‘Peopling the World’: from Scheherazade to Rushdie’s Nights
Since their very beginnings as a magmatic concoction of oral tales of very different origins, what Anglophone Western cultures call The Arabian Nights are remarkably open-ended, vertiginously intertwined, replicating framed narratives which ‘bifurcate’ and answer readers and listeners back with amazing panache. After the fundamental arrival on European soil of the stories in book form due to the very successful enterprise of François Galland, The Nights have undoubtedly been an unrelenting presence in global cultures, so much so that it would be easier to detect writers, artists, cultures who and which do not inscribe them within their textures. While the nineteenth century has seen very innovative and allegedly ‘authentic’ translations, it has also inaugurated a trend towards a series of declared rewritings and reappropriations, often vociferously claimed by widely intended ‘Arabian’, non-European, global authors. Among the very recent re-surfacings of this well of stories that I shall briefly survey, I chose to focus mainly on Salman Rushdie’s Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015), a lively repository of histories and stories in which he reads through the Nights and sees post-modernity, global capitalism and terrorism through his usual ironical glittering fairy-tale-like lenses. In his usual irreverent style, Rushdie refashions Scheherazade’s voice and uses the tradition of the Nights to merge updated circulatory materials which range from Ibn Rushd to millennial New York and the world of the jinni. While a continuous presence in Rushdie’s writing, these Nights seem innovative in their ending with a reassuring shift away from programmatic open-endedness, with a collective chorus who brush chaos off page and acknowledge the “extravagant” circulation of stories set in a securely distant past, but also distance them away from the seductive power of a tricky woman narrator or ‘heroine’.
EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Marilena Parlati, "‘Peopling the World’: from Scheherazade to Rushdie’s Nights", in "Prospero. Rivista di letterature e culture straniere 23 (2018)", Trieste, EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2018, pp. 151-168
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