CFP: Middle Eastern Gothics

Call for Papers: Middle Eastern Gothics (edited volume under consideration at Wales University Press)

What happens to a distinctly European literary mode such as the Gothic in the hands of authors whose encounters with Europe have been mediated, for centuries, by Orientalism, colonialism, and war – but who also lay claim to dark and macabre traditions in their own literatures? This is the compelling question that activates Middle Eastern Gothics. While the volume’s focus is on Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Hebrew literary engagements with the Gothic, I welcome articles on minority literatures of the Middle East, such as Armenian or Kurdish.

The Gothic has enjoyed increasing visibility in Middle Eastern literatures, evident in contemporary novels such as Frankenstein in Baghdad (Ahmed Saadawi; Arabic, 2013) and Death of a Monk (Alon Hilu; Hebrew, 2004). Undergirding the appearance of these and other Gothic texts in the Middle East are several contextual factors: ongoing violence – much of it a reflection of tensions with Europe and the United States – and a desire to reexamine settled or sanitized historical narratives. After centuries of Ottoman rule, much of the Middle East experienced European colonialism. Particular circumstances notwithstanding, colonialism and its aftermath not only illustrated the most basic tenets of Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism by establishing a clear dialectic of the European self and the Middle Eastern Other (not unfamiliar to readers of European Gothic), but also, from the perspective of people living across the Middle East region, created a complex engagement with Europe and European culture. 

Another no less critical factor in the emergence of the Gothic in the Middle East involves a reinterpretation of established literary forms and traditions of the region itself. Modern Middle Eastern literatures in all four of the major languages of the region were born of centuries of mysticism, epic poetry, and folktales that produced a rich repertoire of local demons, monsters, and ghouls, such as jinns and dybbuks. Possessions and curses, sorcerers and dark magic, incest and murder: Gothic themes and plots graced the parchment scrolls of the region long before Horace Walpole awoke from the nightmare that would inspire The Castle of Otranto. How are the characters and motifs from ancient and classical forms reinterpreted or adapted to the Gothic? What do these revisions illustrate about the way modern Middle Eastern authors grapple with the past? Conversely, how is the Gothic mode expanded or reinvigorated by these poetic resurrections? Do these Middle Eastern poetics disrupt or expand the (decidedly Western) Gothic mode writ large? 

Middle Eastern Gothics will address these questions through a wide-ranging analysis of the Gothic in diverse Middle Eastern contexts. While literatures in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew resist claims of homogenization and lay claim to unique concerns and characteristics, their shared historical and cultural factors suggest that bringing them together would be fruitful. The Gothic, both as an elastic aesthetic mode and a particularly fecund breeding ground for theory, offers a frame that highlights common concerns without erasing particularities. In turn, I hope that the Middle Eastern focus of this collection will illuminate the Gothic itself in new ways. 

Please send a 500-word abstract and a short bio to Karen Grumberg at  keren@austin.utexas.edu by June 1, 2020. Please feel free to contact me at this address with any questions.