Last week I attended the 2020 Modern Language Association Convention in Seattle, WA, which took place from January 9-12, 2020. The presidential theme was "Being Human," and scholars, educators, and activists from all over the world came together to reflect on the role of language and literature in defining what it means to be human. I presented on two panels. The first panel, which was entitled "Alternative Genealogies of the Speculative" and arranged by the Genre Studies Forum for Speculative Fiction, questioned U.S.- and Eurocentric frameworks of speculative fiction by considering the role of the speculative genre in non-U.S. and non-Western contexts. My paper, "Speculative Reimaginings of the Global Refugee Crisis in Mohsin Hamid's Exit West," explored how the Pakistani Muslim writer Mohsin Hamid uses cognitive estrangement in his most recent novel Exit West to disrupt white supremacist, Eurocentric, and neo-colonial forms of violence enacted on the Global South by the Global North.
The second panel I presented on, which was a special session entitled "Being Human in Contemporary Arab Writing," considered how contemporary Arab literature complicates the question of the human and post-human due to diaspora, postcolonial migration, civil wars, and regional border crossings. My paper, "(Mis)Reading the Arab Body as (Non)Human in Laila Halaby's Once in a Promised Land," explored how Halaby's novel critiques the post-9/11 U.S. security state’s misinformed practices of reading the racialized Arab body as non- or subhuman and offers an alternative model for reading Arabs that asserts their humanity. In addition to presenting on these two panels, I had a great time reuniting with old friends from my graduate program, engaging in stimulating conversation with other scholars, and exploring the dynamic city of Seattle.