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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Perception of Meaning

Hisham Bustani

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To purchase The Perception of Meaning

Title: The Perception of Meaning
Author: Hisham Bustani
Genre: Fiction
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 235 pages
Original in: Arabic
Availability: The Perception of Meaning - US
The Perception of Meaning - UK
The Perception of Meaning - Canada
  • Arabic title: أرى المعنى
  • Translated by Thoraya El-Rayyes
  • This is a bilingual edition

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Our Assessment:

B : consistently intriguing

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Perception of Meaning is a collection of a variety of work, ranging from the most succinct 'flash fiction' to somewhat more elaborate stories. Little here is in any way conventional, with much of the writing verging on the -- if not outright -- epigrammatic; almost of all of it is of and in the moment, almost all of it intentionally jarring, in language and image.
       Some of the best and, perhaps surprisingly, fullest pieces are the one-liners:

At the moment he opened his mouth to scream, the silence killed him.
       Many of the pieces resemble prose-poems -- or indeed poems, outright -- with much of the arrangement and display of the words and sentences a significant aspect, from the choppy presentations of longer pieces to a final literal fade-out in the closing piece, the words: "You discover that this whiteness is endless" then reinforced by a literal fade-out into whiteness of the word 'endless'. One of the more elaborate stories, 'Laila and the Wolf', integrates what are presented as drawn YouTube-stills, in a nicely twisted Little Red Riding Hood-variation, the cartoon-middle not just a gimmick but entirely appropriate in the story that keeps shocking, down to its revealing explanatory final section -- nicely shifting perspective on what came before.
       Bustani's is a wired, social-networked world, all interconnected and shared, with everything on display:
     The entire world is having sex in a giant bedroom full of wires.

     The entire world is peeping into that room and masturbating.
       The extremes of old and new, tradition and the opportunities of the new, constantly clash here -- and are occasionally spelled out, as when Bustani writes:
     Everything dissolves into digital language: 0 1, 0 1, and bodies evaporate to become shapes on a screen.
       So also:
     "This is the era of the novel," said Gaber 'Asfur but the illustrious writers of the screen were content with a single line in the status bar. This is their magnum opus.
       ('Asfur was famously Egypt's Minister of Culture for just over a week (before resigning) during the Arab Spring; he would later (after this book was published) take up the post again, this time for almost a year, in 2014-15.)
       Among the interesting experiments is 'Short Dialogues with Humberto Ak'abal', in which Bustani integrates bits of K'iche' Maya poet Ak'abal's poetry into the story. It is yet another example of the global connections here -- which also extends to references ranging from Dave Mustaine -- of Megadeth -- to the Bhopal disaster.
       Bustani is immersed in the contemporary -- the technological contemporary, especially -- but also remains highly critical throughout -- signaled already early on when he amusingly observes:
     Apes do not wage wars.
     Apes do not invent instruments of torture.
     Apes do not puncture the ozone with fossil fuels.
     "Humans are descended from apes ?"
     Who says apes would approve ?
       The Perception of Meaning is a dense, sharp collection; often jarring, consistently intriguing. Some here is very hit and miss, but it all moves Internet-fast, always immediately moving on to then ext thing.
       The short bursts and pieces -- and Bustani's concision of expression -- lend themselves to the bilingual presentation here, and it's always good to have the original there for comparison (largely more theoretical than actual, for most readers -- but give the importance of the 'look' of the text and its presentation it's useful to compare to the mirrored Arabic originals, even for those unable to read it).
       Offering a glimpse of a very different kind of writing than found in 'traditional' modern Arabic fiction The Perception of Meaning is a very welcome, and worthwhile, volume.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 November 2015

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The Perception of Meaning: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Arabic literature
  • See Index of Bilingual editions under review

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About the Author:

       Jordanian author Hisham Bustani (هشام البستاني) was born in 1975.

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© 2015-2021 the complete review

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