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Iterations of Loss: Mutilation and Aesthetic Form, al-Shidyaq to Darwish

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In a series of exquisite close readings of Arabic and Arab Jewish writing, Jeffrey Sacks considers the relation of poetic statement to individual and collective loss, the dispossession of peoples and languages, and singular events of destruction in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Addressing the work of Mahmoud Darwish, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, Elias Khoury, Edmond Amran El Maleh, Shimon Ballas, and Taha Husayn, Sacks demonstrates the reiterated incursion of loss into the time of life―losses that language declines to mourn. Language occurs as the iteration of loss, confounding its domestication in the form of the monolingual state in the Arabic nineteenth century’s fallout.

Reading the late lyric poetry of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish in relation to the destruction of Palestine in 1948, Sacks reconsiders the nineteenth century Arabic nahda and its relation to colonialism, philology, and the European Enlightenment. He argues that this event is one of catastrophic loss, wherein the past suddenly appears as if it belonged to another time. Reading al-Shidyaq’s al-Saq ‘ala al-saq (1855) and the legacies to which it points in post-1948 writing in Arabic, Hebrew, and French, Sacks underlines a displacement and relocation of the Arabic word adab and its practice, offering a novel contribution to Arabic and Middle East Studies, critical theory, poetics, aesthetics, and comparative literature.

Drawing on writings of Jacques Derrida, Walter Benjamin, Avital Ronell, Judith Butler, Theodor Adorno, and Edward W. Said, Iterations of Loss shows that language interrupts its pacification as an event of aesthetic coherency, to suggest that literary comparison does not privilege a renewed giving of sense but gives place to a new sense of relation.

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Review:

"Through its brilliant reading of key figures in Arabic literature, and in beautifully bringing together Arabic and Arab Jewish texts from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century in Arabic, Hebrew, and French, Iterations of Loss expands the parameters of the discipline itself and our understanding of Arabic literature. It is bound to stimulate new discussion on questions of literary language and form as well as questions of identity, violence, and loss. Sacks's book propels Arabic literature in new directions to situate it in larger comparative frameworks than the ones in which it is currently placed, and it also opens up further the field of comparative literature."----Najat Rahman "University of Montreal "

Iterations of Loss will be a valuable addition to a growing critical literature in postcolonial studies that has been re-evaluating the importance of memory, melancholy and loss, not as disabling inhibitions on modernization or decolonization, but as crucial affective and intellectual resources in framing resistance to colonialism. A timely and theoretically sophisticated intervention in every respect, Iterations of Loss draws into conversation post-Romantic aesthetic theory and postcolonial studies and will excite considerable interest beyond its immediate field.----David Lloyd "University of California, Riverside "

Iterations of Loss is a beautifully written and theoretically sophisticated work of literary analysis. Sacks provides us with compelling and powerful mediations on loss and reading, language and mournful appropriation, and the "mourning work" of modern Arabic poetry.----Ali Behdad "author of Belated Travelers and A Forgetful Nation "

Coherent and persuasive, Iterations of Loss: Mutilation and Aesthetic Form, al-Shidyaq to Darwish, focuses on poetry and novels by six major 19th and 20th century writers in Arabic-- Mahmoud Darwish, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, Elias Khoury, Edmond Amran El Maleh, Shimon Ballas, and Taha Husayn. Sacks conducts a series of close and contextualized readings in Part I, then turns in Part II to some important recent theoretical work in order to stage an encounter between problems of translation, sovereignty, and loss in relation to Arabic writing and the losses of the 20th century, including the dispossession of Palestine in 1948. Sacks' work will doubtless have important reverberations in translation studies with its increasing concerns with navigating colonial legacies and diasporic studies.----Judith Butler "University of California, Berkeley "

...an important contribution to the large and growing body of comparative scholarship on Palestine, Israel, and their literatures in particular...----SCTIW Review

About the Author:

Jeffrey Sacks is Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside.

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