Arabic Science Fiction and Planetary Aesthetics: A Historical Approach to Genre

Merve Tabur explores the history of genre discussions in Arabic through the work of Egyptian pioneer Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm. 

Colorful laterns

Photo: Illustration of a fictional universe space with planets

Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm pictured with two cats.
The author Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm

The growing number of Arabic speculative fiction texts in the past decade has stimulated critical discussions on the possibilities and limits of defining a distinct Arabic science fiction genre. This lecture delves into the history of genre discussions in Arabic by examining how a pioneer of Egyptian science fiction, Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm (1898-1987), theorizes speculative fiction through his formulation of an “intellectual popular non-realism” and a planetary aesthetic. Al-Ḥakīm is particularly interested in the creation and globalization of hybrid literary genres that put Arabic folk tales, myths, and oral storytelling traditions in conversation with European literary trends. In one such hybrid text, "The Poet on the Moon," he merges classical science fiction tropes of space travel and colonization with Sufi allegory to criticize colonialism’s global legacies of environmental and epistemological violence. Putting al-Ḥakīm's fictional and nonfictional works into dialogue, this lecture examines how al-Ḥakīm employs speculative storytelling to address questions of self-representation in the postcolonial context.


Merve Tabur is a postdoctoral research fellow affiliated with the CoFutures project at the University of Oslo. She is a scholar of comparative literature and environmental humanities whose research examines speculative fiction narratives on climate change and environmental destruction from the Middle East and its Anglophone diasporas. She is currently working on a project that aims to conceptualize Middle Eastern futurisms from a comparative perspective. Merve is a co-creator of the "Unraveling the Anthropocene: Race, Environment, and Pandemic" podcast series, run by the Liberal Arts Collective at Penn State. She is also a translator of academic books and articles on topics such as gender politics, cultural history, and literary theory. 


Teresa Pepe is Associate Professor in Arabic Studies at the University of Oslo. Her research interests span across Arabic literature, media studies, popular culture, sociolinguistics. She is the author of the book Blogging from Egypt: Digital Literature, 2005-2016 (Edinburgh: EUP, 2019) that explores blogs as new forms of literature emerging in Egypt during the rise of political protest of the Arab Spring. She is also the co-editor of the volume Arabic Literature in the Posthuman Age (with S. Guth, Harassowitz Verlag 2019) that examines the use of dystopia, necropolitics, monsters and satire in Arabic literature today. In 2021, she received a MECAM Fellowship (Merian Centre for Advanced Studies in the Maghreb) to join the Research Project "Imagining the Future: Dealing with Disparities"in the thematic cluster "Aesthetics and Politics". She has published several peer-reviewed articles in the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, Oriente Moderno, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, and LEA- Lingue e Letterature d’Oriente e d’Occidente.

There will be coffee/tea and pastries from 11:30. Open to all! 

Click here for the live stream of the event


Published Apr. 7, 2022 1:31 PM - Last modified Apr. 8, 2022 1:50 PM