Archive of errors: Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq, literature, and the world

Rebecca Carol Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Using Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq’s semi-autobiographical fictional travel narrative from 1855, this article critiques current world literature paradigms that see literary modernity as the entrance into world literary space’s zones of equivalence. Al-Shidyāq’s text, the article argues, encapsulates debates over the origins of Arabic literary modernity, but rejects both the notion that Arabic literary modernity is a European import and that it is product of a national literary past. Rather, in the author’s reading, al-Sāq represents a combative archive of influences and intertexts that is self-consciously multilinguistic and trans-imperial. Analyzing al-Sāq’s engagement with European texts, the article argues for the power of productive misreadings and corrections, as al-Shidyāq places errors at the centre of his comparative methodology. Reading al-Sāq as participating in and theorizing the nahḍah’s own transnational currents, the article argues that al-Shidyāq analyzes literary and linguistic relationships through an attention to error and unintelligibility, posing literary modernity itself as an error-prone aggregation of foreign and domestic forms, styles, and references. Through error, al-Shidyāq creates a mode of world literature in which Arabic literature is not merely the product of a vertical development, but rather is embedded in a larger network of transnational, horizontal associations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-50
Number of pages20
JournalMiddle Eastern Literatures
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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