The Thousand and One Nights: Sources, Transformations, and Relationship with Literature, the Arts and the Sciences


Wednesday, April 15, 2015 (All day) to Friday, April 17, 2015 (All day)


CGIS South, Rms S030 & S020; William James Hall B1

The Center for Middle Eastern Studies & Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) are pleased to present a conference organized by:

Sandra Naddaff (Harvard University); Aboubakr Chraïbi (INALCO, Paris); William Granara (Harvard University)

Literary works with many textual sources, having been transformed, much translated, and exercising wide influences, such as the Thousand and One Nights, create dense and fluid textual networks. What must we have read, seen or heard to claim to know the Nights? The oldest and most comprehensive Arabic manuscript? The Bulaq or Mahdi edition? Burton or Haddawy’s translations? Poe’s short story? Rabaud’s opera? Mahfouz’s novel? Borges’s essays? Pasolini’s film? Materials related to the Nights continue to emerge from many arts, countries, periods, disciplines, and languages, and their scope continues to widen, making the Nights a universal work from all points of view.

Antoine Galland’s French translation published in 1704 had a tremendous impact and was much imitated in French literature, even contributing to the creation of a new literary genre (the oriental tale). It can be argued, by analogy, that the arrival of the Thousand and One Nights in the Arabic-speaking world in the mid-8th century had a similar effect on Arabic literature of the period, and that of following centuries. The book’s interactions with the wider culture would last a thousand years, the longest period in the text’s history. The testimonies of Ibn al-Nadîm and Abu ’Abd Allâh al-Yamanî, who explicitly mention Arabic imitations of the Nights, strongly support this hypothesis. Similarly, the existence of numerous books closely related to the Nights in terms of content, such as Kitâb al-Hikâyât al-’Ajîba wa-l-Akhbâr al-Gharîba and the Hundred and One Nights, shows that this is not a single text but rather a set of texts of a particular genre, which can be called middle literature and which circulated in the Arabic-speaking world at the same time as the Nights.

The simultaneous transformations of the Thousand and One Nights and their environment often introduce new forms of interaction and promote the creation of new cultural objects and new research perspectives.From the 19th century, short stories and novels would gradually dominate the various forms of literary production, while the Nights would also be revitalized with new editions (Bûlâq, Calcutta I and II, Breslau, etc.) and new translations (Lane, Burton, Mardrus, etc.). Always a publishing staple, the Nights would gradually enter world literature through the great novelists of the day, from Argentina to Japan, but also other arts, such as music and cinema from its earliest days (Méliès, 1905; Reiniger, 1926).  Another remarkable transformation relates to contemporary society, namely the birth of several scientific disciplines, the revival of research tools, and the richness of interdisciplinary approaches such as sociology, history, anthropology, psychoanalysis and political philosophy, which have adopted the Nights as a reference corpus.
In light of the above, we ask the following questions:
First panel: The manuscripts of the Nights and middle Arabic literature:
What could Arabic manuscripts of the Nights represent when compared to their lost Persian model? What changes have taken place? Have they been imitated, and by what? Do other texts of Arabic literature resemble the Nights? What criteria can be used to identify similarities? How do they differ from other genres, such as the sîra, the folktale or the khabar? In what ways might they constitute a middle literature?
Second panel: Galland’s translation and the 18th century:
How and why were the Nights transformed when they were published in France? What type of literature did they represent in the eyes of French readers? What was their impact on the concept of the “tale”? How was the “oriental tale” constructed? What were the consequences on French literature, or even thought and philosophy, of the time?
Third panel: The Nights, world literature and the arts:
Do the Nights, which exploit a series of embedded frame stories to act out a drama of literary creation, represent a model for the writer and the artist? Among the Nights’ hundreds of stories which are the most used? Why and how were these stories selected and transformed? What is the effect, in turn, on their original texts?
Fourth panel: The Nights, the humanities and the sciences:
How can the Nights be used in other disciplines? How can issues concerning medieval societies,religions, or political governance be explored through the Nights? For example, is it possible, in the context of interdisciplinary research, to use the therapeutic aspects of Shahrazad’s stories in medicine?

In conjunction with the 1,001 Arabian Nights conference, on Friday, April 17 at 7:00 pm, the Harvard Film Archive will be showing Wojciech Jerzy Has's film, The Saragossa Manuscript (Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie) (1964). 


SCHEDULE & PROGRAM: (presentations will be delivered in three languages: Arabic, French, and (the majority) English)

Thursday, April 16

9:00am — Welcome, William GRANARA (Harvard) & Aboubakr CHRAIBI (Inalco, Paris)

9:15am — Panel 1: Chair: William GRANARA (Harvard)

  • Ibrahim AKEL (Inalco, Paris), Les premiers lecteurs des premiers manuscrits des Mille et une nuits (in Arabic)
  • Ulrich MARZOLPH (Göttingen Academy), Fables in the 1001 Nights
  • Delio PROVERBIO (Vatican Library), The Arabian Nights transmission in Turkish tradition: an overview
  • Francesca BELLINO (University of Turin), The Garshuni dimension of the Nights—Texts of the Arabian Nights genre addressing the Christian Arabic audiences

1:30pm ­­— Panel 2: Chair: Sandra NADDAFF (Harvard) (please note: Margaret Litvin will now speak on Friday, April 17)

  • Arafat ABDUR RAZZAQUE (Harvard), Genie in a Book: Print Culture, Authorship and “L’affaire du tome VIII” in the History of Les Mille et une nuits
  • Daria KOVALEVA (Harvard), The Arabian Nights and the Ottoman Imperial Harem
  • Paulo HORTA (NYU-Abu Dhabi), The “Sleeper” and Christopher Sly: Shakespeare and the early-modern circulation of Nights tales
  • Adam MESTYAN (Harvard), Harun al-Rashid: Modernity and Kingship on the Arabic Stage, 1850s-1890s
  • Daniel BEHAR (Harvard), Jaqueline Kahanoff on the margins of A Thousand and One Nights

Friday, April 17

9:00 — Panel 3: Chair: Aboubakr CHRAIBI (Please note: Adam Mestyan will now speak on Thursday, April 16)

  • Abdelfattah KILITO (U. Mohammed V, Rabat), Eugénie et les deux rêveurs
  • Evanghelia STEAD (Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies), Modern Irony, Creative Writing and Inefficient Arabian Nights tales
  • Henry M. BOWLES (Harvard), Psychological Realism and The 1001 Nights: The Dreams’ of Abû al-Ḥasan
  • Margaret LITVIN (Boston U. ), 1001 Days in alt-muslim Fantasy: G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen

1:30pm — Panel 4: Chair: Roy MOTTAHEDEH (Harvard)

  • Ahmed RAGAB (Harvard), Demons and Fish Bones: Towards a history of illness in Alf Layla
  • Dominique JULLIEN (UCSB), Healing by exempla: political therapy in the Nights’ hypertext
  • Anny GAUL (Georgetown University), Flowers as Pharmacy: Engendering Subjectivities in The Thousand and One Nights
  • Ilaria VITALI (U. Bologna), L’héritage des Mille et une nuits dans l’oeuvre de Michel Ocelot
  • [Fereshteh FARMANI (Inalco, Paris), Les illustrations de la première édition lithographique des Mille et une nuits en Iran-- Please note: Prof Farmani is no longer able to attend the conference.]

April 16, morning session: CGIS Bldg, Room S030 (Lower level), 1730 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA
April 16, afternoon session: CGIS Bldg, Room S020 (Lower level), 1730 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA

April 17, all day: William James Hall, Lecture Hall B1 (Lower level), 33 Kirkland St, Cambridge, MA

Contact: Liz Flanagan
Sponsor(s): Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University; Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris