Anyone associating The Arabian Nights with erotic stories will doubtlessly be disappointed when reading “City of Brass” (Nights 566−578). This tale deals not with the lust for life but, on the contrary, with the vanity of existence: Each individual who attempts to safeguard his own memory will inevitably fail because of the destructiveness of time. This is a lesson the reader learns together with the protagonist Mūsā Ibn Nu“ayr (d. 716−717), accompanying him on his fantastic expedition to the end of the world, which at the same time also seems to be the beginning of time. The study examines how the detailed steps of Mūsā Ibn Nu“ayr’s “sentimental journey” are staged with respect to space and time, and how the recurrent motif of vanity gradually leads him to religious awareness.
Literatures in Context is a peer-reviewed book series devoted to Near Eastern and North African literatures. The editors want the title of the series to be understood programmatically. They presuppose a concept of world literature that includes Near Eastern and North African literatures. What is more, they assume that literatures are in many ways marked by intertextuality, that they constitute readings of extremely diverse earlier texts, and that they are posited within a field of tensions, much broader than their respective national language. For the earlier eras of Near Eastern and North African literatures, this field of tensions geographically covers the regions of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor. In modern times, it has become a space of interaction that has long since included “global” Western literatures (and realities). This does not imply that the modern Near Eastern and North African literatures have severed themselves from their predecessors. Instead it is precisely the tension between different sets of references in modern Near Eastern and North African literatures, or their “local historical context”, which is a great part of their attraction, that remains a crucial field of research for the modern scholar.