A Shared Imaginary City: The Role of the Reader in the Fiction of Muhmmad Khudayyir

John Rossetti, University of Pennsylvania


This study examines the literary output of the Iraqi author Muhammad Khudayyir (b. 1942), and specifically analyzes how his fiction—by turns puzzle-like, metafictional, and open-ended—invites the reader to create meaning. This project employs the theoretical approach of reader-response theory to examine his texts, specifically addressing the work of three theorists: firstly, Umberto Eco and his concept of the “open work” as a distinct quality of modern literature; secondly, Wolfgang Iser, who proposed that texts destabilize the reader’s horizon of expectations, and thus prompt her to fill in its gaps; and finally, Stanley Fish, who argues that a reader’s response is structured by his participation in an interpretive community. These insights are applied to stories from Khudayyir’s collections (al-Mamlaka al-sawdā' [1972], Fī darajat khams wa-arba'īn mi'awī [1978], and Ru'yā kharīf [1995]), as well as to his full-length texts (Basrayāthā [1993], Kurrāsat Kānūn [2000], and Hadā'iq al-wujūh [2008]). Notably, his longer works blend elements of fiction, literary essay, memoir, and history, and thus subvert familiar expectations of genre. The prolonged violence wrought by war and international sanctions—particularly the destruction that his home city of Basra endured during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)—has prompted Khudayyir’s thematic preoccupation with an organic local past that stubbornly endures against forces that seek to erase it. This sense of endurance is encapsulated in his magnum opus, Basrayāthā. The city of Basrayāthā, Basra’s fictional analogue, appears not only in the book of the same name, but in several of his more recent stories. In them, Khudayyir envisions memory as urban space, and the city as a palimpsest of all its past historical iterations. Drawing on Fish, this study suggests that Basrayāthā and its interpretive community are mutually generative: not only does a pre-existing set of readers familiar with the Iraqi context create aesthetic meaning from a text such as Basrayāthā, but the book in turn creates its interpretive community, as evidenced by some of the extra-textual phenomena influenced by Khudayyir’s literary project.

Subject Area

Modern literature|Middle Eastern literature

Recommended Citation

Rossetti, John, "A Shared Imaginary City: The Role of the Reader in the Fiction of Muhmmad Khudayyir" (2017). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI10260631.