Whilst at CRASSH, I will be progressing with my current monograph project, ‘Strange Energies: Ecocritical Readings of the Arabic Novel’, which makes the argument for a link between literary experimentation and changed climates, landscapes and relationships to water management and agriculture. Addressing canonical figures from within the modern Arabic literary tradition, it will draw new connections between them and highlight significant, overlooked aspects of their writing. Primarily, it reads their writing through the prism of the uncanny – of doubles, phantoms, and strange mutations – and how this gives voice to ongoing energy anxieties and growing ecological awareness and concern. In so doing, I look to their intertextuality with premodern genres, from Abū al-ʿAlā al-Maʿarrī’s Risālat al-Ghufrān (Epistle of Forgiveness) to Abū Nuwās’ wine poetry, and the volatile geographies and energy-charged tales of Alf Laylah wa-laylah (The Thousand and One Nights). A first article contributing towards this project is titled ‘Following the Pipeline: Petro-phantoms in Fāḍil al-ʿAzzāwī’s Ākhir al-malāʾikah (1992, The Last of the Angels, 2007) and Imīl Ḥabībī’s Sarāyā, bint al-ghūl (1991, Saraya, the Ogre’s Daughter, 2006)’ (Forthcoming, Journal of Arabic Literature, 2022). Looking at one Iraqi and one Palestinian novel, both written in the early days of the First Gulf War, the article explores new comparative paradigms through tracing the latent energy regimes that connect seemingly disparate locales and literatures. It does so through following the Kirkuk-Haifa pipeline, connecting the authors’ native cities, and the setting of each novel, and exploring how each authors’ direct exposure to the oil industry shaped his writing. Whilst the novels are uncanny in and of themselves, the process of reading them together also proves uncanny through the startling entanglement of phantoms and demons, and the literary expression of cultures and landscapes profoundly altered by petroleum.
Dr Charis Olszok is Associate Professor of Modern Arabic Literature and Culture in the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and a Fellow of Newnham College. Her research centres on the interplay between classical and modern genres of Arabic literature, and particularly how they inform literary depictions of animals and ecologies. She has also translated numerous works of modern Arabic literature into English. More detail about her research interests can be found on the FAMES website.