New Thoughts on the Origins of the Arabic Novel from One of the Language’s ‘Guardian Angels’

In this week’s Al Ahram Weekly, Nader Habib calls Gamal Hammad one of “the Arabic language’s guardian angels.” Hammad, who is a linguist, literary critic, and historian, is best known for his Forms of Narrative in the Arabic Prose Legacy.

Al Ahram asked him about his views on indigenous Arabic literary theory:

Deconstruction or the postmodern: all is available in our own legacy once you have the eyes to see it. As early as AD 900, literary theory in the Arabic-speaking world had travelled almost as far as it has now in the West. The principal issue with Arabic learning is lack of rigour, which we can adopt from the West, together with specialisation.

According to the interview in Al Ahram, Hammad’s next novel will study how 1,001 Nights emerged in Egypt. The book will examine:

the … narrative structure that enables [the stories from 1,001 Nights] to bring together so many different literary forms and kinds of writing. “This is,” Hammad insists, “the beginning of the novel in Arabic.”

I’m not sure I follow exactly how Hammad imagines folklore and heritage will become a greater part of contemporary Arab media, and “closer to the surface of consciousness,” but I’m interested.