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His parents were wealthy small-property owners that originally owned land in Damietta. Upon arriving in Cairo at the end of the 19th century, the family adopted "Cossery" after al-Qusayr as their family name due to its simplified pronunciation. In 60 years he only wrote eight novels, in accordance with his philosophy of life in which "laziness" is not a vice but a form of contemplation and meditation.

During his literary career he became close friend of other writers and artists such as Lawrence Durrell , Albert Camus , Jean Genet and Giacometti. Cossery died on 22 June , aged His books, which always take place in Egypt or other Arab countries, portray the contrast between poverty and wealth, the powerful and the powerless, in a witty although dramatic way.

His writing mocks vanity and the narrowness of materialism and his principal characters are mainly vagrants, thieves or dandies that subvert the order of an unfair society. His novels often feature auto-biographical characters, like Teymour, the hero of the novel Un complot de saltimbanques , a young man who forges a diploma in chemical engineering after a life of enjoyment and lust abroad instead of study and gets back to his home town and enters into an unexpected intringue against the authorities with his dandy friends. He is considered by some to be the last genuine "anarchist" or free thinking writer of western culture by his humorous and provocative although lucid and profound view of human relations and society.

His writing style does not submit to an academic or experimental approach which makes him a vivid, catchy storyteller, without the boredom nor artificial ambiguity of some classical which he is or avantgarde writers. Like a dreamer in a cave, Cossery had missed the revolu- tion of , which had branded French, once the language of bourgeois aspirations, as aristocratic and elitist. Moreover, Coss- ery admited that ater years in Paris, he had forgoten much of his Arabic. Completed in by the renowned sculptor Mahmud Mukhtar, it portrays a peasant throwing back her veil and rous- ing a sleeping sphinx.

The two symbols, of a storied past and a vital present, face east to a new dawn. The sculpture commemo- rated the events of , when hundreds of thousands of Egyp- tians across the country — students, peasants, civil servants, and the elite — had joined together in civil disobedience to reject the British occupation.

On Albert Cossery's "Laziness in the Fertile Valley" - Bookforum Magazine

Cossery was nine when the nation gained nominal independence in It was this obsession with the awakening that Tawiq al-Hakim, a writer Cossery much admired, chose to play upon by reanimating the three-hundred-year-old sleepers from the Quran. The awakening had at times seemed alloyed with the resi- due of a strange dream. To transform it into a proit-generating subsidiary of the Empire, the British had introduced new tech- nologies to Egypt such as the railway, the telegraph, and electri- cal networks. In the early years of the development of the rail- way, until a steady supply of coal was secured, Egyptian trains, as well as Nile steamers, were occasionally fueled by the mummies frequently unearthed in the valleys.

The Science of Laziness

The embalming potions, it turned out, made for irst-rate burning materials. The stereotype of Oriental indolence, which Cossery pushes to the absurd in Laziness in the Fertile Valley, was built into the very infrastructure of modernity itself. If the trains reiied laziness, it was the arrival of electricity that gave a jolt to the spirit.

Alert, the West had come to oppress the East. The writer then wondered when Egypt would rise from its own trance. During the rebel- lious months of , riots targeted the electric streetlights, that technology which tames the night and ruins sleep. The British had constantly pointed to the technological advances they had introduced to Egypt as beneits of colonial rule.

As streets fell into darkness, artiicial illumination became a political symbol. Streetlamps were guarded by the police. With the rousing of the nation had come the introduction, not unanimously welcomed, of the clock. For Egypt to be proitable, it was essential that it function on a synchronized schedule. In the s, the British began to impose the shit from the age-old lunar Hijri calendar to the solar Gregorian calendar. Yet even ater the confusion subsided, Egyptians could never fully accept the imposition of European timekeeping.

Clock time was not neutral, or apolitical, or natural, as it might have seemed to a Parisian glancing at his watch. The memory of the lunar calendar, something traditional, authentic, and now lost, inlamed the nationalist spirit. Religious clerics made eforts to em- bed punctuality into the system of Islamic ethics.

Against this monetization of time Albert Cossery stood irm. There is the idleness that stands against work, and an idleness within work.

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There is the private and the public laziness. And yet, laziness goes beyond doing nothing. Laziness is a critical position by which to judge the world — a perspective the salaried clock-puncher lacks. Everyone in the West is ater money. With idleness comes godliness. In a cartoon published in in the journal al-Kashkul, the sculptor Mukhtar rides on top of a sphinx, with an alarm clock in each hand. When he threatens to leave for the city to ind work, Raik at- tempts to rid him of his illusions. Well, when a man talks to you about progress, you can be sure that he wants to subjugate you.

Beter to sleep than risk her caresses. When Cossery let for Paris in , the year he wrote Laziness, Cairo was in the midst of what would be nostalgically remembered as its gilded age. Unbounded by means or ap- petite, the fatened Farouk rolled between his four palaces and yachts with his chief conidante, an Italian plumber, by his side. Farouk was at best a puppet of the British: much of Egypt was foreign-owned, including its entire tramway and electrical net- works.

Child labor, sixteen-hour workdays, and cor- ruption were common.

City sharks swindled the rural poor. As public health improved, the population exploded —Cairo began to grow so fast that it lost control of its own slums. And the countryside led before it, rapid and monotonous. The city chased it without respite. Accursed countryside, which went of to vomit its distress at the edges of the poorer quarters. Was his desire to look for work and to mingle with working men a revolutionary act?

On the importance of being idle

It was too dangerous to hope for beter la- bor conditions, or to challenge the monarchy held up by strings. With Farouk exiled, Nasser introduced socialist reforms, seized foreign busi- nesses, and redistributed Egyptian wealth. And yet, as workers were killed by the police and intellectuals imprisoned, it became clear to many that the awakening had only replaced one bad dream with another.

A practical joker and an anti-authoritarian agitator, Heykal and his comrades set out to topple the regime by postering the city with embarrassingly efusive pro-government propaganda. In the dream, Heykal is riding on a white horse and slaying a dragon.

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Were it to succeed, it would leave them with no one to laugh at. Though he had highly politicized friends, such as the Egyptian commu- nist Henri Curiel, Cossery himself never joined any political parties. His brother explains their predica- ment.

At various intervals, the idea of rous- ing it was debated, but editors feared it had gone musty. Reading his novels amid the exhilaration of the up- rising, Cossery seemed irrelevant or, happily, wrong. They granted themselves sweeping pow- ers, restricted civil liberties, and imprisoned dissenters, in the midst of economic crisis and electrical blackouts. They called their plan — unsurprisingly — the Nahda, or Awakening Project.

It looked like a human being, a humble person crushed down by the luxury and power of a tyrannical force against which it could do nothing. In this drama of the street, the moon personiied the privileged minority in this world, and under its brilliance the poor street lamps died in their thousands. And yet what remains if we, the lazy ones, have an enemy even in the moon? We could shut our eyes against the lights. Sleep is refusal, a protest, a weapon.

How to conine this swelling river that will submerge entire cities? The two possibilities cancel each other out, and what are we let with?

ISBN 13: 9780811218740

Forced to undergo a laryngectomy ater years of smoking, he could only hiss. Yet he preserved his routine as ever. Pushed in a wheelchair by a beautiful blonde, he was as striking a sight as ever. In place of speaking, Cossery would write on notecards in a shaky yet elegant hand, a mischievous look in his eyes. All I have to say is in my books. He refused to accept. As they lay dying, delirious, they wonder whether it was all a dream. But the sun, sinking its heavy head into the horizon every evening, is on our side.

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