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Magical Realisms in the Context of Violence in Contemporary Arabic Literature (2023-)

Sophie Schmid, Research Area 3: "Future Perfect"
Doctoral Research Project

In contrast to what is known as "highbrow" Arabic literature, the so-called "new genres" in the Arabic-speaking world (such as sci-fi, fantasy or magical realism) have so far hardly been the subject of academic research – neither in Arabic nor in English-speaking academia. Furthermore, Arabic texts have largely been absent from comparative studies on magical realism as a whole. In this context, this research project aims at making a contribution to the fields of magical realism as well as Arabic literature by using a comparative approach to study a genre often – though not exclusively – adopted in postcolonial settings and writing. An additional focus will be placed on an auxiliary topic often associated with magical realism: violence. Studying different works of modern Arabic literature from the 1970s to the present, the aim is to examine how and why magical realism is used as a writing technique in the context of this topic of interest: What forms of magic are employed and what purpose do they serve in relation to different manifestations of violence?

This analysis highlights a genre and a mode of writing for which the temporal is a central element: time is always essential in magical realist texts – for instance by functioning as an historical archive preserving marginalized perspectives on real-life occurrences, transcending temporal boundaries using time travel or achronological narrative techniques, by creating alternate historiographies or fictional spaces outside of real-life time and space. Magical realist texts usually tackle at least one of the following questions: What was? What could have been? What should have been? What may be? In relation to the topic of violence, temporality and magic form a highly fruitful as well as creative interaction, mostly devoted to the constant search for portraying an aspect of what characters and/or authors deem to be "the truth".

Finally, a thematic cross-sectional approach also avoids viewing the works of individual writers exclusively in the context of their national literature, thereby undermining their independence as artistic works. By looking at texts from different countries and contexts from within a large and complex language area in order to study a topic prominently featured in speculative literature, this project does justice to world literature and the transcultural and transtemporal character of magical realism.