New Conference on ‘Foundations and Trans/Formations of Arabic Literary Theory’

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On December 14 to 17, Columbia University and its Institute for Comparative Literature and Society are leading a conference on Arabic literature with the Sheikh Zayed Book Award and Brill Publishing.

A panel of Arabic calligraphy from the Eyüp Sultan Mosque in Istanbul. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Olena Rublenko

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Dedicated to the Memory of Jaroslav Stetkevych
Exactly a year ago today, on December 9, 2020, we announced news of a new conference on Arabic literary theoretical frameworks being developed for sessions in Paris and New York City. As it has happened, the still ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has put a delay on the Paris element, but the New York components of the program are set to go forward next week, and we have some details for you now.

Titled “Foundations and Trans/Formations of Arabic Literary Theory: Prospects and Limits,” the program runs Tuesday (December 14) through December 17. It’s a four-way cooperative presentation of:

  • Columbia University’s Arabic Studies Seminar
  • The Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia
  • The Sheikh Zayed Book Award
  • Brill Academic Publishers

There are said to be a very limited number of seats in physical format in New York City for Columbia University faculty members, students, and staffers, but most of the audience will be seeing the programming digitally.

A Program Dedicated to Jaroslav Stetkevych’s Memory

The program is dedicated to the memory of Jaroslav Stetkevych, who, with his wife, won the Sheikh Zayed Book Award’ Cultural Personality of the Year honor in 2019 for their extraordinary careers in Arabic studies and research.

Jaroslav Stetkevych

Jaroslav Stetkevych died on June 12 of this  year at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington after what was described as a short illness.

You can revisit our interview with the Stetkevich couple from April 2019 here.

We happily remember Jaroslaw and Suzanne talking over and with each other through the conversation, Jaroslaw saying that this was an indication that the “Cultural Personality of the Year” award–normally conferred on one person–was correct and “pretty close to the reality of it,” because their work was as complementary as their conversation.

Suzanne Stetkevich speaks in the December 17 program.

Registration for the Conference

If you’re interested in viewing some or all of the sessions, free of charge, do be aware that you’ll need to register for each part of the program individually.

The links we provide in these listings, then are to each day’s page. You’ll want to go to that page and follow the links it offers for registration in each part of the program.

All times listed are Eastern Standard Time (New York), which is GMT – five hours.

Tuesday, December 14

Registration links here
9 to 9:15 a.m.
Opening remarks
Muhsin J. al Musawi, Columbia University

9:15 to 10:10 a.m.
Keynote talk: Faisal Darraj
Modern Arabic Literary Criticism
النقد الادبي العربي الحديث

10:10 to 10:45 a.m.
متحف الادب The Museum of Literature
شكري المبخوت Choukri Mabkhout

10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Panel 1: An opening panel in honor of Jaroslav Stetkevych

  • Chair: Muhsin J. al to Musawi, Columbia University
  • Yaseen Noorani, University of Arizona
  • Michael Sells, University of Chicago
  • Roger Allen, University of Pennsylvania
  • Moneera al to Ghadeer, Senior Advisor of International Cultural Relations, Ministry of Culture, Riyadh
  • “A Journey through the Heart of Arabic Poetry: Jaroslav Stetkevych’s Life, Loves, and Scholarship”: Ellen McLarney, Duke University

12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Keynote talk: Tahera Qutbuddin, University of Chicago

Wednesday, December 15

Registration links here

9 to 10:45 a.m.
Panel 2: The Challenge of the Contemporary

  • Chair: Roger Allen, University of Pennsylvania
  • “Cauldron of Conspiracy”: Modernity, Apocalypse, and Conspiracy Theory in Habiby’s The Pessoptimist and Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad”: Aya Labanieh, Columbia University
  • “Infrapolitical Digital Culture and the Reclaiming of Postcolonial Arab Identity”: Ali Omar Abu-yasein, Universitat Ramon-LLull
  • “Adab al to malǧa’: Towards a new Aesthetics of Refugeedom”: Annamaria Bianco, Aix to Marseille Université (IREMAM)
  • “A Biography for a Poet?”: Jonathan Lawrence, University of Oxford

10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
Panel 3: Decolonization as Theory

  • Chair: Bruce Robbins, Columbia University
  • “Iltizām Under Duress, The Case of Ghassan Kanafani”: Nouri Gana, University of California, Los Angeles
  • “Kitab Sudan: Arabic Language and Islamic Epistemologies in the Black Arts Movement”: Ellen McLarney, Duke University
  • “Literature, Labor, Extraction”: Shir Alon, University of Minnesota
  • “Poetic Accumulation: Toward a Critique of Settler Form”: Jeff Sacks, University of California, Riverside
  • “Final Remarks on the Postcolonial”: Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University

12:45 to 1:45 p.m.
Keynote talk: Bilal Orfali, American University in Beirut

Thursday, December 16

Registration links here

9 to 10:30 a.m.
Panel 4: Theorizing the Classical

  • Chair: Tahera Qutbuddin, University of Chicago
  • “Mannerism Revisited: al-Maʿarri’s Zajr al-Nābiḥ and its Variations”: Sarah R. bin Tyeer, Columbia University
  • “A Case for Love Poetry in Literary History”: Jennifer Tobkin, George Washington University
  •  المقطّعات ال ّشعريّة في مد ّونة المقل : بين ثوابت نظرية األدب عند العرب ومتغيراتها ّين: Ali Boujdidi, University of Gabes

10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Panel 5: Locations of Theory

  • Chair: Yaseen Noorani
  • “Amīn al-Rīḥānī as a Literary Theorist”: Michael Battalia, Princeton University
  • “Sociological Perspectives to Literature in the Modern Arab World(s)
  • “Alī alWardī’s Usṭūrat al-adab al-rafīʿ (1957)”: Antonio Pacifico, Jean Moulin University of Lyon 3
  • “False Dichotomies”: Taoufik Ben Amor, Columbia University
  • “The Missing Pictorial in Narrative”: Joscelyn Shawn Ganjara Jurich, Columbia University

12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Keynote talk: Wen-Chin Ouyang, SOAS, London University, UK

Friday, December 17

Registration links here

9 to 10:45 a.m.
Panel 6: The Circulations of Theory

  • Chair: Wen-Chin Ouyang, SOAS
  • “A Balm for Sorrows? Permutations of Arabic Literary Theory in Hebrew Poetics”: Daniel Behar, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • “’High Treason Against Arabic Literature and Criticism; Ghālib Hālasa’s Translation of Gaston Bachelard’s La poétique de l’espace”: Fernanda Fischione, Sapienza University of Rome
  • “Doing New Criticism in Baghdad”: Emily Drumsta, University of Texas, Austin
  • “The Absence of Mahfuz’s Economies in Criticism”: Karim Malak, Columbia University

10:45 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Closing keynote talk: Suzanne Stetkevych, Georgetown University

A full event program is available for download here (PDF).

Organizers include Rebecca Johnson, Nizar F. Hermes, Chiara Fontana, Bilal Orfali, and Sarah Monks.


More from Publishing Perspectives on the Sheikh Zayed Book Award is here, more on Arabic literature is here, and more on translation is here. More from us on publishing and book awards in the international industry is here.

Publishing Perspectives is the media partner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As as an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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