SOAS University of London

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

Modern Arabic Literature and the West

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2016/2017
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

Convenor: To be confirmed.

This course offers a structured survey of modern Arabic literature, its development and its interaction with Western literary influences and theories.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course students will be familiar in general terms with the range of themes, techniques and genres to be found in Modern and Contemporary Arabic literature and will have been introduced to the principal critical works on the subject. The objective of the course is to introduce students to the richest and most rewarding areas of Arabic Literature, and to relate the processes of change and search for personal and cultural identity on the literary level to the projects of change in the political and social spheres. The ultimate aim is to sharpen students’ awareness of the significance of literature to the understanding of vital cultural, social and political processes, and especially to the quest for modernity and modernization in Arab societies. This aim can only be achieved, however, by attending first to the peculiarities of literary consciousness and to the closely allied complexities of self-insight and self-presentation, as well as to the relation to history and tradition, which together incite the experience of modernity. Students are expected to be able to apply a range of critical theories to the literature in question and to demonstrate their ability in their course work essays.

Scope and syllabus

The course combines literary history with textual criticism to demonstrate the vital interaction between modern Arabic literature and the West. It identifies the various channels through which Western influences and theories travelled and examines the traces of journey and the impact of the final outcome on the development of different literary genres through a range of selected texts (in translation) that will be studied and textually analysed. The main themes and periods covered are:

  1. The Age of Translation: The infrastructure of cultural transition; The contact with the West; The emergence of a new type of Westernised intellectual; Translation and adaptation (Main Writers: Al-Tahtawi, al-Shidyaq, al-Nadim, Khayr al-Din).
  2. The Neo-Classical Revival: The conflict within the establishment; The colonisation of the Middle East; The reaction to the process of acculturation; The denial of the West and cultural polarisation (Main Writers: al-Barudi, Shawqi, Hafiz Ibrahim, al-Manfaluti).
  3. The Rise of Fiction: The influence of French and Russian literature; From Maqama to modern narrative genres; Adaptation and the birth of modern narrative fiction and drama; The new genres as means of shaping and articulating reality (Main Writers: al-Muwailihi, Haykal, Gibran, Lashin) 
  4. The Birth of Rationalism: The conflict with traditional outlooks; Cultural background of modern literary thought; The intellectual and society; Development in criticism: Al-Diwan and On Pre-Islamic Poetry (Main Writers: Taha Husain, al-’Aqqad, al-Mazini, Tawfiq al-Hakim’s early drama) 
  5. The Romantic Imagination and the New Nation State: The influence of European romanticism ;Mustaqbal Al-Thaqafa and the Mediterranean circle ;Apollo and the romantic poets ;The proliferation of sentimental and romantic fiction (Apollo Group: Ahmad Zaki Abu-Shadi, Ali Mahm-ud Taha, Ibrahim Naji; Haqqi: Saint’s Lamp, al-Hakim: Return of Soul, Mahfuz’s early work) 
  6. Realism and the Aftermath of 1948: The fading of the romantic dream; Social polarisation and the changing structure of the educated; Realism and the development of narrative discourse; The birth of the new poetic movement; The early signs of Modernism (Mahfuz, Sharqawi, Idris, ‘Awwad, al-Sayyab, Khalil Hawi) 
  7. Revolution in Literature and Society: the 1950s and 1960s; New ideologies in the market place; New horizons for literature and drama; The emergence of women writing; Literature and censorship; The schism in literary sensibility (Idris, Salah ‘Abd al-Sabur, al-Bayyati, Hawi, Zayyat, Sa’dawi, Ghanim) 
  8. 1967 and after: Modernism and Post-Modernism: The change in literary sensibility; The conflict between centres and peripheries; Westernization and the cultural vacuum of the 1970s; The rise of Fundamentalism; The emergence of the literature of North Africa (Mahmud Darwish, Emil Habibi, Ghasan Kanafani, Edwar Kharrat, Sonalla Ibrahim, Fu'ad Al-Takarli, Zakariyya Tamir, Baha' Tahir, Al-Tayyib Salih, Muhammad Shukri) 
General Areas for Expansion: 
  • Women in Society and Literature: The rise of women’s literature; The change in the image of women in literature (Latifah al-Zayyat, Nawal Saadawi, Salwa Bakr, Hanan Shaykh, Ahdaf Soueif) 
  • The Country and the City: The change in the perception of the urban battlefield; The image of the country between past and present (Lashin, al-Hakim, Yusuf Idris, Ahmad Hijazi, Ilyas Khuri, Rashid al-Da’if) 
  • Occidentalism: the Self and the Other; The Arabs and the West; The other and the perception of the self; The changing image of the occidental other (Rifa’ah Al-Tahtawi, Faris al-Shidyaq, Tawfiq al-Hakim, Yahya Haqqi, al-Tayyib Salih, Tahar Ben-Jelloun, Soleiman Fayyad, and Baha’ Tahir).

Method of assessment

The course is assessed by two essays (together 40% of the final mark) and a three-hours written examination in May-June (60%)

Suggested reading

  1. Arabic Literary Texts in English and French:
    • Awwad, Tawfiq Yusuf Death in Bierut, trans. Leslie McLoughlin (London, 1976). 
    • Bakr, Salwa, The Wiles of Men, trans. D. Johnson-Davies (London, 1992). 
    • Bullata, Isa (ed & trans) Modern Arab Poets, (London, 1978). 
    • Darwish, Mahmoud, Selected Poems, trans. Johnson-Davies, D. (London, 1978). 
    • Ghitani, Gamal, Zayni Barakat, trans. Farouk Abdel Wahab (London, 1988). 
    • Gibran, Khalil, Spirits Rebellious, trans. H.M. Nahmad (New York, 1963). 
    • Habibi, Emil The Pess-Optimist, trans. S.K. Jayyusi (London, 1987). 
    • Hakim, Tawfik, Return of the Soul (New York, 1996), Bird of the East, (Beirut, 1966), Maze of Justice (London, 1989). 
    • Haqqi, Yahya, The Saint’s Lamp, trans. M.M. Badawi (Leiden, 1973). 
    • Hussein, Taha, An Egyptian Childhood, (1982), The Stream of Days, (London, 1948). 
    • Hutchins, W.M. (ed.), Egyptian Tales and Short Stories of the 1970s and 1980s (Cairo, 1987). 
    • Idris, Yusuf, The Cheapest Nights (London 1979) & Rings of Burnished Brass (1983). 
    • Jayyusi, S.K. (ed.), Modern Arabic Poetry (London, 1987). & R. Allen, Modern Arabic Drama (Bloomington, 1995). 
    • Johnson-Davies, D. (ed. & trans.), Modern Arabic Short Stories (Oxford, 1967); Egyptian Short Stories (London, 1978), & Egyptian One-Act Plays (London, 1980). 
    • Kanafani, Ghassan, Men in the Sun, trans. Hilary Kilpatrick (London, 1978). 
    • Kassem, Abdel-Hakim, Rites of Assent, trans. Peter Theroux (Philadelphia, 1995). 
    • Kharrat, Edward, City of Saffron, trans. Frances Liardet (London, 1990). 
    • Mahfouz, Naguib, Midaq Ali, & The Trilogy (London, 1990-2). 
    • Munif, Abdal-Rahman, Cities of Salt (London 1988). 
    • Muwaylihi, Muhammad, Hadith Isa Ibn Hisham, trans. R. Allen (Albany, N.Y., 1974). 
    • Saadawi, Nawal, Woman at Zero Point (1982), Memoirs of a Woman Doctor (1988). 
    • Said, Ali Ahmad, The Blood of Adonis, trans. Samuel Hazo (Pittsburg, Pen. 1971). 
    • Salih, Tayyib, The Season of Migration to the North, trans. Johnson-Davies (London, 1976). 
    • Sharqawi, Abdel Rahman, Egyptian Earth, trans. Desmond Stewart (London, 1990). 
    • Shaykh, Hanan, The Story of Zahra (1986), Women of Sand and Myrrh (1989). 
  2. Background Reading:
    • Allen, Roger, The Arabic Novel an Historical Introduction, (Manchester, 1996).
    • Badawi, M.M., Modern Arabic Literature (Cambridge,1992). 
      • Modern Arabic Literature and the West (London,1985). 
      • Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry (Cambridge, 1975). 
    • Brugman, J., An Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature (Leiden, 1984)
    • Bullata, Isa (ed.), Critical Perspective on Modern Arabic Literature (New York, 1980). 
    • El-Enani, Rasheed, Naguib Mahfouz: The Pursuit of Meaning (London, 1993). 
    • Hafez, Sabry, The Genesis of Arabic Narrative Discourse (Lonon, 1992). 
    • Hourani, Albert, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (Oxford, 1962). 
    • Jad, Ali, Form and Technique in the Egyptian Novel (London, 1983). 
    • Malti-Douglas, Fedwa, Blindness and Autobiography (Brinceton, 1988) Woman’s Body, Woman’s Word (Cairo, 1991) 
    • Ostle, R.C. (ed.), Studies in Modern Arabic Literature (London, 1975). Modern Literature in the Near and Middle East (London, 1991). 
    • Siddiq, Muhammad, Man is a Cause: Ghassan Kanafani (Seattle, 1984). 
    • Starkey, Paul, From the Ivory Tower (London, Ithaca Press, 1987). 
  3. Further Reading:
    • Bakhtin, M.M., Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (1984) & The Dialogic Imagination (Austin, 1981).
    • Barthes, Roland, S/Z (1974) & Image, Music, Text (New York, 1977).
    • Chatman, Seymour, Story and Discourse (Ithaca, New York, 1978). 
    • Ghazoul, Ferial Jaboury, Nocturnal Poetics: The Arabian Nights (Cairo, 1996). 
    • Girard, René, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel (Baltimore, 1965). 
    • Goldmann, Lucien, The Hidden God, trans. Philip Thody (London, 1964). 
    • Hafez, S. and Cobham, C. (eds.), Modern Arabic Short Stories (London, 1988). 
    • Jameson, Fredric, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Symbolic Act (London, 1981). 
    • Manzalaoui, Mahmoud (ed.), The Short Story (1970) & Drama (Cairo, 1977). 
    • Martin, Wallace, Recent Theories of Narrative (1986). 
    • Said, Edward, Orientalism (1978) & The World, the Text, and the Critic (1983). 
    • Chambers, I & Curti, L., The Post-Colonial Question (1996) 
    • Williams, P. & Chrisman, L., Colonial Discourse & Post-Colonial Theory (1993)
    • Mangia, P., Contemporary Post-Colonial Theory (1996) 
    • Ashcroft, B. & Griffiths, G., The Post-Colonial Studies Reader (1995)


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