Other Realisms: A Theory of the Arabic Fantastic
Other Realisms proposes a radical retelling of the history of Arabic literature from below, rendering visible a rich corpus of otherness, social and literary, that remains submerged in the murky waters of national oblivion. The history of modern Arabic fiction is traditionally constructed as the chronicle of an alliance between the realist novel and the postcolonial nation. The project's hypothesis is that the triumph of the national and realist imaginaries is contingent on the suppression of the supernatural from literary and national plots. Amidst colonial encounters, the local nineteenth-century bourgeoisie linked the supernatural with social disease that threatened modern political, literary, and economic orders: the occultism of the masses, medieval marvel, popular genre fiction, ethnic minorities, queer and transgender bodies, and refugees. The suppression of the supernatural continues to reproduce structural marginality for those deemed extraneous to the national project. Other Realisms constructs a history of Arabic literature, told through its gaps and silences. In the past three decades, novels have shifted towards the supernal, but they are still read as sporadic aberrations that fail to fit into the gestalt of Arabic literary history. Fantastic genre fiction is largely ignored by elite literary studies, while early horror, gothic, magical realism, dystopia and science fiction rot in overcrowded archives. The project aims to reconstruct the forgotten archive of submerged literatures and cultural histories, by locating and ordering texts while creating spaces for their discussion. It proposes an interdisciplinary framework for reading Arabic literature outside the categories of nation, authenticity, geography, and period, especially crucial when neo-nationalisms, social divisions, and technologies of oppression threaten the very possibility of otherness and stifle alternate imaginaries of collectivity and revolt.