Open, O Simsim!
Arising from folklore, the Book of One Thousand and One Nights (in Arabic, كتاب ألف ليلة و ليلة , Kitāb ‘Alf Layla wa-Layla) is not only “Arabian” and “Persian” but in fact a multicultural collection that, over time, has come to include tales of Indian, Chinese, African, and even European origin. It is said to have first taken form between 800 and 900 AD, and yet no definitive manuscript exists that we can call “the original.” Ironically, its roots in classical Islamic culture have made it a touchstone for European-trained writers and readers (starting in 1704 with Galland’s famed French version). A veritable warehouse of European ideas about “the East,” the Nights has played a key role in popularizing Orientalism, making the work ripe for post-colonial critique.
A multimedia phenomenon, the Nights comes to us not only in written and spoken tales, but also in the form of live-action and animated films, TV shows, program music, pop music, theater, picture books, comics, games, fashion, and other artistic media. A cursory look around confirms that, today, the Nights touches everything from videogaming to children’s publishing to the most complex of postmodern fiction.
English 623, a graduate seminar to be held at CSU Northridge in Fall 2010, will explore the origins and enduring influence of this classic and controversial story cycle. Further details about the course can be found below:
Required readings for 623
will include the contemporary Haddawy translation (Vol. 1, 1990; Vol. 2, 1995) as well as excerpts from the famed Burton translation (1885-88); plus Robert Irwin’s The Arabian Nights: A Companion, plus Edward Said‘s seminal though still controversial book Orientalism and perhaps excerpts from Irwin’s critiques of same. In addition, other required texts will include:
- contemporary novels, including Naguib Mahfouz’s darkly political Arabian Nights and Days and Salman Rushdie’s playfully metafictive Haroun and the Sea of Stories;
- films and excerpts from films, including Pasolini’s Arabian Nights, Disney’s Aladdin, and possibly works by Reiniger, Korda et al., and Harryhausen;
- picture books, such as those of Ludmila Zeman [update, Aug. 21: these will no longer be required, but are definitely worth exploring!]
- Paul McMichael Nurse’s new history of the Nights, Eastern Dreams, if it becomes available by August 2010 as expected [update, Aug. 21: unfortunately, no, this book will not be available to us this term];
- and other relevant scholarly and theoretical works.
Course requirements for 623
will include at least the following:
- weekly reading responses in the form of online postings to a class blog (or possibly Moodle discussion forum);
- a report on an Arabian Nights-inspired text, media production, performance, or cultural artifact, to be either posted to the class blog or presented in class (5 minutes);
- and a seminar paper presentation (15 to 20 minutes) to be given in class, conference-style, with Q&A afterward.
At once timeless and timelier than ever, The Arabian Nights is a subject that promises both pleasure and controversy, aesthetic and ideological study.