The Arabian Nights in Contemporary World Cultures: Global Commodification, Translation, and the Culture Industry

A Friday seminar with Professor Muhsin al-Musawi.

A photo of the book cover of The Arabian Nights in Contemporary World Cultures

This seminar will be on Zoom. 

The stories in the Thousand and One Nights, or the Arabian Nights, are familiar to many of us: from the tales of Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and his forty thieves, to the framing story of Scheherazade telling these stories to her homicidal husband, Shahrayar. This book offers a rich and wide-ranging analysis of the power of this collection of tales that penetrates so many cultures and appeals to such a variety of predilections and tastes. It also explores areas that were left untouched, like the decolonization of the Arabian Nights, and its archaeologies. Unique in its excavation into inroads of perception and reception, Muhsin J. al-Musawi's book unearths means of connection with common publics and learned societies. Al-Musawi shows, as never before, how the Arabian Nights has been translated, appropriated, and authenticated or abused over time, and how its reach is so expansive as to draw the attention of poets, painters, illustrators, translators, editors, musicians, political scientists like Leo Strauss, and novelists like Michel Butor, James Joyce and Marcel Proust amongst others. Making use of documentaries, films, paintings, novels and novellas, poetry, digital forums and political jargon, this book offers nuanced understanding of the perennial charm and power of this collection.


Muhsin Al-Musawi is Professor of classical and modern Arabic literature, comparative and cultural studies at Columbia University in New York. A renowned scholar and literary critic, he has research interests that span several periods and genres. He has taught at a number of universities in the Arab region. Al-Musawi is the author of more than 30 books (including 6 novels) and over sixty scholarly articles. He is also the editor of the Journal of Arabic Literature, the foremost academic journal in the field of Arabic literature, issued by Brill Academic Publishers. He has served as an academic consultant for numerous academic institutions in the US and abroad. Professor Al-Musawi is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the highly prestigious 2002 Owais Award in Literary Criticism, the 2018 Kuwait Prize in Arabic Language and Literature, and King Faisal International Prize in Arabic Literature in English ( 2022). 


Rana Issa enjoys exploring the histories, theories and practices of translation. Her passion is to find the balancing point between public humanities, activist engagements and academic curiosity. She writes in a variety of genres and languages and has occupied leadership roles in various aspects of cultural production. She was the previous editor of Arabic and Translation in Rusted Radishes and is the artistic director of She makes a living as a member of the faculty at the American University of Beirut and a Sr. Researcher at the University of Oslo. She is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts award with Suneela Mubayi for her ongoing translation of 19th century author, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s travelogue to Europe, Tickets to Malta, London and Paris by the Remarkable Ahmad Fares. Her book The Modern Arabic Bible is forthcoming in the fall of 2022 with Edinburgh University Press.


Published Mar. 29, 2022 5:45 PM - Last modified Aug. 2, 2022 2:14 PM