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Unnatural Narratives and Transgressing the Normative Discourses of Iraqi History: Translating Murtaḍā Gzār’s Al-Sayyid Aṣghar Akbar

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AbstractThis article consists of two parts: an annotated translation of “The Theory”—an excerpt from the novel Al-Sayyid Aṣghar Akbar (2012) by Iraqi author Murtaḍā Gzār—preceded by a critical essay that articulates the socio-historical context of the novel and analyzes it in light of recent research in unnatural narratology. The essay highlights the ways in which the novel departs from the mimetic norms of realism that characterize the dominant narratological models in modern Iraqi and Arabic fiction. It argues that through metalepsis, or transgression of intradiegetic time, coupled with the conceptual restructuring of iconic Iraqi places and discourses, the novel defies our standard knowledge of the procession of historical events in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century Iraq. The novel in turn negotiates an entry into liminal discourses that lie on the peripheries of the national narrative of the Baʿth as well as the religious counter-narrative of the Shīʿī opposition as it is traditionally conceived. The novel exposes the discrepancy between two authoritative, normative processes of historicizing, namely, the ‘Rewriting of Iraqi History Project’ and the Najafi ijtihād and taqlīd traditions. By so doing, the novel at once mirrors the immense complexity of Iraq’s modern historiography and accomplishes a skeptical deconstruction of its cultural formations, resulting in a new postcolonial reading of state hegemony, Shīʿism, Najaf, and Iraqi identity.

Affiliations: 1: Portland State University


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