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'Forgive Me, Lev Nikolaevich': Tolstoy and the Modernization of Arabic Literature

Research profile seminar

Profilseminarium inom Transkulturalitet vid Institutionen för språk och litteraturer.
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Tolstoy and the Modernization of Arabic Literature

Margaret Litvin, Boston University/SCAS, Uppsala

In a 1904 letter to Leo Tolstoy, Islamic modernist and Mufti of Egypt Muhammad `Abdu addresses “the great wise man Monsieur Tolstoy” as a universal spiritual thinker, not a fiction writer. “You are known to us in spirit if not in person,” `Abdu writes. “The light of your thought has illuminated us, and the suns of your ideas have risen in our skies, drawing the souls of intelligent people close to yours.” In Ukraine four years later, Lebanese-born schoolboy Mikhail Nu`ayma (future friend of Khalil Gibran and co-founder of the mahjar modernizing literary movement) addresses Tolstoy in a similar vein: “I am indebted to you for so many thoughts which filled with light the darkness of my spirit. Your recent works that I read last year were a great source of inspiration which illumined my life. Indeed, you have come to be my teacher and guide without knowing it.”

This talk will explore Leo Tolstoy’s several functions in twentieth-century Arabic letters. Attracted to the Orient and ambivalent about westernizing modernity, Tolstoy made a perhaps paradoxical bearer of modern literary forms. What resources did his long and tangled career offer to the modernizers of Arabic literature?

Margaret Litvin is associate professor of Arabic and comparative literature at Boston University and the author of Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghost (Princeton, 2011). In 2015-6 she is a fellow at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in Uppsala.

Lecturer: Margaret Litvin, Boston University

Date: 10/13/2015

Time: 3:15 PM - 5:00 PM

Categories: Research, Humanities, Comparative Literature

Organizer: Institutionen för språk och litteraturer

Location: Faculty of Arts, Lundgrensgatan 1B

Contact person: Tetz Rooke

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