Poetics of Love in the Arabic Novel: Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition

Poetics of Love in the Arabic Novel: Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition

Poetics of Love in the Arabic Novel: Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition

Poetics of Love in the Arabic Novel: Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition


Considers the Arabic novel within the triangle of the nation-state, modernity and tradition

Wen-Chin Ouyang explores the development of the Arabic novel, especially the ways in it engages with aesthetics, ethics and politics in a cross-cultural context and from a transnational perspective.

Taking love and desire as the central tropes , the story of the Arabic novel is presented as a series of failed, illegitimate love affairs, all tainted by its suspicion of the legitimacy of the nation, modernity and tradition and, above all, by its misgiving about its own propriety.

  • Authors studied include Naguib Mahfouz; Ghassan Kanafani; Ibrahim Nasrallah; Emil Habiby; Jamal al-Ghitani; Ali Mubarak; Muhammad al-Muwaylihi; Badr Shakir al-Sayyab; Khalil Hawi and Salah 'Abd al-Sabur
  • Works studied include Arabian Nights and Maqamat
  • Addresses issues such as nation & nationalism, Arabic poetics of love, modernity & modernisation; the politics of desire, the poetics of space, women & cartography of nation, identity and intertexutality


Our Arabic novel continues to travel along the European path set by
Balzac, and other realists of the nineteenth century, or by the writers
of the New Novel like Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute, by whom
our new novelists have been influenced.

Yūsuf Idrīs, Islām bilā ḍifāf, p. 131

In his assessment of the Arabic novel, Yūsuf Idrīs (1927–91) characteristically undermined the efforts of all contemporary Arab novelists. While writing about Mexican novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Idrīs underscores the contrast between the success of Autumn of the Patriarch in ‘Mexicanising’ the novel, as well as his own in ‘Egyptianising’ drama, and the failure of all Arab novelists in ‘Arabicising’ the novel. Idrīs, whose fame rests on his successful, bold experiments in the Arabic short story and drama, is clearly engaged in self-promotion. He is alluding to his success in creating an Egyptian theatre and authentic Egyptian plays (riwāyāt miṣriyya aṣīla), dealing with modern global, local Egyptian problems – almushkila al-miṣriyya al-maḥaliyya al- ālamiyya al-ḥadītha. His appraisal of the Arabic novel is, first, not atypical among Arab intellectuals, critics and historians of Arabic literature at the time, and second, symptomatic of the tensions prevalent in contemporary Arab culture – the tension between the deceptive polarity of the present-West-other-based ‘modernity’ and the past-tradition-self-oriented ‘authenticity’ in the post-colonial Arab world.

The colonial encounter of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which initiated accelerated cross-cultural exchanges between Europe and the Arab world, including Egypt, led to irrevocable changes in Arab culture. These changes have in turn provoked a new process of soul searching among the Arab intellectuals about the shape and future of their culture often in terms of polarities derived from the binary opposites of ‘East’ and ‘West’.

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