[P6435] The Historical Turn in Contemporary Arabic Fiction

Created by Ahmed Idrissi Alami
Tuesday, 11/30/21 11:30 am


The recent proliferation of Arabic novelistic production that reimagines historical periods, events and past popular figures is quite remarkable. While earlier Arabic historical novels found in past Arab and Muslim history a rich source to fashion stories that served to consolidate a sense of cultural identity and infuse Arab nationalism, the recent turn to historical material in recent Arabic fiction represents a shift due to its diverse subject matter and complex narrative structures. In this panel, the presenters explore how the rethinking, reimagining and re-appropriation of past Arab historical episodes, themes, dynastical rule and characters opens a space for analyzing and commenting on current socio-cultural problems, identity crises and political turmoil associated with recent transformations in societies and cultures in the Arab region. In reimagining this historical material, the papers examine how the aesthetics and discourses of these historical fictional texts imply a more contestatory politics of citizenry and cultural affiliation. While the Egyptian writer Khayrī Shalabī uses in Riḥlāt al-ṭurshajī al-ḥalwajī a court jester who travels to Fatimid and Mamluk courts to address anxieties in the post-Nasserist Egyptian society, Yūsuf Fādil's Qiṭṭ abyaḍ jamīl yasīru maʻī (2011) uses the modern court jester to reconstruct the recent history of the country in dialogue with testimonial fiction. Similarly, Hassan Aourid deploys testimonial discursive modes and rhetorical strategies of witness and testimony genre in Rabee' Qortoba (2017) to comment on the social upheavals and political uncertainties of the Arab spring and its aftermath in the Morocco and the Maghrib. Aourid rehabilitates the role of the Moroccan native historical perspective by reimagining the uncertainties faced by al-Hakam, the second Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba who reigned after Abdurrahman III, in the form of end-of-life testimony in the form of a will to Ziri, an Amazigh historian scribe from Morocco.
Besides rethinking symmetries between past and present conditions, contemporary Arabic historical fiction problematizes meaning of historical truth through formalistic manipulation. In The Druze of Belgrade, Lebanese writer Rabee’ Jaber suggests alternative ways of defining the self through suffering and solidarity but with little influence over the course of history as Hanna Yacoub, the protagonist, appears as a spectator more than an active historical agent. Such posture informs contemporary Syrian historical fiction in which readers’ recognition of themselves in it depends on ability to identify underlying philosophical principles that construct realities rather than spotting parallels in content.


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Amal Amireh

(George Mason University)
Associate Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at George Mason University. Graduate of Birzeit University and Boston University. Currently working on gender and nationalism in Palestinian literature.
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Alexa S. Firat

(Temple University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Ahmed Idrissi Alami

(Purdue University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Cristina Dozio

(Università degli Studi di Milano)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;