A Transnational Approach to ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Bayātī’s ʿUmar Khayyām

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Thompson, Levi
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Transnational analysis has become an essential part of approaches to modernist literature in the academy, but scholars of Arabic literature have yet to embrace its possibilities. This article presents the benefits transnational literary inquiry holds for analysing Arabic literature as a significant instance of postcolonial literature, taking as a case study the Iraqi poet ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Bayātī’s references to the Persian ʿUmar Khayyām. Through my consideration of contemporary readings of Khayyām from Iran, I re-orient Arabist understandings of this poet’s function in Bayātī’s work. Moving beyond arguments centred within a nationalist paradigm of understanding, I employ a transnational mode of analysis to provide an alternative reading of Khayyām’s presence in Bayātī’s poetry and the dramatic work A Trial in Nishapur. The article seriously considers the modern Iranian reception of Khayyām, which presents him as a rationalist and skeptic rather as a Sufi mystic. I therefore offer a new way of understanding Bayātī’s use of Khayyām as a poetic mask that attends to Bayātī’s significant engagements with Iranian culture and Persian literature. Finally, I draw on this case study to argue that we must begin accounting for the transnational connections that have defined modern Near Eastern literatures like Arabic and Persian.
Iraqi literature, Persian literature, literature in translation, world literature, ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Bayātī’, ʿUmar Khayyām