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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Literature and Literary Theory