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Reassembling a World Literature: Anton Shammas's Arabesques between Iowa and the Galilee

David Hadar



The paper explores how the novel Arabesques (1986) by Israeli Palestinian author Anton Shammas (b. 1950) uses the Iowa International Writers Program in to interrogate and even relocate the consecration of world literature. Both creative writing programs and the concept and canons of world literature have become central issues in literary studies over the last two decades. My paper seeks to combine these two concerns with a view from outside Anglophone literature but in a way that comments on it and its institutions. It will do so through a critique of world literature and creative writing that can be found in the Anton Shammas’s writings. Arabesques is partly set in the University of Iowa’s International Writers Program and deals with the question of where the world’s literature is to be assembled and consecrated. The common assumption is that this process happens in big cities. But the novel (along with documents written by the founders of the Iowa program) shows how this program tries to mobilize the world’s wealth of literature into this new Midwestern location in Iowa.  This is done through the movement of people and artifacts by way of international networks of cultural and technological mediation. The novel uses Iowa’s bid for centrality in the network of world literature to show how the canon and concept of world literature can also be assembled in the peripheral location of a small Galilee village. The mobility of texts and people turn out to have a potential for unsettling the global center/periphery and East/West dichotomies, even if only for the duration of the novel’s reading.


Anton Shammas; Israeli Palestinian Literature; Creative Writing Programs; the Iowa International Writers Program; World Literature

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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