This essay is primarily focused on a specific phenomenon within Egyptian intellectual history over the past sixty years. Although informed by a set of local conditions and references, I believe that the discussion may lead to a productive reflection upon the relationship of aesthetics to context and cultural practice, and upon the nature of art institutions and their normalizing tendencies. It may also provide a new perspective through which to engage the display and exhibition experiences provided by those art institutions that have emerged internationally in recent decades.
It seems to me that invoking the corrupt intellectual allows for the real possibility of finally going beyond the tired dichotomies endlessly resurrected in such panels. The too-often blindly accepted oppositions between tradition and contemporaneity, independence and state affiliation, the liberal and the reactionary have dominated the discourse around cultural production in this region for far too long.
For the corrupt intellectual is a figure that I have unfortunately known well and up close through the years. I first encountered him in childhood, as the family friend pontificating on the logic of underdevelopment, expounding theories of conspiracy and the necessity of developing the nation. Later, in my teenage years, he appeared again, smiling wanly at me as he recognized me under all that hair and recalled my parents’ credentials within a certain culturally and politically engaged milieu. Finally, in more recent years, as the contours of my own practice became more publicly visible, the corrupt intellectual has returned as an increasingly hostile figure.
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