I wrote this proposal a while ago for the BABEL Working Group’s biennial meeting, to be held at UC Santa Barbara in October 2014. I’m happy to say it’s been accepted.

The theme for the conference is “On the Beach: Precariousness, Forms of Life, Affinity, and Play at the Edge of the World.” Naturally, my thoughts turned to Egypt and its revolution,

My panel is “SOUS LES PAVÉS, LA PLAGE: Holidays and castaways in the (early) modern revolutionary moment.” Description follows. Email me if you are interested in contributing.

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29 May 2013. Sidewalk by the Tahrir Square campus of American University in Cairo. The paving stones were pulled up and thrown in 2011. Now your feet swish through sand walking by.

In Cairo, the sidewalks around Tahrir Square have turned into a beach. The paving stones were pulled up and thrown during the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak, and never replaced. Sand has blown in and filled the space between the curbs.

The slogan “Sous les pavés, la plage!”—under the pavement, the beach—emerged from the May 1968 uprising in Paris. Hard, still stone would give way to soft, shifting sand, discovering a better, freer, more playful and less ordered world just beneath the certainties of life as it is. This spirit can be found in many modern protest movements—from the Wisconsin Capitol to Zuccotti Park to the streets of Athens and Tunis—that occupied public spaces during the heady year 2011.

That year saw Tahrir transformed from a traffic circle into a vibrant democratic assembly—and later the site of horrific assaults against women. Recently, occupations organized by the Muslim Brotherhood in other Cairo squares were dispersed by the military regime in a week of shocking violence. In the wake of a military coup, the old security state is reasserting itself with new vigor and popular support. In the face of over two years of uncertainty, revolutionary enthusiasm seems to have given way to nationalism and a resigned acceptance of authoritarian control.

Is the beach a space of freedom and play, or is it a place of chaos and vulnerability? Is it the womb of the new world or merely the grave of old? Once the paving stones come up, are we on holiday or cast away? I am looking for projects that address this aspect of the beach: the anarchic space, at once exhilarating and terrifying, lying just beneath or beyond the structures of civilization.

Relevant topics could include utopias, like Cockaigne, More’s Utopia, the City of the Sun, or the commonwealth described by Gonzalo as he stands in the sand on Prospero’s Isle. Or the beach as place of dangerous uncertainty, a place outside civilization’s comforting confines, where an exposed life must adapt or be extinguished, as in a castaway Viola’s uncertain prospects at the beginning of Twelfth Night or poor Antigonus in The Winter’s Tale, who sees all his old certainties swept away before being eaten by the bear on the fantastical seacoast of Bohemia. As the rising sea encroaches on our cities, blowing sand down their streets and washing their walls away, what shall we build out of the sand?

The nature of the session will depend on submissions. I imagine a round table, with four or five presenters giving short (10 minute) presentations (which can be traditional papers or some other medium) followed by an open discussion. Please place a proposal of up to 500 words in the body of an email to Justin Kolb (

If possible, I’d like to hold this session on the beach itself, standing amid sandcastles and waves.

KEYWORDS: Holiday/Castaway, Stone/Sand, Revolution/Counter-Revolution/Devolution, City/Shore, Old World/New World, Beach/Ocean, Submerge/Emerge, Party/Revelry, Piracy/Smuggling, Coast/Edge, Holiday/Play, Atoll/Reef, Weather/Atmosphere, Migration/Invasion, Hospitality/Mission, Raft/Castaway

THEMES: Anarchy, Authority, Thriving, Precariousness, Presentism, Affinity, Dissent, History, Temporality, Post/humanism, Materialism, Life, Ecology, Decolonization, Unlearning, Play/Enjoyment, Speculation, Post-Catastrophe

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