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Author: Gretchen Head

This article begins with the question of Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan al-Yūsī’s (1631-1691) relationship to a Moroccan national literature, opening onto an interpretation of two of his most famous texts written in exile. Al-Yūsī’s al-Risālah al-kubrā ilā Mawlāy Ismāʿīl and al-Muḥāḍarāt fī al-adab wa-l-lughah are interpreted as paradigmatic examples of seventeenth-century Moroccan literature and ideal vehicles to understand al-Yūsī’s relationship to place. Al-Risālah, a dialogue at a remove from its addressee, mixes invective and appeal for aid with subtle shifts in focalization between the misdeeds of the second-person addressee (Ismāʿīl) and al-Yūsī’s own suffering. In this text, the spaces for which the author longs encompass both his actual place of birth and the larger category of place it represents. Al-Yūsī identifies exclusively with an idealized vision of the countryside set in the distant past, complicating the possibility of his return. In al-Muḥāḍarāt, al-Yūsī adopts the medium of poetry, creating a poetic persona distinct from the authorial voice of his epistle. Here his spatial identity is more inclusive, extending to cover most of the territories of early modern Morocco. Through these two exilic texts, I examine the complex relationship al-Yūsī had with the country’s urban centers and rural landscapes and how this could, under certain circumstances, begin to reflect something that resembles a Moroccan national consciousness.

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
Author: Gretchen Head

Abstract

This article focuses on Ilyās Khūrī’s engagement of performative aspects within his 1998 novel Bāb al-Shams (The Gate of the Sun).The novel utilizes different forms of the performative—the most transparent being oral narrative, but also video representations, television appearances, Jean Genet’s essay-turned-play Quarte heures à Chatila, and street performances—to show the collapse of nationalist myths in Beirut’s Palestinian refugee camps and to comment on the near impossibility of collective historical memory under the difficult conditions prevailing in the Palestinian diaspora. The failure of the epic genre in the context of the Shatila camp is the failure of the nationalist project and of historical memory; with the camp’s inhabitants severed from both their land and their history, nationalist myths based on ideals of heroism cannot hold, the collective memory is acutely compromised and Palestine becomes little more than a simulacrum. The logical result of the narrator’s failed epic cycle is a dislocation on the part of the camp’s inhabitants from authentic forms of representation. The Palestinian experience is performed through the tools of modern media—video cassettes, television programs and Western theatre—by which the residents of Shatila lose both whatever remaining connections to Palestine they may have held as well as their ability to build a collective memory for their own history as an exiled community. The way in which the 1982 Shatila massacre is remembered and performed takes on particular importance. The only hope Khūrī offers is through a street performance which allows Shatila’s residents the chance for reconnection to the tradition and an alternative to the simulacra by which they find themselves surrounded.

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
Author: Gretchen Head

Abstract

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.

In: Philological Encounters
The Journal of Arabic Literature (JAL) is the leading journal specializing in the study of Arabic literature, ranging from the pre-Islamic period to the present. Founded in 1970, JAL seeks critically and theoretically engaged work at the forefront of the field, written for a global audience comprised of the specialist, the comparatist, and the student alike. JAL publishes literary, critical and historical studies as well as book reviews on Arabic literature broadly understood– classical and modern, written and oral, poetry and prose, literary and colloquial, as well as work situated in comparative and interdisciplinary studies.

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