Fever dreams : narrative (de)structuring in Arabic literature
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In Arabic literature, fever has been the subject of several literary works including that of the Abbasid poet al-Mutanabbī to which he dedicated an entire poem. This essay argues that, far from being a mere poetic description, al-Mutanabbī’s fever structures the poetic narrative. The pathological and metaphorical structure of fever, which contains a narrative of illness and recovery, mimics a traditional bildungsroman or rite de passage narrative. However, al-Mutanabbī’s poem challenges the linearity of fever’s narrative and the duality of poison and cure. Drawing on a close reading of the poem, an etymology of ḥummā, and Derrida’s analysis of the pharmakon, a theoretical framework emerges through which fever is conceptualized as a mode of literary narration that is non-linear, erratic, and repetitious. This theoretical framework opens up new ways to read narrative in contemporary Lebanese Civil War fiction. In both Hudā Barakāt’s My Master and My Lover and Rashīd al-Ḍaʿīf’s The Tyrant fever is not only revealed as a liminal space, mediating between death and recovery, but also shown to permit momentary intervention where movement can be imagined and narrative can be generated. In this essay pre-modern and modern literature are read side-by-side, with a focus on the linguistic and philological threads that tie these bodies of literature together, while respecting their independent historical contexts.