- Guest Editor's Introduction
The present themed issue of Comparative Critical Studies presents both specialist readers as well as comparatists less familiar with Islamic literatures and cultures with a representative array of critical articles and authorial pronouncements regarding the role of the novel in a grouping of literary traditions in which this genre is perceived as new or foreign, or both new and foreign. It attempts to read across Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Turkish traditions comparatively as well as in their relationship to Western literatures, breaking away from the dominant practice in comparative literature which tends to privilege the West-East paradigm. In the process the issue also hopes to introduce comparatists to the tools and methodology of Area Studies specialists, heeding recent debate about the collaborative task these two fields could and should engage in. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has recently called for aligning comparative literature with Area Studies, while Franco Moretti has spoken of a division of labour between the two.1 He suggests that Area Studies practitioners are positioned to provide deep knowledge of languages and cultures which, if coupled with the 'transnational' (the term is Mary Louise Pratt's)2 training and vision of comparatists, would allow a more complete picture to emerge as well as facilitating a better grasp of both the national and the global dimensions of literature. Such dialogue is timely and needed. This issue provides a mixture of critical analysis by academics and more reflective declarations by novelists themselves on writing fiction in the Arab world, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. Finally, in the tradition of Comparative Critical Studies, this issue hopes to take part in reinvigorating comparative literature and challenging it at the same time. It challenges the discipline to be truly global and to listen to the multiple centres of literature – in this case focusing on the novel as one exemplary genre – and to register, even if only in a geographically relatively limited way, its peregrinations and transformations across the globe.
With these aims in mind and with such a wide scope, the task presented considerable challenges. In this introduction I will address, in [End Page 317] an inevitably schematic and provisional manner, some of the main issues and key terms in the study of the novel in the Islamic world, taking cues from the articles and interviews incorporated in the issue. In so doing, I will endeavour to keep accounts of the articles and interviews to a minimum and to let them speak for themselves. For in addition to the perspectives presented here and the now-familiar linkages between novel and nation on the one hand, and novel and the rise of an educated middle class in the postcolonial world on the other, I would like to suggest that there are issues specific to the context(s) at hand which have received little attention thus far. For while the articles and interviews take the novel as their starting point, they simultaneously question the genre and probe its transnational generical nature in interestingly different ways. Whilst recognizing this, the introduction also offers new directions, some of which are embedded in the essays and interviews while others remain in need of further research or elaboration. And it is only by reading these traditions side-by-side that such issues come to the fore. The key issue and terms are as follows: the East-West encounter and debate, politics, the shared history and broadly shared moral and ethical concerns, the position of poetry, and the role of Arabic and Arabic-based narrative literature across the cultures under consideration. All these factors are bound to affect the processes of reception of the novel and the shapes narrative discourse has taken across the region, particularly at the level of form. It is appropriate, therefore, to begin with observations about what I would call the 'allure of the novel' and local form. I will then go through each of the terms highlighted above in turn, bearing in mind that my comments and observations can only be a preliminary incursion into a much wider and larger debate.
In 1980, the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfuz, already at the peak of his career and international fame...