SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Politics and Aesthetics in Modern Arabic Literature

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2018/2019
Year of study:
Year 4
Taught in:
Full Year


Successful completion of the year abroad programme, or equivalent knowledge of Arabic.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The objectives of the module are to provide a guided inquiry into the history and development of modern Arabic literary genres (poetry, drama, the novel and short story) in the context of the political and cultural changes of the 19th and 20th centuries in the Arab world and the global arena; to examine critically the range of themes and techniques found in each genre; to acquaint students with the diversity and breadth of Arabic literary expression in the modern era; and to familiarize students with the necessary theoretical tools and language for the analysis of modern Arabic literature.

At the end of a module, a student should be able to demonstrate a general knowledge and critical appreciation of the politics and aesthetics of modern Arabic literature.  S/he will have gained a comprehensive understanding of modernist Arabic poetics, and the emergence and development of new literary genres in Arabic writing (drama, the novel and short story) in the 19th and 20th centuries, and become familiar with the development and transformation of literary language, structures and imagery as embodied in selected texts by leading authors.  S/he will be able to relate the processes of change and search for personal and cultural identity on the literary level to the projects of change in political and social spheres.   S/he will also acquire the critical tools to analyse modern Arabic literary texts.


This module is taught over 22 weeks with 2 hours classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

Course readings and discussions are guided by, but not exhaustive of, or exclusive to, the following major themes:

  1. The global context of modern Arabic literature: colonization, resistance and revolution
  2. Translation and transformation of literary sensibilities
  3. The revivalist, romantic and modernist trends in Arabic poetry and prose
  4. Nation as a modern identitarian paradigm
  5. Modernity and its discontents
  6. Tradition and its reincarnations
  7. Women’s liberation movements and women’s participation in projects of nation-building and modernisation
  8. The emergence of new poetic forms, poetics and voices
  9. The development of modern fiction and its genres: drama, the short story and the novel
  10. The romantic imaginary in modern Arabic narrative discourse
  11. Realism, social realism and political engagement
  12. The new novel and magical realism
  13. Postmodernist experimentation in form
  14. Exile and diaspora: the phenomenon of modern Palestinian literature
  15. Modern Arabic literature and world literature

Method of assessment

One three-hour written examination taken in May/June (50%); one essay of 2,500 to 3,000 words to be submitted on the day of teaching, week 2, term 2 (25%); one essay of 2,500 to 3,000 words to be submitted on the day of teaching, week 1, term 3 (25%).

Suggested reading

  • Aboubakr, Randa, The Conflict of Voices in the Poetry of Dennis Butrus and Mahmud Darwish. Wiesbaden, 2004.
  • Allen, Roger, The Arabic Novel: An Historical Introduction. Manchester, 1995.
  • Amin, Dina, Alfred Farag and Egyptian Theater.  Syracuse, 2008.
  • M. M. Badawi, A Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry. Cambridge, 1975.
  • __________. Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt. Cambridge, 1988.
  • __________.  Modern Arabic Literature. Cambridge, 1992.
  • Baron, Beth, The Women’s Awakening in Egypt. New Haven, 1994.
  • __________. Egypt as A Woman: Nationalism, Gender and Politics.  Berkeley, 2005.
  • Booth, Marilyn, May Her Likes Be Multiplied: Biography and Gender Politics in Egypt. Berkeley, 2001.
  • Chatman, Seymour, Story and Discourse. Ithaca, 1978.
  • Damrosch, David, What is World Literature?  Princeton, 2003.
  • __________. How To Read World Literature.  Chichester, 2009.
  • DeYoung, Terri. Placing the Poet: Badr Shakir al-Sayyab and Postcolonial Iraq. New York, 1998.
  • Genette, Gerard, Figures, Vols. I, II and particularly III. Paris,1966.  Trans. as Narrative Discourse: Essay in Method. Ithaca, 1980.
  • Harlow, Barbara. Resistance Literature. New York,1987.
  • Hassan, Wail, Tayeb Salih: Ideology and Craft of Fiction.  Syracuse, 2003.
  • Jacquemond, Richard, Conscience of the Nation, tr. David Tresilian.  Cairo, 2008.
  • Jameson, Fredric, Signatures of the Visible.  London, 1992.
  • Al-Jayyusi, Salma al-Khadra, Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry. 2 vols. Leiden, 1977.
  • Kadhim, Hussein N., The Poetics of Anti-Colonialism in the Arabic Qasidah. Leiden, 2004.
  • Lukács, Georg, The Theory of the Novel, trans. Anna Bostock. London, 1971.
  • Mansson, Anette, Passage to a new wor(l)d: Exile and restoration in Mahmoud Darwish’s writings 1960-1995 (Uppsala, 2003).
  • May, Charles E. (ed.), Short Story Theories. Athens, 1976.
  • _________. The New Short Story Theories. Athens, 1994.
  • Milrose, Susan, The Semiotics of the Dramatic Text. London, 1994.
  • Moreh, S., Modern Arabic Poetry 1800-1970. Leiden, 1976.
  • Moretto, Franco, Atlas of the European Novel: 1800-1900. London, 1998.
  • Al-Musawi, Muhsin J., Arabic Poetry: Trajectories of Modernity and Tradition. London, 2006.
  • Omri, Mohamed-Salah, Nationalism, Islam and World Literature. London, 2006.
  • Riffaterre, Michael, Semiotics of Poetry.  Bloomington, 1978.
  • Said, Edward, Culture and Imperialism. London, 1994.
  • Selim, Samah, The Novel and the Rural Imaginary in Egypt 1880-1985. London, 2004.
  • Siddiq, Muhammad, Man is a Cause: Political Consciousness and the Fiction of Ghassan Kanafani. Seattle, 1984.
  • _________. Arab Culture and the Novel: Genre, Identity and Agency in Egyptian Fiction.  London, 2007.
  • Suleiman, Yasir, The Arabic Language and National Identity.  Washington, DC, 2003.
  • Zeidan, Joseph T., Arab Women Novelists: The Formative Years and Beyond. Albany, 1995.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules