JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Celine Hajj Sleiman

April 29, 2024 by Sonja Johnston

Celine Hajj Sleiman is a fourth year English specialist at the University of Toronto. She has a variety of interests, including Early Modern poetry, psychoanalytic theory, and twentieth-century Middle Eastern literature and she is especially interested in the relationship between morality and language, and the influence of literature as a source of cross-cultural connection. Celine is one of our 2023-24 JHI Undergraduate Fellows.

What are your main research interests?

My main research interests are the Early Modern imagination, and its afterlives. Epic poetry, the lyric, tragicomedy and global Anglophone literature are where my interests gravitate.

What project are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it?

My work at the JHI began as a passion project. I am studying the literature of the 20th century Egyptian surrealist author Albert Cossery, whose oeuvre has been relatively absent from recent scholarship on surrealism and its international manifestations. Focusing on Cossery’s comedy, I argue that he crafts his own dialect for the state of exile that allows competing to voices to be reconciled. Through his writing, I respond to the critiques of surrealism as a crisis of orientation, and reframe its Egyptian expression within an exilic mythos. The project is situated well beyond my usual time period—although there is an argument to be made for surrealism as an afterlife of tragicomedy. Still, I felt a calling to bring Cossery’s work into the discourse. I first read his book The Jokers, two years ago, and it felt like I’d uncovered a secret jewel—one that laughed as well as sparkled.

How has your JHI Fellowship experience been so far?

The JHI has been one of the great highlights of my undergraduate experience. Getting to connect with scholars outside my own discipline has been invaluable to my research. I’ve learned to pitch my work to an interdisciplinary audience. In fact, it was a conversation with a graduate fellow that changed the trajectory of my work, inspiring me to focus on comedy as a response to the Anglophone elevation of tragedy. I’ve also made delightful friendships among the undergraduate fellows. Everyone brings their own flair and creativity, and it's truly brought the JHI community to life.

Can you share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by?

I recently re-watched Roman Holiday and its just as playful and heart-wrenching as I remember. Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn are truly timeless.

What is a fun fact about you?

I have a kitten named Piccolo.