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Tuesday, May 11, 2010
by PopMatters Staff
by Hilary Plum
The Quarterly Conversation (16 February 2010)

“The New Yorker essay, then, starts off somewhat curiously as not about Arabic literature per se, but about how American readers can answer their need for Arabic literature. Pierpont recognizes that the novel is not the primary literary form in Arabic, that poetry “has traditionally held wider prestige”; novels are a European form that has developed in Arabic primarily in the second half of the last century. But novels, not poetry, are what American readers like to read. “Is it possible,” Pierpont asks, “for anything like the grandly traditional novel of character development and moral nuance to emerge from societies in extremis, from writers routinely constrained and assailed?” A fair enough question, but also a question concerned with how our form fares in the hands of writers from elsewhere—What will they do with the novel? Anything we need to know about? Why begin a discussion of how Arabic literature traffics in the novel with an emphasis on whether the novels that result are recognizable, welcoming, or even of interest to American readers? That is, why begin an essay on what another literature is saying by first expressing what it is we are most interested in hearing?”


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