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Notes Towards Day 23: Framing Tales

Anne Dalke's picture


Gender, Power and Everyday Life

I. coursekeeping
an experiment proposed by aseidman: aurally notetaking today

for next Tuesday, read three more new stories from 1001 Nights,
choosing from among those described today by your classmates
(post titles on-line by Friday evening, if you haven't already, please...) so we can focus in on the individual stories (today we'll talk about the form as a whole)

for Thursday, nk0825's recommendation of
Private Lives
episode from House, M.D.,
(available on PushPlay?--this works?? for free???)

for the following Tuesday: aseidman will provide?

heads up that by 5 p.m. next Friday a week
(Apr. 23) you have 4 more pp. of blogging due,
about whatever you've been mulling over
in the month since we left Alice in Wonderland:
the genre of the graphic narrative, or of film,
or of framed stories, or of sequels, or ....?
conferences available, not required
(I will require you to meet w/ me before
your final project is due...)

today's epigram from my current Bible,
David Shields, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, 2010:

"Genre is a minimum-security prison."
(your practice exam: true or false??)

N.B. re: new forms of digital scholarship emerging:
Katherine Rowe, dep't. chair, now curating an
experiment in open peer review
for Shakespeare Quarterly--
first experiment of this kind by a traditional humanities journal
(like what we've been doing in class?!)

two examples: Hope & Witmore, The Hundredth Psalm
a new form of close reading, using multivariate statistics and a text tagging device known as Docuscope, a hand-curated corpus of several million English words (and strings of words) that have been sorted into grammatical, semantic and rhetorical categories, offers a portrait of Shakespearean genre at the level of the sentence (!!)
Thompson, Race in Performance-Based Shakespeare Pedagogy,
on the ethics of using YouTube in critical analysis and in the classroom, and in racial performance in video classroom assignments

II. Before we turn to 1001 Nights--

any afterthoughts re: Satrapi?

the morphing of her graphic narrative into filmic form,
its various ancestors (Metropolis, Maus),
the relation between the autobiographic and the social,
the relation between sexually segregated spaces in her text,
and in our local arrangements....?

nk0825:  I think Nancy Miller hits the nail on the head: “Memoirs from sites of danger provide a safe space for readers to ponder the nightmare of contemporary global relations" .... simplistic graphics helps the readers understand what's going on, but it distantly handles the situations....This simplicity absolutely provides a “safe distance” for the readers to handle the horrific material found in Persepolis. These images safely urge us to probe further into the emotions and repercussions of situations, yet allow readers to remain somewhat detached....


skindeep: the concept of holy moments in movies fascinated takes over your sense of vision, sound and a good part of your mental cognitive ability, leaving little room for thought....i wonder if finding holy moments in a movie or a book is easier only because we wont let ourselves keep our minds quiet outside of a movie -- would we be able to find those moments if we did? if we allowed  ourselves to just be more often?

III. turning today to the great original for the
framed tale: another ancestor for Satrapi's work
(and for t.v. sequels like House, M.D.?!)

From Sani-Ol-Molks' early 19th Century

gallery of illustrations of 1001 Nights


pulled out 3 of a series of thoughtful postings:


Herbie: I was surprised to find out that she was telling many stories within the context of a much longer story, and we ourselves are reading both of those within a much longer, better known story .... what makes the tales so generically interesting is that at one point, they were clearly oral rather than recorded ... as a child, all of the stories I heard were being read to me from a book, as a means of encouraging me to learn to read on my own.  The intention of the story was never to pass on a cultural history, it was merely an educational tool to help me learn to be more independent.  Whereas Scheherazade tells her stories precisely to reunite a kingdom, not separate its denizens.

sgb90: It interests me how this collection of stories plays upon the idea of narrative by the simple fact that within every story there is a portal into yet another story, so that the tales operate in infinite succession. Not only do the stories go on infinitely and somewhat circularly, but we as readers in our interpretations create new stories from these stories, and so the process never ends. This endless generation of narrative is both absurd and, as in the framework of The Thousand and One Nights, the primary mechanism by which we simultaneously face and attempt to ward off our mortality.

rmeyers: all of repeated to some degree the lesson that you shouldn't stick your nose where it doesn't belong. Common threads: Stories within stories, and maybe some layer of memoir ... Or at least the idea of a pseudo-memoir. Each of the stories seems to consist of a personal history, although all fall under the umbrella of fiction, and the memoirists are not, as such, real. But they tell their personal stories, along with the personal stories of those they have met, creating a web that is all stories connected by their telling. Also intriguing - how often these stories are told to save lives. Is it just curiosity? Or more than that, we are satisfied to amend our actions toward a person (or not) by how well they tell a story?

turn to a partner: tell her what you read,
(what you know about the translation/translator/era)
and describe your initial reactions...

report back a surprise/a difference/something high-
lighted in "rubbing" your responses up against one another

what connections can you make to subsequent forms,
like the graphic narrative, or to film, or to t.v. sequels....?

V. A! Mini! Lecture! by a local storyteller...

(via Wai Chee Dimock's Facebook page on Re-thinking
World Literature, I discovered the work of...)

Bryn Mawr College


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Karla Mallette, European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean: Toward a New Philology and a Counter-Orientalism (UPenn Press, 2010)

Chapter 1: “Scheherazade among the Philologists”

central to popular/ intellectual history and... fun.

the most famous examples of a framed narrative in world literature:
stories captured within stories,
a character in a tale begins relating another tale...

typically has a hermeneutic function: serves as
a key to interpreting the stories within the frame


patron saint of literary invention in successive generations
of Western (metaliterary) works that riff on the Nights


celebrates the capacity of narrative
to vanquish abuses of power
largely the product of Western Orientalists
(and Arab philologists living in the West)


proximity to the oral tradition makes it peculiarly fluid,
peculiarly vulnerable to modern manipulation



radically contaminated by innovations
and exterior interpolations

point of departure: an incomplete Syrian manuscript produced some time between the 14th/ second half of 15th century C.E.:
it ended in the middle of a story,
less than a third of the way to the
promised thousand and first night
Scheherazade entered Western letters
... at the cusp of modernity:

in a translation by Antoine Galland,
an editor of the Bibliothèque Orientale,
published in serial volumes between 1704 and 1717

Galland translated and published the core manuscript, but…
he also met, got brief notes of tales from
a skilled Syrian storyteller named Hanna--
and filled out the balance of “required” nights by
developing those notes into full-length tales:

of the 21 story cycles in Galland's translation,
only 9 came from the original Syrian manuscript
Aladdin, Ali Baba, 1/3 of the text of A Thousand and One Nights
were all later additions...




the tales made an extraordinary splash when published
in the west, as an antidote to the Enlightenment:
“a wonderland marvelously exterior to the chill light of reason that suffused the eighteenth century,” similar in spirit to 17th c. French fairy tales


elusiveness of manuscripts: 1001 Nights were enjoyed as oral literature in the Arab world, but generated no substantial textual tradition



generated literary forgeries (transcriptions of Galland’s papers);
phantom manuscripts; orphan tales
(w/out originals predating Galland’s “translation”);
discussions of authenticity and authority; beginning of Orientalism

3 new 19th c. translations, by Edward Lane, 1839-40
(added scholarly notes; expurgated race passages):
John Payne, 1884-5 (notes on Arab customs;
cut poetry but not eroticism)
Richard Burton, 1885-8
(relied on Payne; exaggerated erotic content:
most popular, because of “rambunctious lexical
quality and quirky, kinky, surreal annotations”;

Lane and Payne educated the reading public on the customs of the Oriental nations; Burton took the notes to another level, including not only accounts of Arab customs but also autobiographical anecdotes, moral and speculative reflections)


authors of your texts:


Harvard Classics Version:
translated by Edward William Lane
(shown here in Turkish costume!),
revised by Stanley Lane-Poole

Lane: Englishman, 1801-1876;
translations published 1839-1840;
encyclopedic annotations published separately in 1883--
after his death--by his great-nephew Stanley Lane-Poole

interesting life story: first went to Egypt for his health; brought sister there, to access segregated spaces he couldn't; married a Greek-Egyptian woman he had acquired as a slave when she was 8, and educated...

his translation is not very highly thought of: "grandiose, mock-biblical, pointlessly inverted word order, pompously high-flown style, painfully literal Latinate")



Electronic Literature Foundation:
"interpretations of selected tales by
Andrew Lang and Sir Richard Burton"
(see "select" button--for next week,
read another transation of the same tale...?)

Englishman, 1821-1890: explorer, translator, writer, soldier, oreintalist, ethnologist, linguist, poet, hypnotist, fencer, diplomat who spoke 29 European, Asian, and African languages, severe critic of colonial policies (to detriment of his career)

Lang: Scots, 1844-1912, who produced an abridged version of Burton's text: an anthropologist, folklorist, publisher of Grey, Violet, Crimson, Brown, Orange, Olive, Lilac Fairy Books; trans. Arabian Nights in 1898 as "fairy tales of the Middle East")


explosion, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, of literary and cinematic works inspired by the Nights : Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad esp. favorites

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Thousand and Second Tale of Scheherazade”
(sultan so exasperated @ her preposterous inventions—
accounts of recent scientific advances—that he orders her execution):

Jane Eyre models her behavior re:
Rochester on Scheherazade’s toward sultan;

Tennyson’s Recollections of the Arabian Nights;

RLStevenson’s New Arabian Nights;

20th c: John Barth, Proust, E. M. Forster,
Jorge Luis Borges, A. S. Byatt, Salman Rushdie;

particularly useful to Arab expatriate
writers who live in the West:

Rafik Schami, Damascus Nights
Assia Djebar, A Sister to Scheherazade (feminist reading)
Hisham Matar, In the Country of Men (sinister undercurrents:
much to distrust in the story of a woman who manipulates
narrative in order to survive a life under occupation



In 1984 Muhsin Mahdi, a professor of Arabic literature at Harvard University, published a scholarly edition of the Nights which “will shape the course of subsequent scholarship on the Arabic text.” He based his edition on Galland, introduced corrections from eight other mss.

--but modern audiences are reluctant to relinquish the Nights they know: the whole portmanteau-esque plenitude of the work. Also: Western "readings" have defined the constitution of the Arabic text itself;  literary work composed across the divide between the Arab world and the West; neither can claim sole authorship

compendious nineteenth-century English translations,
based on 18th-c editions published under European supervision,
from the translation Galland teased from
a late medieval Syrian manuscript,
laced with tales from the oral tradition,
novelized by a man immersed in
the salon culture of early modern France



polygenesis of the text:
multiple births across a multitude of cultural boundaries;
preposterously complex manuscript history


it has no nation; its homeland is nowhere and everywhere;
is a vast, raucous, transnational celebration
of the power of narrative;

written during the late Middle Ages:
we do not understand well the audience
for whom the work was composed
or the motivations of the authors
who created the manuscripts we possess;
nineteenth-century editions intended as
a primer for British colonial officials
(cf. Iranian critiques of Satrapi for being "orientalist")

Arab and Islamic writers view the self-proclaimed sultana with ambivalence, as vaguely insidious ("a coward who accepted slavery over death")

endistanced Westerners have made freer use of her as undiluted heroine: “one of the strongest and cleverest heroines in world literature”; transnational symbol of the power of literary invention
Daniel Beaumont, on the ELF site:

The Medieval Arabic Nights

9th c. papyrus mentions two characters, Dînâzâd and Shîrâzâd--
and has a few lines of narrative in which
the former asks the latter to tell a story;
also mention of a title: “The Book of
Stories From the Thousand Nights.”

brief references across centuries thereafter,
separated by long periods when the book all but vanishes from view --
analogy with an unconscious thought
that only infrequently and briefly
makes its presence known in conscious thought,
then quickly vanishes again beneath the force of repression—and repression is not mere metaphor here

three main layers:
translation of a group of Persian stories
(which themselves incorporated Indian stories),
a Baghdad layer and a Cairo layer; or 5-6 stages:


i. a Persian core “The Thousand Stories” (Hazâr Afsânah);
ii. an Arabic version of this;
iii. the frame story of “The Thousand Stories”
with new Arabic stories added to it;
iv. a late Fatimid version (twelfth century);
v. the Syrian recension whose sixteenth century manuscript was
the basis of the first European translation, that of Galland
vi. sixteenth century introduces the materials from popular epics



brevity, tone, infrequency of the medieval references point to insignificance of the work in the eyes of recognized practitioners of medieval Arabic literature; yet popular; paradoxical reputation

3 categories of links to other medieval
Arabic literature and other literatures:
1) links with a few specific works in medieval Arabic literature
(made use of ‘factual’ anecdotal collections for plots,
revising them freely to suit their purposes?
or moved in opposite direction?)
2) stories that make use of/ revise the plots of extremely well-known stories in Islamic culture (exs:
figures like Abraham, Joseph and Solomon)
3) stories which make use of more widely spread plots:
‘Cinderella,” ‘Phaedra’ etc.


The European Nights:
Muhsin Mahdi reconstructed an Arabic text, faithful to Galland’s
presumed antecedent: a fourteenth century Syrian manuscript

18th/19th c. creation of Arabic manuscripts
delivered more nights/stories:
a “catch all” for popular narratives to meet European demand
medieval Nights was much smaller, more coherent work,
perhaps 1/4 length
the number ‘one thousand and one’ simply meant ‘a lot,’
in accordance with the rather free use of numbers in medieval Arabic literature; but after Galland the number proved fateful; subsequent history followed ‘the path of the signifier'; popularity in Europe creating a demand for a ‘complete version.’ 
presumed ‘original’ uncanny “double” to 19th c. versions:
huge number of the stories in modern versions do not ‘belong’ in it


But Mahdi’s version is based on theories
about classical manuscript transmission;
the Nights never was accorded that sort of respect;
cannot assume its manuscripts were
copied and transmitted with care;
also: manuscript evidence for medieval versions of the Nights
with many more nights than Mahdi allows


so valuable because marginalized in medieval Arabic literature: escaped the self-censorship of more typical narrative works; filled with desires and ideas rarely articulated elsewhere in the literature:

Beginning probably from a core of translated and reworked stories,
the book must have grown by process of accretion—
the Ottoman royal palace Topkapi may furnish
an architectural image for the process;
originally independent structures gradually joined together. 

later additions that preserve more stories are welcome additions to the palace; in such a vast structure, if one does not care for a certain passage, one can move along....



stories as we have them now seem to wear the garb of the late medieval period in the Arab-Islamic world, that is, the eras of the Mamluks and the Ottomans; the Ottoman period is viewed in the Arab world now as one of cultural decadence, a view propounded by Arab nationalism; but existence of this book is testimony to cultural vitality in that period. 




book’s orphan-like existence in Arabic literary culture
an exceptional, even aberrant work with respect to
some of the most important conventions of medieval Arabic literature; this work is the ‘repressed’ of the literature:
3 factors contribute to this status:
its genre,
its linguistic style,
and its content

the question of the place of narrative
in medieval Arabic literature:


Bryn Mawr College


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rich poetic tradition and oral narratives in pre-Islamic Arabia, but
The Quran is the only text (that we know) to have existed in some
written form in the century after Muhammad’s death in 632 A.D.
the next major works we possess are The Life of the Prophet (early 8th c.) and The Raids (made by Muhammad and his followers made on the pagan tribes of Western Arabia);


these earliest narratives in Arabic established precedents
with lasting effects throughout the Islamic Middle Ages;
because of its religious significance and to buttress its factual claims, each narrative came to be preceded by an isnâd or ‘chain’,
a series of names representing a kind of bucket brigade, who
passed the narrative along to the writer from an eye-witness.
In its beginning, narrative literature in Arabic purports to confine itself to fact, to the recounting of real events by real people. 

Although Shahrazade does not claim to “make up” stories,
but 1001 Nights is clearly fictional;
there is no generic space in the medieval literary canon for it ....









VI. reactions, further thoughts ...?

I hope: a way to "frame" your further reading


(and to think about "world literature"....
can you really study a text effectively,
w/out knowing much about its context....?)

Next week, we'll focus our lens more
closely on a few individual (shared) tales...


TPB1988: each of the selection I chose seemed to have a similar moral to tell


sweetp: a theme of sparing life


mkarol: Scheherezade and Marjane were both educated women who used story-telling in a freeing way