A Thousand and One Rewrites

Translating Modernity in the Arabian Nights

Nazry Bahrawi

Taking its cue from the “cultural turn” move in Translation Studies, this essay argues that modern reimaginings of The Arabian Nights can be seen as attempts at making this classical work relevant to modern sensibilities and aesthetic forms. It will juxtapose the normative versions of the Nights to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade (1845) in light of scientism, Naguib Mahfouz’s Arabian Nights and Days (1979) from the perspective of political agency, as well as Hanan Al-Shaykh’s One Thousand and One Nights (2011) by way of feminism and human rights. This essay posits that the malleability of the Nights to modernist ideas and forms entrenches its stature as an exemplary work of world literature. Lastly and relatedly, this essay will also revisit Lefevere and Bassnett’s “rewriting” theory to explore its potential contribution to the nascent discipline of world literature in light of Zhang Longxi’s arguments on cross-cultural translatability.