The Polemics of Iltizām: Al-Ādāb’s Early Arguments for Commitment

In: Journal of Arabic Literature
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  • 1 Assistant Professor of Arabic, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Kenyon CollegeGambier, OHUSA
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The Lebanese monthly Al-Ādāb is accredited with the dissemination of iltizām, the Arabic rendition of Jean-Paul Sartre’s engagement (commitment). The concept assumed significance throughout the 1950s–1970s. In fact, it is often singled out as the most important literary term of the period. Surprisingly, however, a closer look at Al-Ādāb’s early issues reveals that, despite the forceful circulation of iltizām, indeterminacy and confusion continued to plague the term. Through archival research of Al-Ādāb’s early numbers, this article shows that this indeterminacy contributed to iltizām’s popularity and argues that the dissemination of the term was characterized by an intriguing paradox: while iltizām failed as a term of literary criticism (due in large part to the inconclusive nature of its meaning), it succeeded in fueling robust literary and critical output.

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