This issue of Alif explores the lyrical drive in its myriad manifestations: its formal presence in poems, epics and songs; and its informal dissemination in narratives, philosophy, painting, calligraphy, music and even in broken and discarded objects. The issue covers many languages and touches on a variety of cultures: Mesopotamian, Nile Valley, Greco-Roman; South African and North African; English and Irish; Greek and French; American and Arabic; Persian and Turkish; Urdu and German. Beside academic articles, this issue includes creative essays, poetry and art—all combine to analyze or embody the lyrical impulse.
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The Arabian Nights in Comparative ContextFerial J. Ghazoul
The Book of a Thousand and One Nights, better known as The Arabian Nights, is a classic of world literature and the most universally known work of Arabic narrative. Although much has been written about it, Professor Ghazoul’s analysis is the first to apply modern critical methodology to the study of this intricate and much-admired literary masterpiece. The author draws on a wealth of critical tools — medieval Arabic aesthetics and poetics, mythology and folklore, allegory and comedy, postmodern literary criticism, and formal and structural analysis — to explain the specific genius of the The Arabian Nights. The author describes and examines the internal cohesion of the book, establishing its morphology and revealing the dialectics of the frame-story and enframed cycles of narrative. She discusses various forms of narrative — folk epics, animal fables, Sindbad voyages, and demon stories — and analyzes them in relation to narrative works from India, Europe, and the Americas. Covering an impressive range of writings, from ancient Indian classics to the works of Shakespeare and the modern writers Jorge Luis Borges and John Barth, she places The Arabian Nights in the context of an ongoing storytelling tradition and reveals its influence on world literature....read more
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The Other AmericasEdited by Ira Dworkin
This issue of Alif focuses on critical understandings of America beyond its frequent equation with the physical borders of the United States of America and the ideological jurisdiction of its official state. Critically exploring issues of transnationalism, globalization, ethnic pluralism, and cultural cross-fertilization, The Other Americas disavows narrow traditions of American exceptionalism and develops a conversation about the less visible “Americas” in the domestic and global senses, considering less wellknown—but no less central—cultural productions within the borders of the United States and beyond them. In addition to acknowledging the social, political, artistic, and literary vitality of the entire American hemisphere, the issue suggests an even more inclusive idea of the United States by highlighting oppositional cultural practices in the fields of literature, film, and performance. The issue presents versions and visions and variations of America that seek to interrogate national identity and broaden established definitions while suggesting new modes of inquiry into the U.S. as a place in conversation with others in the world. Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics 31....read more
The Language of the Self: Autobiographies and Testimonies
Edited by Ferial Ghazoul 75
The Language of the Self: Autobiographies and TestimoniesEdited by Ferial Ghazoul
Autobiography is a protean genre: it covers so many forms and styles. When narrating one’s life, the narrator has to choose what he or she considers to be relevant and decisive. Beside the differences on what is fundamental in a life, the notion of the Self is culturally defined and thus varies from one place to another. The author of an autobiographical text may express only a fragment of his or her life, follow a thread in the trajectory through reminiscences, memoir, diaries, testimony, interview, letters, poems, etc. The author may declare openly that he or she is identical with the protagonist or may give the principal character a different name or no name. The author may depict private or public events, at times taking imaginative license or even including fantastic motifs. Autobiographical discourse is not only culturally conditioned; it is also symptomatic of the cultural moment. Thus it is important to explore the varieties of self-presentation, and not assume a fixed paradigm.
In this revisionist spirit that looks for different and alternative ways of recording one’s life, Alif presents the autobiographical drive in multiple contexts: ancient and contemporary Egyptian; nineteenth-century and twentieth-century Arab, Moroccan, and Iraqi; South African and West African; Canadian and American; Palestinian and Sudanese; English and Irish; and even that of a hybrid background Chinese American and Algerian French. There has been a tremendous surge in autobiographical writing in recent years, and the field has been redefined by literary and cultural critics.
From James Olney (ed.), Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (1980) to Dwight Reynolds (ed.), Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition (2001), a range of works have appeared challenging established views and approaches on the subject of autobiography. The epigraphs (whose English translation is drawn from the works mentioned above) attest to the complexity and diversity of motivations in writing about one’s past life....read more
Committed to Disillusion
Activist Writers in Egypt from the 1950s to the 1980s
David DiMeo 35
Activist Writers in Egypt from the 1950s to the 1980sDavid DiMeo
Can a writer help to bring about a more just society? This question was at the heart of the movement of al-adab al-multazim, or committed literature, which claimed to dominate Arab writing in the mid-twentieth century. By the 1960s, however, leading Egyptian writers had retreated into disillusionment, producing agonized works that challenged the key assumptions of socially engaged writing. Rather than a rejection of the idea, however, these works offered reinterpretation of committed writing that helped set the stage for activist writers of the present. David DiMeo focuses on the work of three leading writers whose socially committed fiction was adapted to the disenchantment and discontent of the late twentieth century: Naguib Mahfouz, Yusuf Idris, and Sonallah Ibrahim. Despite their disappointments with the direction of Egyptian society in the decades following the 1952 revolution, they kept the spirit of committed literature alive through a deeply introspective examination of the relationship between the writer, the public, and political power. Reaching back to the roots of this literary movement, DiMeo examines the development of committed literature from its European antecedents to its peak of influence in the 1950s, and contrasts the committed works with those of disillusionment that followed. Committed to Disillusion is vital reading for scholars and students of Arabic literature and the modern history and politics of the Middle East....read more
8 October 2016
Post-Colonial Discourse in South Asia
Edited by Stephen Alter 75
Post-Colonial Discourse in South AsiaEdited byStephen Alter
This issue of Alif explores a considerable variety of themes and problems that exist in contemporary South Asia, offering perspectives on poetry and fiction, popular culture and mythmaking, as well as the enduring resonance of Gandhian rhetoric and philosophy. Contributors confront environmental degradation and social injustice, post-colonial interpretations of Shakespeare, and the terrifying plague of AIDS, perhaps the first truly global epidemic. Despite the undeniably serious problems that afflict the people of South Asia, there is also much to celebrate after half a century of independence. There is a pervasive sense that the subcontinent has finally emerged from lingering shadows of the British Raj, asserting a new and ascendant identity, through art and literature, music, film, and popular culture. Alif Vol. 18...read more
16 color illus.