Literature and Nation in the Middle East

Literature and Nation in the Middle East

Literature and Nation in the Middle East

Literature and Nation in the Middle East

Synopsis

This compelling study presents an original look at how 'the nation' is represented in the literature of the Middle East. It includes chapters on Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Israel, drawing on the expertise of literary scholars, historians, political scientists and cultural theorists. The book offers a synthesising contribution to knowledge, placing Arab literature within the context of emergent or conflicting nationalist projects in the area. Topics addressed include:
• the roles of literature and interpretation in defining national identity
• exile
• conflicting nationalisms
• conflict resolutionThe approaches taken by the authors range from textual and rhetorical analysis to historical accounts of the role of literature in contributing to national identity, and political analysis of the use of literature as a tool in conflict resolution. Genres covered include fiction (the novel), poetry and verbal duelling. This unique exploration of the subject of literature and the nation in the Arab world will be of interest to anyone studying Middle Eastern literature and nationalism, as well as historians and political scientists. Key Features
• Includes chapters from a broad range of American, European and Middle Eastern contributors, providing a synthesising perspective on the Middle East
• A unique exploration of the connection between literature and national identity in the Middle East, set against the background of conflict
• Covers the subject of literature and nation in Egypt, Sudan, Iraq, Palestine and Israel

Excerpt

Aldous Huxley writes that ‘nations are to a very large extent invented by their poets and novelists’ (1959: 50). Although by talking about ‘invention’ Huxley may have exaggerated the nature of the link between nation building and literature, this book subscribes to the broad thrust of his statement by examining the role literature plays in constructing, articulating or challenging interpretations of national identities in the Middle East. Thus, most of the chapters in this book are devoted to Arabic literature – here broadly defined as literature in Arabic by Arab writers – owing to the demographic dominance of the Arabs in this part of the world. The remaining chapters delve into Hebrew literature, Arabic literature in translation and Arab literature in its trans-national mode as expressed in a language other than Arabic, in this case English. In terms of genre, the book covers poetry and the novel in their capacity as the prime examples of high culture, as well as oral or ‘folk literature’ in the modern period as an expression of the localisation of the lived socio-political experience of a national group in a ‘here’ and ‘now’ that invokes the heroism of the past. In terms of provenance, a few chapters deal with the literary expression of Palestinian nationalism as the enunciation of a ‘stateless’ or ‘refugee’ nation, while other chapters cover the construction of national identity in Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon and Israel, thus providing an array of geographies and sociopolitical contexts that can add to our understanding of the interaction between literature and the nation in the Middle East. Drama is not dealt with in this volume because of its marginal position in the national cultures of the region, although a study of such playwrights as the Egyptian Tawfiq al-Hakim and Ahmad Bakathir, and the Syrian Sa‘dallah Wannus would be revealing in charting the literary expression of the nation in the Arab context. In addition, the volume does not cover the short story or North Africa because of considerations of space.

This book subscribes to a constructivist view of the nation, although it recognises that nation building cannot be an exercise in ‘invention’, if by invention is meant the fabrication of nations and national identities out of a void. Construction is not necessarily a form of ‘myth-making’, as it is sometimes made out to be in the literature on nationalism (see Gerber 2004). Construction . . .

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