Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations

First Advisor

Roger M. Allen

Abstract

This study examines the literary output of the Iraqi author Muḥammad Khuḍayyir (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 Khuḍayyir’s collections (al-Mamlaka al-sawdāʾ [1972], Fī darajat khams wa-arbaʿīn miʾawī [1978], and Ruʾyā kharīf [1995]), as well as to his full-length texts (Baṣrayāthā [1993], Kurrāsat Kānūn [2000], and Ḥadāʾiq 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 Khuḍayyir’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, Baṣrayāthā. The city of Baṣrayāthā, Basra’s fictional analogue, appears not only in the book of the same name, but in several of his more recent stories. In them, Khuḍayyir envisions memory as urban space, and the city as a palimpsest of all its past historical iterations. Drawing on Fish, this study suggests that Baṣrayāthā 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 Baṣrayāthā, but the book in turn creates its interpretive community, as evidenced by some of the extra-textual phenomena influenced by Khuḍayyir’s literary project.

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