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Session C5040 (Reading Middle Eastern Literatures Comparatively), 2017
For this conversation, I examine literary histories in various languages, such as Arabic, German, and Ottoman Turkish, that could be viewed as the foundational works of the emerging field of comparative Middle Eastern literatures, including Harabat (Tavern; 1876) by Ziya Pasha, Bayna al-adab al-arabi wa-al-turki: Dirasa fi al-adab al-Islami al-muqaran (Between Turkish and Arabic Literature: A Study in Comparative Islamic Literature; 1985) by Husayn Mujib al-Misri, and Brückenschläge: Eine Integrierte 'Turkoarabische' Romangeschichte (Mitte 19. Bis Mitte 20. Jahrhundert) (Building Bridges: An Integrated History of “Turkish-Arabic” Novel” [From mid-19th to mid-20th Century]; 2003) by Stephan Guth. I discuss, in particular, why these works used comparison as a methodology and how they can provide future directions for the field of comparative Middle Eastern literatures.

Afterwards, I demonstrate how the study of Middle Eastern literatures has been institutionalized in academia today. The Anglophone scholarship, in particular, has focused mainly on interactions between Western and Persian, Western and Arabic, or Western and Turkish literatures instead of on interactions among Middle Eastern literatures. I examine the various ways in which Middle Eastern studies can provide more institutional support for comparative works that go beyond analyzing interactions solely between the Middle East and Western Europe.

Finally, I discuss two ways in which the field of comparative Middle Eastern literatures can question and/ or expand upon methodologies of earlier literary histories such as al-Misri’s Between Arabic and Turkish Literature that actually chartered intertextual relations among Persian, Arabic, and Turkish literatures. First, I propose that any work that compares Middle Eastern literatures needs to critically engage with the very category of the Middle East. Therefore, it is crucial to study literatures such as Armenian and Karamanli (Turkish in Greek script) that have not received much attention in Middle Eastern studies, even if these literatures constituted an integral part of the Ottoman cultural landscape. Second, the emerging field of comparative Middle Eastern literatures needs to build upon world literature and translation studies, which both aim to overcome the comparative literature’s Eurocentric theoretical frameworks. I thus conclude by discussing how recent contributions by David Damrosch, Franco Moretti, and Aamir Mufti in the world literature scholarship can generate new methodologies for reading Middle Eastern literatures comparatively.