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Specters of World LiteratureOrientalism, Modernity, and the Novel in the Middle East$
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Karim Mattar

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474467032

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474467032.001.0001

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The Shabaḥ of Modernity: World-Systems, the Petro-Imperium, and the Indigenous Trace

The Shabaḥ of Modernity: World-Systems, the Petro-Imperium, and the Indigenous Trace

(p.71) 1 The Shabaḥ of Modernity: World-Systems, the Petro-Imperium, and the Indigenous Trace
Specters of World Literature

Karim Mattar

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter provides a new reading of Abdelrahman Munif’s five-volume epic of Gulf petro-modernity, Cities of Salt, in the context of the world literature debate. Considering how this novel has been framed for international audiences since its translation into English, I start with John Updike’s response to Munif as “insufficiently Westernized” to have produced a novel. This response, I argue, is symptomatic of a world literature that conceives of “the literary” only according to “Western” norms and models. I then offer a corrective based on what I show to be Munif’s spectral characterization of Bedouin resistance leader Miteb al-Hathal. A “shabaḥ” (specter), this figure hovers at the interstices of modern oil state that had overwritten or incorporated his world, and, unassimilable, haunts it – indeed, the novel – with the revolutionary memory of its own abuses. Drawing on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, I trace Munif’s spectral inf(l)ection of novelistic form through a discussion of questions of indigeneity; Bedouin oral poetic tradition; and the dialectics of Gulf “petro-modernity” in relation to Bedouin history, politics, and culture. In sum, this chapter articulates the linkage between world literature, Orientalism, modernity, the novel, and spectrality at the heart of this book.

Keywords:   Cities of Salt, World-systems, Petro-modernity, Bedouin indigeneity, Spectral inf(l)ection

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