Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel: Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition

Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel: Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition

Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel: Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition

Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel: Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition

Synopsis

Wen-chin Ouyang shows how the Arabic novel has taken shape in the intercultural networks of exchange between East and West, past and present. This has created a politics of nostalgia which can be traced to discourses on aesthetics, ethics and politics that are relevant to cultural and literary transformations of the Arabic speaking world in the 19th and 20th centuries. She explores the work of novelists including Naguib Mahfouz, 'Abd al-Khaliq al-Rikabi, Jamal al-Ghitani, Ben Salem Himmich, Ali Mubarak, Adonis, Mahmoud Darwish and Nizar Qabbani to reveal nostalgia and madness as the tropes through which the Arabic novel writes its own history: a story of grappling with and resisting the hegemony of both the state and cultural heritage.

Excerpt

What we call memory today is therefore not memory but already
history. the so-called rekindling of memory is actually its final flicker
as it is consumed by history’s themes. the need for memory is a need
for history.

Pierre Nora, Realms of Memory, p. 8

The modern imagining of nation on a geographical site is necessarily twi(n)ned with an impulse to rewrite history in a way that gives the modern nation roots in the immemorial past. History is, as Pierre Nora shows us in his stupendous project on the reconstruction of the French past, Realms of Memory, a matter of tinkering with collective memory that inevitably crystallises on a place, a locus, or, in modern times, the site of nation. ‘The association of the words lieu and mémoire in French proved to have profound connotations – historical, intellectual emotional, and largely unconscious (the effect was something like that of the English word “roots”)’, Nora explains, ‘These connotations arise in part from the specific role that memory played in the construction of the French idea of the nation and in part from recent changes in the attitude of the French toward their national past’. What Nora says of the French reconstruction of the past that would be consumed as national history and the ensuing ambivalence towards both the past and the nation in France is true of the Arab mobilisation of the past in the construction of Arab national history. the ambivalence towards the past and the nation accentuates even more the need for history, or the necessity to tinker with memory, especially when the nation and the present are often seen as born out of a problematic cultural encounter between East and West.

The Arabic novel, which shares with the Arab nation its cross-cultural genealogy, has aligned itself with the nation, partaking in imagining . . .

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