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WRITING THE NATION: THE EMERGENCE OF EGYPT IN THE MODERN ARABIC NOVEL

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This essay focuses on the oft-neglected relationship between the beginnings of the modern Arabic novel and the rise of Arab nationalism. Taking George Antonius's classic work on the nahda as my point of departure, I first argue for the historical and ideological significance of this relationship and suggest the reasons for its neglect. I then turn to a close comparative analysis of two seminal novels, Muhammad Husayn Haykal's Zainab (1913) and Tawiq al-Hakim's 'Awdat al-ruh (Return of the Spirit [1933]) —bookends of a sort for Egypt's, and the Arab world's, first phase of cultural nationalism. I show how these works, in effect, "announce" their own modernness by encoding in their narratives signs of the emergent nationalist discourse of the time; and I argue that an attentive reading of such texts can thereby offer valuable insight into the rhetoric of nationalism, as well as its contradictions, elisions, and limits as a guiding agent of sociopolitical change. In particular, this essay explores how the narrative articulation of the nation in each novel implicates a male intellectual elite as its primary agent while working to contain the potentially disruptive forces of class and gender that mark its context.

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/content/journals/10.1163/15700640260496695
2002-12-01
2015-02-01

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