This contribution addresses the question how Arabic literary history can account for texts from the early modern period. The starting point is to appraise the historicity of literature itself, and particularly its modern Arabic equivalent adab. Recent scholarship has underpinned the significance of the concept of adab in the nineteenth century as the new equivalent for literature. If one is to consent to this understanding of adab as a distinctively modern concept, students of the literary history of the seventeenth and eighteenth century will have to tackle a period without literature. One way to overcome this gap is to adopt a teleological approach which tries to trace literature in early modern times as something that was yet to emerge. Another way is suggested by this essay: namely, to take into account the epistemological difference between the modern concept of literature and the premodern textual production. By espousing Reinhard Schulze’s genealogical approach along with Stephen Greenblatt’s historical methodology, the article proposes to use literature as a specific interpretative position, while keeping in mind the historical boundaries of the concept. This will be illustrated firstly, with the formation of adab in one of the first Arabic weeklies, Hadiqat al-Akhbar, and secondly, with the historical place of the Arabian Nights and its connectedness to Arabic textual and narrative culture.