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Nocturnal Poetics

Nocturnal Poetics: The Arabian Nights in Comparative Context

Ferial J. Ghazoul
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
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    Nocturnal Poetics
    Book Description:

    The Book of a Thousand and One Nights, better known as The Arabian Nights, is a classic of world literature and the most universally known work of Arabic narrative. Although much has been written about it, Professor Ghazoul's analysis is the first to apply modern critical methodology to the study of this intricate and much-admired literary masterpiece. The author draws on a wealth of critical tools -- medieval Arabic aesthetics and poetics, mythology and folklore, allegory and comedy, postmodern literary criticism, and formal and structural analysis -- to explain the specific genius of the The Arabian Nights. The author describes and examines the internal cohesion of the book, establishing its morphology and revealing the dialectics of the frame-story and enframed cycles of narrative. She discusses various forms of narrative -- folk epics, animal fables, Sindbad voyages, and demon stories -- and analyzes them in relation to narrative works from India, Europe, and the Americas. Covering an impressive range of writings, from ancient Indian classics to the works of Shakespeare and the modern writers Jorge Luis Borges and John Barth, she places The Arabian Nights in the context of an ongoing storytelling tradition and reveals its influence on world literature.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-538-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. Chapter 1 Textual Variants and Critical Methodology
    (pp. 1-18)

    Choosing any text for critical study invites the question of why the particular given work has been selected. WithThe Arabian Nights,this question becomes more complex, since the why is accompanied by the which asThe Arabian Nightsitself is a multiplicity of texts. Thus, an important first question is: WhichArabian Nights,and what version of it?

    The textual history ofThe Arabian Nightsis intricate and the major problems of origin and genesis remain unresolved. Our knowledge ofThe Arabian Nightsstems from its numerous extant variants, and from the cursory references of Arab historians to the...

  6. Chapter 2 Narrative Dialectics
    (pp. 19-32)

    Roman Jakobson defined literature as a message centered on its mode of expression. Every literary text poses two questions to the specialist:howis the text generated andwhatis its final outcome? The answer to the first question, on how the text flows from its beginning to its end, throws light on the message that the text enunciates. The first step, therefore, is to try to understand the essential course of the text.

    The Arabian Nightsis a narrative discourse, but the narrative component does not cover the entire discourse. There are certain parts in the story which can...

  7. Chapter 3 Discursive Significance
    (pp. 33-48)

    Having established the operational structure and its bipolarity, it is necessary to investigate how it functions narratively—that is, how it moves from initial to terminal situations. In order to grasp the movement in its complexity, a pivotal principle has to be extracted if we are not to be lost in this long and diversified discourse calledThe Arabian Nights.This pivotal principle, which I shall call the matricial phrase or simply the matrix, is the fundamental principle that controls and guarantees the proliferation in the text.¹

    The matrix is more than the central theme of the text, for it...

  8. Chapter 4 Mimesis and Meta-Mimesis
    (pp. 49-64)

    The relationship between enframed story and frame story is indirect, for the enframed story is neither a faithful repetition of structural patterns of a given narrative block from the frame story—as it is in the case of fables discussed in Chapter 5—nor is it a development of the aesthetic orientation of the frame story as a whole. However, there are enough points of similarity in structure, and inversions in narrative components and poetic ethos, that I propose to justify bringing together the part to the whole under the formula of genre to anti-genre.¹ I will do this in...

  9. Chapter 5 Beastly Rhetoric
    (pp. 65-78)

    Immediately following “Sirat ‘Umar ibn al-Nu ‘man, ” the reader ofThe Arabian Nightsencounters a cluster of animal stories, most of which can be classified as fables. These are related by Shahrazad at Shahrayar’s request for tales of “beasts and birds.”¹ The story of “King Jali ‘ad and his son Wirdkhan” is another intensive example of the presence of the fable.² The use of fables inThe Arabian Nightsprovides us with an example of the structural repetition of a narrative segment of the frame story into the corpus of the enframed stories. This chapter explores the fables of...

  10. Chapter 6 The Spiral Metaphor
    (pp. 79-96)

    One of the most moving figures inThe Arabian Nights—besides that of Shahrazad—is that of Sindbad. The shipwrecked mariner seems to be a constant and privileged theme in world literature. The sea voyage, from Homer to Coleridge, has had a particular hold on Western poetic imagination that cannot be adequately explained by reference to the role of seafaring in the political economy of Europe. There are elements in the sea voyage which make it particularly suggestive of certain intellectual quests and psychological operations; it is universally valid and, consequently, a transhistoric medium of expression.

    This chapter studies Sindbad’s...

  11. Chapter 7 The Runaway Metonym
    (pp. 97-108)

    Shahrazad’s objective is to reach the infinite through a finite medium, and to create continuity through an episodic structure. In short, her aim is to annul the dictates of time through the use of temporal devices. Both in the frame story and in Sindbad’s voyages, we have a structure that symbolizes the infinite. Numbers such as 1001 and 7 in this particular context signify that which goes on without end. In a number of stories, the infinite is conjured while reading through an intertextual chain, where one passage evokes another. This process produces the effect of endlessness—as in the...

  12. Chapter 8 Perpetual Narrative
    (pp. 109-116)

    As I have tried to show,The Arabian Nightsis generated by a binary structure. This is typical of mythical narratives, as Lévi-Strauss has adequately demonstrated on the basis of American Indian myths, in his monumentalMythologiques.The difference between the Arabian narratives and the American Indian ones lies in the fact that in the latter the oppositions tend to be mediated, while in the Arabian stories the oppositions remain pending, allowing the very act of narration to be generated and perpetuated by this rupture of split unity. Storytelling goes on precisely because the binary opposition is not mediated and...

  13. Chapter 9 Poetic Logic in The Panchatantra and The Arabian Nights
    (pp. 117-126)

    The paradoxical expression “poetic logic” was first used by Giambattista Vico when writingPrincipi di scienza nuova(1725). By “poetic” Vico meant the spontaneous, imaginative, and highly metaphoric mode of expression which he associated with folk literature and thought.¹ Logic, on the other hand, indicates a rigorous and systematic development of thinking. But the contradiction is only on the surface, since creations of collective imagination have been proven to contain within them inner systems of relations and logical coherence of an indirect nature. The poetic logic of a given work of art is, therefore, its pattern of signifying and its...

  14. Chapter 10 The Arabian Nights in Shakespearean Comedy: “The Sleeper Awakened” and The Taming of the Shrew
    (pp. 127-142)

    Shahrazad on the 271st night begins to narrate to Shahrayar a story that lasts till the 290th night. It is a story commonly known as “The Sleeper Awakened,” although the only extant Arabic text gives it a title that would literally translate as “The Sleeper and the Awakened.”¹ This story bears an uncanny resemblance to the induction of Shakespeare’s playThe Taming of the Shrew.Both works employ the motif of a transportation of a man in his sleep to another distinguished man’s house, after which the first man is made to believe upon awakening that he is the actual...

  15. Chapter 11 Dialectics of the Self and the Other: Arabian Tales in American Literatures
    (pp. 143-158)

    That Arabian tales had penetrated Western literature can hardly be debated today. Scholars have seen the imprint of Arabian folktales in major European narrative texts, including Boccaccio’sDecameronand Chaucer’sCanterbury Tales.While the Arabian impact on medieval Western literature has been a matter of conjecture and guessing, as it was mostly transmitted orally, such Arabian influence on modern Western literature can be documented. As long ago as 1704, when Antoine Galland’s publication of the first volume ofLes mille et une nuitsappeared,The Arabian Nightshas been recognized as a major text influencing not only Western literature and...

  16. Chapter 12 Naguib Mahfouz’s Arabian Nights and Days: A Political Allegory
    (pp. 159-176)

    The Arabian Nightshas long been a favorite of Arab audiences and a subaltern classic, to judge by the many versions, manuscripts, editions, discussions, and controversies over the book. In 1985–86, a popular edition ofThe Arabian Nightsand its publisher were tried and condemned (by banning the text and fining the publisher), but eventually the judgment was reversed and the text liberated in an appeal in a Cairo court.¹ The traditional Arab literary establishment, however, had steered away fromThe Arabian Nightsfor a millenium, expressing its contempt partly by dismissing it as lowly and mostly by ignoring...

  17. Chapter 13 Nomadic Text
    (pp. 177-182)

    TheArabian Nightshas moved with ease and confidence from one cultural context to another, and has managed to transplant itself into different epochs. In his study of the influence ofThe Arabian Nightson European and American literatures, Robert Irwin suggests humorously — but correctly — in a chapter entitled “Children of the Nights” that “it might have been an easier, shorter chapter if [he] had discussed those writers who were not influenced by theNights.”¹ So pervasive has been the presence ofThe Arabian Nightsin Western imaginations over the last three centuries that it is difficult to find writers...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-194)