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Politics of Nostalgia in the Arabic Novel

Nation-State, Modernity and Tradition

Wen-chin Ouyang


Uncovers the politics of nostalgia and madness inherent in the Arabic novel

The Arabic novel has taken shape in the intercultural networks of exchange between East and West, past and present. Wen-chin Ouyang shows how this has created a politics of nostalgia which can be traced to discourses on aesthetics, ethics and politics relevant to cultural and literary transformations of the Arabic speaking world in the 19th and 20th centuries. She reveals nostalgia and madness as the tropes through which the Arabic novel writes its own story of grappling with and resisting the hegemony of both the state and cultural heritage.

  • Explores the work of novelists including Naguib Mahfouz, 'Abd al-Khaliq al-Rikabi, Jamal al-Ghitani, Ben Salem Himmich, Ali Mubarak, Adonis, Mahmoud Darwish and Nizar Qabbani
  • Shows madness to be an expression of the anxiety surrounding the Arabic novel's search for form, and Arab intellectuals' disappointment in the nation-state and modernisation

Shortlisted for the Sheikh Zayed Book Award 2014


Part I: Nostlagia
1. The Invention of Tradition
2. The Mysterious (Dis)Appearance of Tradition
Part II: Madness: In the Ruins of Dream and Memory
3. Semiology of Madness
4. Semiotics of Tyranny
Part III: Narrating the Nation: Time, History, Story
5. History
6. Story

About the Author

Wen-chin Ouyang is a Reader in Arabic Literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies. She was born in Taiwan, raised in Libya and educated in the United States. She is the author of Literary Criticism in Medieval Arabic-Islamic Culture (1997) and numerous articles on the Arabic novel, The 1001 Nights, and classical Arabic prose writing. She co-edited New Perspectives on the Arabian Nights: Ideological Variations and Narrative Horizons (2005), Companion to Magical Realism (2005), and The Novelization of Islamic Literatures, Comparative Critical Studies 4: 3 (2007).


'A valuable approach to the ongoing debate on intertexuality and modernity in Arabic literature.’

- Zeina G. Halabi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Journal of Arabic Literature