“The Pathos of Past Time” : Nostalgia in Anglo-Arab Literature
Abstract: This study explores the theme of nostalgia in contemporary Anglo-Arab literature from the 1990s to the present. Examining the implications of nostalgic tropes in Anglophone novels by Arab writers, the study makes the case that nostalgia is a key strategy used by these writers in their critical engagement with national historiographies and diasporic identities. Taking a comparative bilingual approach, the study relates particular nostalgic narratives that recur in Anglo-Arab writing to Arabic literary traditions. The opening chapter establishes that the “standing by the ruins” topos of classical Arabic poetics is used in Anglophone works to problematise a culturally pervasive nostalgia for an Islamic golden age. The second chapter reveals how novels set in the colonial era leverage the romanticisation of anticolonial nationalism to cast a critical light on the ideological functions of authenticity. The third chapter traces the ways in which Anglophone novels dramatise the failures of post-independence regimes through the interlinked nostalgic sites of childhood, home and family. Finally, the study focuses on Arab British novelists’ depiction of the diasporic site of ‘Arab London,’ and demonstrates that nostalgia is deployed as a performative mode in these texts, enabling the creation and revision of identities for migrant and second generation characters. The interconnections of identity and nostalgia are shown to be a recurring theme in the growing field of Anglophone Arab writing. This dissertation argues that nostalgic tropes are deployed in this literature in critical ways that challenge, rather than simply reiterate, nationalist and political ideologies. Utilising the nostalgic lens as an imaginative and critical form of engagement with history, Anglo-Arab writers insist on rendering visible the present repercussions of volatile histories, even as they challenge narratives that view the past not only as better than the uncertain present but, given that uncertainty, better than any imaginable future.
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