Politics and Aesthetics in Modern Arabic Literature

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Final Year
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

The module provides a guided inquiry into the history and development of modern Arabic literature in its poltical and cultural contexts, examining intersections of form and content in the creation of meaning. Students will critically examine themes and techniques across an array of genres and will become acquainted with the diversity and breadth of Arabic literary expression in the modern era. The module will familiarize students with the necessary theoretical tools and language for the socio-political analysis of modern Arabic literature.


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

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of a module, student should be able to:

  • demonstrate a critical appreciation of the intersection of politics and aesthetics in modern Arabic literature
  • situate the emergence and development of modern Arabic literary genres in the social and political history of the Arab world
  • analyse literary language, structures and imagery as embodied in selected texts by leading authors
  • relate aesthetic forms to processes of change in political and social spheres
  • exercise time management skills in the formulation and production of an argument


This module is taught over 10 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. Nation as a modern identitarian paradigm
3. Modernity and its discontents
4. Women’s liberation movements and women’s participation in projects of nation-building and modernisation
5. Realism, social realism and political engagement
6. Postmodernist experimentation in form
7. Exile and diaspora: the phenomenon of modern Palestinian literature

Method of assessment

  • Two Essays (1,500 words each) (30% each)
  • One Virtual Presentation (15 minutes) (40%)
  • The exact assessment deadline dates are published on the relevant module Moodle/BLE page

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.


Professor Wen-chin Ouyang


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules