Current Institutional Affiliation
Area and Cultural Studies, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2017
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Area and Cultural Studies, Columbia University
The Otherworldliness of World Literature: A Study in the Arabic Maqama

My dissertation is a study of the practices of Arabic textuality on the cusp of modernity. Set in Mount Lebanon, and spanning the period from the 1780s until the late 1860s, it brings together a loose community of writers and reciters, and court patrons and journal readers, through the lens of a singularly self-reflexive genre: the maqama. The maqama, a genre of short narrative episodes that revolve around encounters between a narrator and an eloquent but deceitful interlocutor, or adib, provides the key to its own theorization through elaborate descriptions and performances of literary eloquence. Treating the maqama as a site of literary theory, I contend, allows us to identify and critique the ways in which the historiography of Arabic literature has conflated the aesthetic features of the Arabic novel with modern literature. In so doing, this historiography has excluded other contemporaneous modes of narrative as well as other ways of conceiving the "literary" beyond the narrow confines of a corpus of written texts. The study of the maqama, especially in the oft-neglected period prior to and during the Nahda, or Arab cultural renaissance of the mid-nineteenth century, provides a new empirical basis for assessing two claims fundamental to the study of modern Arabic literature. First, that the Nahda emerged from an immediate past of stagnation and decline; and second, that the Arabic novel is the quintessential form of modern narrative.