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A "Salary" of Death: Aesthetics and Economy in Badr Shākir Al-Sayyāb's "Haffār Al-Qubūr" ("The Gravedigger")

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In one of modern Arabic literature's most genuinely pessimistic poems, "Haffār al-Qubūr" ("The Gravedigger"), Badr Shākir Sal-ayyāb depicts a shattered world seen from the perspective of a lascivious misanthropist who earns his living as a grave-digger. While a majority of critics have interpreted the poem in psychological terms as a reflection of al-Sayyāb's tormented ego, this paper offers a radically contextual deconstructionist reading that relates the gloomy condition of the poetic persona's life not merely to its author's personal sufferings, but to the socio-historical circumstances and economic conditions of the Iraqi society in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The fundamental postulate of this study is that although al-Sayyāb's poetry always revolves around personal and abstract issues, it reflects the economic reality of its time in a manner that is not just mimetic or reproductive of dominant ideologies, but deeply ironic and critical of the contradictions inherent in those very ideologies.

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