By Majd Othman

KUWAIT: As part of the celebrations of Francophonie Month, and in cooperation with the Contemporary Art Platform (CAP), the French Institute of Kuwait hosted on Sunday a lecture under the title "Influence of Arabic Literature on Western Literature of the Middle Ages", presented by French researcher Dr Sana Sassi.

Sassi is a researcher with a doctorate from Sorbonne University, and a member of the French Research Centre of the Arabian Peninsula (CEFREPA). She is a specialized researcher in human sciences and language, and her research focuses mainly on the French literature of the Middle Ages. Among other things, she is the author of the book "The rewritings of Christian novels in the proses of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries", published by Harmattan in Paris.

Sassi told Kuwait Times that everyone usually thinks Western and especially French literature is the main influencer of Arabic literature, but it's the opposite, especially during Middle Ages. "Western writers came to the Arab region and took lots of their knowledge, archeology, arts and literature. And this is what I am trying to highlight in this event," she said.

Sassi said the most important points she will focus on is historical influences and how the narratological and linguistic way of writing looked like. "Also themes, as there are lots of things that Arab people talked about even before French and European people wrote about it. We are talking about a literature that traveled for around 400 years before the Western people adopted it," she added.

The Francophonie Month

Sassi explained the importance of highlighting literature during Francophonie Month. "In my point of view, it's important not only to read books, but also understand how they were written. We can never write a book from nothing - we always have something to start from, or something might inspire us. History is showing us that we cannot do anything alone; we always need someone else to give us some ideas," she said.

Kuwaiti-French literature

Regarding the Kuwaiti-French relationship in the literature domain, she said: "There is a lot of cooperation between both countries, especially in the translation field for many Kuwaiti books. As an example, Kuwaiti author Taleb Al-Refaei has many amazing books translated into many languages. In my opinion, literature is very important to meet other people's cultures. I discovered his literature after reading his books translated into French. Books travel everywhere, and this is how anybody anywhere can discover the culture of many countries. It helped me discover the culture and history of Kuwait through just enjoying reading books."

"We have continuous cultural activities throughout the year, but we decided to cooperate with the French Institute on the occasion of Francophonie Month, because we care about the cultural relations between communities in Kuwait. The topic that was chosen is an important topic that enjoys a large public turnout in Kuwait, especially due to the lack of resources on the influence of Arabic literature on Western literature," Director of Cultural Programs Ibrahim Farghali told Kuwait Times. Benoit Cathala, Cooperation and Cultural Counselor Director of the French Institute said as part of Francophonie Month, "we had sports events, concerts, conferences, debates, film festivals and many partnerships with universities and galleries".

Francophone community

Cathala pointed out the Francophone community in Kuwait reached more than 500,000 people, while the French community is only 1,000. "So, it is all about the link of the French language in the region and Kuwait. French is being taught in Kuwait schools since the sixties. Kuwait asked to be a member of the Francophone Organization four years ago, but it was postponed due to COVID-19. The next summit will take place next year in Paris and will look at new membership requests, including from Kuwait," he said.