In this course we will examine the Arabian Peninsula as a literary site that has beguiled representation in eastern and western literary traditions.  Whether it is depicted as a spectacle of petro-dollars, the haunt of Bedouin tribesmen or as a focus of religious sentiment, Arabia is an open canvas on which successive societies have sketched their anxieties and aspirations.  Simultaneously, Arabia has its own rich legacy of self-representation that has been shaped by its harsh environment and unique resources.  We will sift through these representations in texts that range from pre-Islamic poetry, the accounts of foreign explorers, novels by modern Arab authors, and contemporary Bedouin oral poetry.  All readings will be in English and no previous knowledge of Arabic is required.

Course Goals

The first goal of this course is to better comprehend how a landscape – in this case the extreme desert of the Arabian Peninsula – generates literature.  By taking a discrete environmental unit and tracing its impact on the literary imagination, we can learn to appreciate the scope of subjective experience when cast against an unalterable set of facts.  Thirst, danger and emptiness are unavoidable features of the desert; how different individuals and societies fit them into an experiential framework varies widely.

Second, as a college writing course, you will be given ample opportunity to write about literature using best practices and the tools of modern literary analysis. We will hold four workshops on the art of writing expository prose and practice techniques to polish your writing skills.  We can always use a second and third opinion to help us become better, clearer writers; this course will provide a courteous and respectful forum to enable this process.