan River, i.e., Jordanian or Palestinian. This is something that is probed for the first time in Jordanian literature, as far as I know. The two names mentioned in the title refer to the two main local soccer teams in which all this divisiveness becomes concentrated. As if that were not enough, the Press and Publications Department (this being the official title of the governmental body that practices censorship in Jordan) formed a committee of “specialists” in order to uncover another serious and dangerous matter: the identity of the characters indicated in the section entitled “New Salvador Dalí Painting,” and who they represented in reality. One of them, I learned later, was thought to represent the king.

The Department sought to uncover the underlying intent I had in mind in writing this text, forgetting that literature relies upon fantasy, mimesis, and the imaginary, and that the reader—any reader—can create endless numbers of personalities based on a single literary character, which the single author creates from a single given intentionality, and so on across endless numbers of readings.

The task of the “specialists” was difficult: they wrote reports and analyses, and “raised them” with the “authorities,” and the then-director of the Department, Nabil al-Moumani, questioned me twice regarding these characters: “Who is this?” and “What do you mean by that?” I answered him several times: that which informs literature differs from a political treatise, and what literature says is a matter not dependent on the writer. “If you wanted sensitive statements,” I told him, “you should consult my numerous political and intellectual articles. You’ll find there what you’re looking for, and more.” However, it was of no use, for the inspector’s mentality was one that aimed in a single, circumscribed direction of his own view and personal interpretation, seizing all other possible readings in a decisive, severe collision with the writing and its horizons.

In the end, had not the political fates in Jordan (which no one understands) carried away the director of the Press and Publications Department before the decision was issued to prohibit the book, who had postponed pronouncing judgment in the hopes that I would back off peaceably and that the problem would be at an end—and moreover, without the hesitancy of his successor to commence his “new” era with banning a book—then my book would not have been available in the bookshops of Amman (assuming that people read at all, but that is another matter!).

For this occasion on which 7iber discusses the topic of censoring creative writing, I am purposefully reissuing this text on the basis of premeditation and predetermination, gathering a bouquet of all the subversive and offending interpretations. I dedicate it to the various soldiers of censorship, both known and unknown, who are bound in their work to the confiscation of fantasy, and overthrow their particularized readings in favor of all that is open and multidimensional.


HISHAM BUSTANI (1975–) is a writer, activist,and essayist from Jordan. He has published five collections of short fiction and poetry. Much of his work revolves around issues related to social and political change, particularly the dystopic experience of postcolonial modernity in the Arab world.

EMILY SIBLEY is a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at New York University, writing her dissertation on satire and incivility in modern Arabic literature.

The original text for this article may be found here