Online and Offline Forums for Cultural Production

Physical, face-to-face gatherings have long functioned as important sites for the production of literary and other forms of culture. With the advent of new technologies, their online equivalents have taken on a similar role. Building on our previous workshop on ‘Salons, Circles and Majalis’,  this event invites participants to think about the different  ways in which online and offline forums function as locations of literary and intellectual culture. What are the forms of traffic between the two practices? In what ways do they affect cultural production differently? Is there a relationship between the forum as such and the cultural production? The event will consist of two short presentations, one on an online and one on an offline forum, followed by a general discussion in which participants are welcome to bring examples from their own work and experience to the table. The discussant was Chihab El Khachab (Oxford).  


‘Printing Out a Virtual Network: Female Poets in Urdu Literary Culture’  
Richard Williams (Oxford)

Over the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, three male Urdu literature enthusiasts compiled biographical dictionaries cum poetry anthologies of female poets. They selected historical and living women, from long-dead Mughal princesses to courtesans and dancing girls. Perhaps most striking was the inclusion of “respectable”, married women—some named, some anonymous—who were also held in high esteem for their literary craft. In this paper, I discuss (a) the social and moral position of women writers; (b) how writing by secluded women passed out from behind the curtain to the larger literary marketplace; (c) forms of orality and performance; (d) connected spaces of literary sociability, and how the tazkira mapped on paper actual/in-real-life and imagined/virtual encounters with female writers.


‘Digital Poetics: An Ethnography of Virtual Poetic Sociality among Contemporary Afghan Poets’
Zuzanna Olszewska (Oxford)

This paper is based on ongoing ethnographic research, most recently taking the form of digital ethnography, with diasporic Afghan poets working in the Persian language. It traces the effects of new digital technologies on the poetic networks and forms of sociality and poetic circulation in which these poets engage. My focus, initially on a localised group of Afghan refugee poets in Iran, grew as many of them remigrated to third countries or returned to Afghanistan, and I now engage with Afghan poets worldwide. In the Afghan refugee cultural organisation in Iran that I worked with in the mid-2000s, face-to-face encounters (weekly criticism sessions and larger scale congresses and festivals) as well as print publications were the primary forms of poetic circulation and sociality. Thanks to numerous factors including access to public education in Iran, female poets were participating in them in equal numbers to men. At the time, many of them were starting blogs; now, Facebook use has become ubiquitous, and poets in many countries exchange their own and others’ poetry via mobile apps such as Line. I examine the effects of these new technologies on the scale of poetic networks and query the possibilities they offer for experimentation with poetic form and content, but also for evading censorship of sensitive topics such as sexuality and women’s public expression.