“Rethinking the Margins in Arabic Literary Studies”
A workshop at the University of Chicago
April 6-7, 2018
This event will gather scholars who are charting new directions in Arabic literary studies. Recent work has begun to reorient the centers and peripheries in our understanding of modern Arabic literature. Long-held notions of national legacies in literature, and the major figures associated with them, have given way to a greater emphasis on transnational flows, diaspora, and difference. This workshop offers a timely intervention in the field and will welcome leaders among a new generation of Arabic literary scholars.
Our understanding of the Arabic literary canon, of its geographies, margins, and the circulation of texts, genres and ideas, relate to several historiographical changes. Earlier scholarship saw Arabic literary production as deeply connected to the Arab national project. This scholarship connected the works of 19th century Arab writers to the attempts to have Arabic accorded much greater prominence in Ottoman public life, efforts which increased as the Ottoman Empire placed greater attention on Turkificiation and centralization. With the rise of Arab nation states, Arabic literature was understood as the cultural vehicle which reflected the local, primordial and unchanging traditions of the nation. Much of the discourse also centered on the fixed categories of East and West, and on Western literature's influence on and upon Arabic literature, especially as relates to the novel. On the other hand, more recent scholarship on Arabic literature has championed a new view that does not limit the study of new genres and texts to the cultures of Arab nation-states and the supposed one-directional influence of Western literature on Arab writers. Rather, the new scholarship, which we seek to bring to our conference, casts Arabic literature within global, transnational and trans-regional contexts and examines new articulations of time, space, and modernity; it analyzes how ideas about ethnicity, language, and race were conceptualized and circulated. The recognition that the interest in Arab culture and literature was expressed by a variety of writers, in different places where Arabic speakers resided (from Morocco to New York), who sometimes held conflicting political interests and upheld different writing styles, means that no specific nation or group is seen as the engine behind Arabic literary culture, and that scholars prefer to speak of canons and literary centers (note the plural form here) rather than a unique location.