Seminar Structure and Procedures

The Seminar will be held at Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. We will meet in air-conditioned seminar spaces which will allow us the optimum opportunity for learning and discussion.

We will meet for a period of four weeks in July (and the first day of August): four days a week:  Monday & Tuesday; Thursday and Friday.  The seminar will normally meet from 10 a.m. till noon-ish and then after lunch from about 1.30 till 3.00 ((on Fridays we will stop at 12 noon).  Thereafter, there will be plenty of time for more informal discussions and for sub-groups to meet with me (see more on that below).  I have adopted such a schedule (with a gap on Wednesday) so that participants will have sufficient time at their disposal to read the novels prior to the classroom discussions. 

I have arranged the seminar schedule in such a way as to make it feasible to read two novels each week. I will lead the discussion of the first novel (by Al-Tayyib Salih), the theme of which provides an excellent opportunity to discuss contacts between the West and Middle East during recent times from a historical perspective. The five other novels will be assigned to groups of participants for classroom presentation (if there are fifteen participants, this process will involve groups of three). I will meet separately with each group in order to help in the planning and content of each presentation.

Seminar participants will also meet individually with me in order to prepare a research project (or, if you prefer, a teaching module) on some aspect of the general topic of the seminar. Examples of possible approaches for this project include the following:

  • critical discussion of a single work that we have read;
  • comparison between more than one work covered in the seminar;
  • a comparison of a work covered in the seminar with a piece of literature from another literary tradition;
  • discussion of the way(s) in which a particular topic is broached, and plans for integrating some of the materials from this seminar into a broader educational curriculum.

I also welcome suggestions for other kinds of presentations (a previous version of the seminar, for example, engendered a collection of drawings inspired by the readings of the novels). This project (in preliminary form) will be presented to the seminar during its sessions and then written up and printed for circulation to the entire group following the completion of the seminar.

I will be inviting several of my colleagues to attend sessions at which particular works are to be discussed: Brian Spooner (Department of Anthropology) to talk about environmental issues raised by Munif's novel; Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet (Department of History) to talk about women's fiction, a primary topic of Hanan al-Shaykh's novel.

I shall also be showing videotapes of film-versions of some of the works read, as well as other videos which discuss the cultural context in which the fiction is written. These will be shown in the late afternoon or evening, according to participants' preferences. There will be a number of informal social gatherings during the course of the Seminar. My wife (a high-school teacher of Latin) and I will also host a reception for the participants.

All participants in the seminar will also be placed on the College BLACKBOARD site for the duration of the Seminar, thus allowing them to contact each other and have access to a number of extra texts associated with the materials of the seminar itself.

The primary mode of access will be a close reading of six examples culled from the tradition of the Arabic novel, a literary genre which, like its counterparts in the West, has addressed itself to many of the pressing cultural and social issues of the region and to the complex relationships between contemporary inhabitants of the region and their forebears.

Each novel will be examined first and foremost as a work of fiction, a contribution to world fiction, including an examination of its particular techniques (such as the uses of the narrative voice, manipulation of time, and metafiction‑‑fiction about fictionality). The aim of this seminar is to integrate these examples of the novel genre into courses involving comparative readings of fiction from various world literary traditions (this is a feature of this particular seminar from which I myself, as a specialist in the literature of one region and language, have profited enormously in the previous seminars of this type). Discussion will also focus on the different origins and careers of the authors concerned, and the variety in language usage caused both by the breadth of the Arab World itself and the differing registers of language available to the writer of fiction. Full usage will be made of multi‑media materials and films in providing such background as will be necessary to undertake close readings of the materials, as well as the wealth of materials that is available via the INTERNET.

I have selected these particular novels from an increasingly large repertoire of Arabic fiction available in English (and to which process I myself am a frequent contributor) also because each can be seen as addressing itself to a particular topic whose applications transcend the particular context of the Arabic-speaking world. I explore the particular features of each novel below. The identification of these topics areas has also allowed me to incorporate into the seminar readings further examples from other literary genres—the poem and short story, for example. The aim in supplying these supplementary readings is also to provide some introduction to the various literary genres of Arabic, classical and modern, both in order to provide some perspective both on contemporary literary creativity in the Arab World and on the lengthy and illustrious heritage of the past, and as extra material for teachers who may wish to use a topic‑based approach in integrating some of these materials into their courses on world/comparative literature within their own school systems.

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