Since I’ve complained about the shortage of translations of Arabic literature, I thought I should call readers’ attention to some books that the University of California Press very kindly makes available online as part of their Public eScholarship Editions (in this case, the Middle Eastern Studies) section: Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982; Bahaa’ Taher, Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery: A Novel; Ibrahim Muhawi (Darwish) and Sharif Kanaana, Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Arab Folktales. Other titles of LH relevance:

Brinkley Messick, The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society:

In this innovative combination of anthropology, history, and postmodern theory, Brinkley Messick examines the changing relation of writing and authority in a Muslim society from the late nineteenth century to the present. The creation and interpretation of texts, from sacred scriptures to administrative and legal contracts, are among the fundamental ways that authority is established and maintained in a complex state. Yet few scholars have explored this process and the ways in which it changes, especially outside the Western world.Messick brings together intensive ethnography and textual analysis from a wealth of material: Islamic jurisprudence, Yemeni histories, local documents.

Irene A. Bierman, Writing Signs: The Fatimid Public Text:

Irene Bierman explores the complex relationship between alphabet and language as well as the ways the two elements are socially defined by time and place. She focuses her exploration on the Eastern Mediterranean in the sixth through twelfth centuries, notably Cairo’s Fatimid dynasty of 969-1171. Examining the inscriptions on Fatimid architecture and textiles, Bierman offers insight into all elements of that society, from religion to the economy, and the enormous changes the dynasty underwent during that period. Bierman addresses fundamental issues of what buildings mean, how inscriptions affect that meaning, and the role of written messages and the ceremonies into which they are incorporated in service of propagandist goals. Her method and conclusions provide a pioneering model for studying public writing in other societies and offer powerful evidence to show that writing is a highly charged and deeply embedded social practice.

These free UCal editions are a tremendous resource; if you don’t already know them, be sure to investigate. The Middle East stuff is a drop in the bucket.


  1. I’ve been meaning to finish reading this collection of essays (pdf, alas) from the European cultural foundation, on Arab literature & translation – a topic that’s been much on my mind of late.
    So, well, I guess now I’d better.
    Right fascinating thus far, e.g.:
    “In the Arabic language the term “memoirs” (mudhakkirat) was not to appear until the as a loan translation from French. Its entrance in the lexicon is connected to the advent marks the emergence of new concepts of identity and a new role for literature.”

  2. Very glad to know about this. Thanks.

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