Print Culture and Sufi Modernity: Al-Tuhāmī al-Wazzānī’s Embodied Reading of Morocco’s Nahḍa

In: Philological Encounters
Gretchen Head Division of Humanities—Literature, Yale-NUS College Singapore

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Rethinking Arabic literary modernity, this article addresses what the act of reading means as Morocco moves from manuscript to print. In 1941, a leading figure of Morocco’s nahḍa, al-Tuhāmī al-Wazzānī, began to serialize his autobiography al-Zāwiya in one of the country’s earliest newspapers. Heralded as Morocco’s first novel, the moment marks the inauguration of a new reading public. Yet the text does not rely upon the reconfigured relationship with the reader accompanying the rise of print cultures in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Zāwiya is a Sufi autobiography, a genre that invites its readers to assimilate the actions found within its pages. Al-Wazzānī draws upon this long tradition, using intertextual engagement to create a space of discourse that complicates the presumed secularity of Arabic literature during the nahḍa. Early Moroccan print culture thus provides an opportunity to reconsider the continuities of tradition embedded within modern literary practices.

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