The modern subject sensing its agency – Variations of emerging subjectivity in the Middle East in the "long 19th century"

The project seeks to have a deeper look into the foundational period of ‘modernity’ in the Middle East from the perspective of emerging subjectivity.

About the Project

The project seeks to explore all kinds of sources, in particular literary writing, that can cast further light on what Franco Moretti described as the "faultline running between story and discourse, world and worldview" in narrative texts of 'peripheral' literature: "the world goes in the strange direction dictated by an outside power [sc., the colonizer, norms perceived as dominant]; the worldview tries to make sense of it, and is thrown off balance all the time” (Conjectures on World Literature, 2000). 
A basic assumption is that the most essential feature of the ‘pragmatic’ genres (fiction, drama) that began to challenge the traditional ones, was the twin pack of "‘worldliness’ (factualism) cast into fictional plots", combining the objectivity of the world with a subjective approach to it. The new genres established themselves, gradually, as sites of discovering, experiencing, testing out, and asserting the writer's identity and agency as a rational, intellectual, thinking, analyzing subject; as a feeling subject on whose body and soul the interaction with the world showed (emotionalism); as a subject whom these emotions ennobled and made into a cultured citizen, a member of the global community of a modern, civilised humanity; and a as creative subject who had the freedom and capacity to re-create the world according to his/her own view and will.

Methodology and objectives

Methodology consists, for the main part, in a close study of what the "emplotment of the world" (fictionalisation of reality) actually meant for the writing subjects in terms of the essential choices they had to make – topics, characters, spaces/settings, structure, language –, given, on the one hand, an inherited set of ‘high’ and ‘popular’ genres and the prevalent literary taste, and, on the other, their wish to assert their subjectivity.

A focus will be on hitherto little studied fiction from the "long 19th century" in the Middle East.


The project is meant to shed fresh light on the transition from premodern to modern attitudes and worldviews with a focus on the psychological processes involved in this process. 

Selected publications

Project-related publications on early modern ME literature and other writing
  • Abdelmeguid, Abdel-Aziz. [n.d.]. The Modern Arabic Short Story: Its emergence, development and form. Cairo: Dār al-Maʿārif.
  • Abu-ʿUksa, W. 2019. »Imagining modernity: the language and genealogy of modernity in nineteenth-century Arabic.« Middle Eastern Studies, online.
  • Al-Bagdadi, Nadia. 1999. »The anthropological turn in some nineteenth century Ara­bic litera­ture«. In Conscious Voices: Concepts of writing in the Middle East, ed. S. Guth, P. Furrer and J.C. Bür­gel, Beirut: Orient-Institut / Stuttgart: Steiner, 1999: 1-11.
  • Allen, Roger. 2014. »Fiction, Arabic, modern«. In →EI³, consulted online on Aug. 15, 2020.
  • Andrews, Walter G., and Irène Markoff. 1987. »Poetry, the Arts and Group Ethos in the Ideology of the Ottoman Empire.« Edebiyat, 1/1: 28-70.
  • Bardenstein, Carol. 2005. Translation and Transformation in Modern Arabic Literature: The Indigenous Assertions of Muḥammad ‘Uthmān Jalāl. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. (Studies in Arabic Language and Literature; 5).
  • Dannenberg, Hilary P. (2005) 2010. »Plot«. In Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory. London: Routledge (online).
  • Dino, Guzine. 1973. La genèse du roman turc au XIXe siècle. Paris: Association Langues et Civi­lisations. (POF; 802).
  • El-Ariss, T. (ed.). 2017. The Arab Renaissance: A Bilingual Anthology of the Nahda. New York: MLA Book Series.
  • Evin, Ahmet Ö. 1983. Origins and Development of the Turkish Novel. Minneapolis: Bi­bliotheca Islamica.
  • Finn, Robert P. 1984. Türk Romanı (İlk Dönem: 1872-1900). Türkçesi: Tomris Uyar. İstanbul; Ankara: Bilgi Yayınevi. (= Bilgi Yayınları: Bilgi Dizisi; 36).
  • Guth, Stephan. 1997. »Fa-ġrawraqat ʿuyūnuhum bi-d-dumūʿ... – Some notes on the flood of tears in early modern Arabic prose literature«. In Encounters of Words and Texts: Intercultural Studies in Honor of Stefan Wild..., ed. by L. Edzard and Chr. Szyska, Hildesheim [etc.]: Olms, 1997: 111-123.
  • — . 1999. »Wa-hākadhā kāna ka-Iblīs – Satan and Social Reform in a Novel by Salīm al-Bu­stānī (Bint al-ʿaṣr, 1875)«.In Myths, Historical Archetypes and Symbolic Figures in Arabic Litera­ture: Towards a New Hermeneutic Approach, ed. A. Neuwirth, B. Embaló et al., Beirut: Orient-Insti­tut/Stuttgart: Steiner, 1999: 301-307.
  • — . 2003. Brückenschläge: Eine integrierte ‘turkoarabische’ Romangeschichte (Mitte 19. bis Mitte 20. Jhdt.). Wiesbaden: Reichert (Literaturen im Kontext; 14).
  • — . 2010. »Even in a maqāma! The Shift of Focus from “Trickster” to “Narrating Subject” in Fāris al-Shidyāq’s al-Sāq ʿalā ’l-sāq (1855)«. In Many Ways of Speaking about the Self: Middle Eastern Ego Documents in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish (14th–20th century), ed. R. Elger & Y. Köse, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2010: 145-160.
  • — . 2019. »Adab as the Art to Make the Right Choice between Local Tradition and Euromania: A comparative analysis of Khalīl al-Khūrī’s Way, idhan lastu bi-Ifranjī! (1859) and Aḥmed Mid­ḥat’s Felāṭūn Beğ ile Rāḳım Efendī (1875), or: On the threshold of inventing national Middle Eastern cultures«. In Adab and Modernity: A ‘Civilising Process’? (Sixteenth – Twenty-First Century), ed. C. Mayeur-Jaouen, Leiden: Brill, 2019: 311-345. 
  • — . 2021a. »A Century of Utopian Writing in the Middle East: Three Key Texts«. In: Crossroads of Liberty, ed. A. Bednarczyk, M. Kubarek, [et al.], Warszawa: Dom Wydawniczy Elipsa: 107-121.  .
  • — . 2021b. »Morpho-semantic Evidence of Emerging Subjectivity in the Language of the Nahḍa – A Proposal«. Oriente Moderno, 101 (2021): 221-252, <DOI:10.1163/22138617-12340263>.
  • — . [2022]. »The modern subject sensing its agency: Khalīl al-Khūrī’s aesthetics of ‘Truth mingled with Passion’.« Scheduled for a special issue on the Middle Eastern Sattelzeit, ed. F. Zemmin and A. Eren, Die Welt des Islams / The World of Islam (about to be published).
  • Hafez, Sabry. 1993. The Genesis of Arabic Narrative Discourse: A study in the sociology of modern Arabic literature. London: Saqi Books.
  • — . 1994. »The Transformation of Reality and the Arabic Novel’s Aesthetic Re­sponse«. BSOAS 57/1: 93-112.
  • Hallaq, B., and H. Toelle, eds. 2013. Histoire de la littérature arabe moderne. II: 1800-1945: Anthologie bilingue. Paris: Sindbad / Actes Sud.
  • Hill, Peter. 2015. »Early Translations of English Fiction into Arabic: The Pilgrim’s Progress and Robinson CrusoeJournal of Semitic Studies, 60/1: 177-212.
  • — . 2020. Utopia and Civilisation in the Arab Nahda. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
  • Hourani, A. 1962. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939. Oxford: Oxford UP.
  • McLarney, Ellen. 2016. »Freedom, Justice, and the Power of AdabInternational Journal of Middle East Studies, 48: 25-46.
  • Moosa. Matti. 1997. The Origins of Modern Arabic Fiction. 2nd, rev. ed., Boulder & London: Lynne Rienner. (A Three Continents Book).
  • Moran, Berna. 31990 [11983]. Türk Romanına Eleştirel Bir Bakış. Vol. I: Ahmet Midhat’tan A. H. Tanpınar’a. İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları.
  • Moretti, Franco. 2000. »Conjectures on World Literature.« New Left Review, 1: 54-68.
  • Omri, Mohamed-Salah. 2008. »Local Narrative Form and Constructions of the Arabic Novel«. Novel: a forum on fiction, 41/2-3: 244-263.
  • Özön, Mustafa Nihat. ²1985 [¹1936]. Türkçede Roman / baskıya hazırlayan: Alpay Kabacalı. İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1985. (= İletişim Yayınları; 40). – [1st ed.: Mus­tafa Nihat, Türkçede Roman hakkında bir deneme, İstanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, 1936].
  • Peled, Mattityahu. 1979. »Creative Translation: Towards the Study of Arabic Trans­lations of Western Literature Since the 19th century«. Journal of Arabic Literature, 10: 128-150.
  • Pernau, Margrit. 2019. Emotions and Modernity in Colonial India: From Balance to Fervor. Oxford: Oxford UP.
  • — , and Helge Jordheim. 2015. »Introduction«. In Civilizing Emotions: Concepts in Nineteenth Century Asia and Europe, ed. by Margrit Pernau [et al.], Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015: 1-18.
  • Schulze, Reinhard. 1994. »Schauspiel oder Nachahmung? Zum Theaterbegriff ara­bischer Reise­schriftstel­ler im 19. Jahrhundert«. Die Welt des Islams, 34: 67-84.
  • Sheehi, S. 2004. Foundations of Modern Arab Identity. Gainesville, FL: UP of Florida.
  • Strauss, Johann. 1994. »Romanlar, ah! O romanlar! Les débuts de la lecture moderne dans l’Em­pire Ottoman (1850-1900)«. Turcica: Revue d’études turques, 26: 125-163.
  • — . 2003. »Who read what in the Ottoman Empire (19th– 20th centuries)?« Arabic and Middle Eastern Literatures, 6.1: 39-76.
  • ʿUṣfūr, Jābir. 1999. Zaman al-riwāya. Damascus: Dār al-Madà lil-thaqāfa wa’l-nashr.
  • — . 2019. Zaman al-qaṣṣ: shiʿr al-dunyā al-ḥadītha. Cairo: al-Dār al-Miṣriyya al-Lubnāniyya.
Published Sep. 23, 2020 4:50 PM - Last modified June 1, 2022 3:10 PM