What is the course about?
Of the four writers we will be focusing on, two at least – Amos Oz and Mahmoud Darwish – were and remain legendary figures within their own communities and on the international stage. We will start from the texts themselves and witness how, for example, the iconic polemicist of ‘Identity Card’ (1964) – “Write down! / I am an Arab / You have stolen the orchards of my ancestors” – becomes, Darwish’s unofficial status of Palestinian national poet notwithstanding, the metaphysician and intimate lyricist of ‘Mural’ (2000), his late masterpiece which turns inward to the most fundamental questions of self and existence.
The lifelong tension between public affiliation and aesthetic craft is evident too in Oz’s controversial stance on the two state solution and peace campaigning on the one hand, and the densely woven narratives, rich in human observation and complexly historical, on the other.
David Grossman has likewise spoken of “the tenderness and intimacy I maintain with language, with its different layers, its eroticism and humour and soul”, an emotional engagement with the novel far removed from his own left-leaning activism.
Least known of the four, the shopkeeper and former shepherd Taha Muhammad Ali’s self-taught, cosmopolitan outlook and modernist sensibility is steeped in the land-based customs of his ancestors.
What will we cover?
We will focus essentially on the close reading of four texts: Judas by Amos Oz (2014, Vintage); See Under: Love by David Grossman (1989, also Vintage); Mural by Taha Muhammad Ali (2000, Verso) and So What – New and Selected Poems by Taha Muhammad Ali (1971-2005, Bloodaxe). The question arises why – for the purposes of this course - prose fiction should emerge as representative of Israeli culture, poetry of Palestinian, and we will need to place these writings in their native contexts and literary traditions.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
• Read and discuss the featured novelists and poets with pleasure and discernment, both literary and contextual
• Identify the essential themes and stylistic techniques of each of the writers, and situate the given works within their careers as a whole
• Make informed choices about any further reading you wish to do in Middle Eastern literature.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
No previous knowledge is required. Anyone who enjoys close reading and is willing to take part in discussion is welcome.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
There will be a variety of teaching methods, including direct tutor input, power point, video and audio clips. Small group or pair work will be encouraged and there will also be plenary feedback and discussion. There will be opportunities to express why individually we are participating on the course and what we hope to take away from it. No work outside class apart from any reading of one or more of the featured texts you are able to do beforehand.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Texts to borrow or buy as listed in No.2.
It would be helpful if you could read the first of the named texts before coming to class, but this is not necessary. The tutor will provide samples from each of them, as well as examples of other works that feature in discussion.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Look up Literature courses in the prospectus under Humanities or on the website under History, Culture and Writing.