The University of Southampton

ENGL3047 Literature and Visual Culture from the Middle East

Module Overview

How do films, poetry and fiction from the Middle East question and complicate assumptions about Arab nationalism, religion and culture in the western imagination? We will consider the role texts play in the construction of Middle Eastern cultural identities and histories by examining narratives of power, sexuality and money. Engaging with critical debates and theoretical approaches, you will develop a conceptual framework capable of exploring cultural contexts from the Middle East, including representations of Palestinian nationalism, and depictions of postcolonial Egypt.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• To introduce a representative range of writing, film and visual art from the Middle East and its diaspora • To equip you with a critical vocabulary to interpret literary texts, films and visual artworks from the Middle East and its diaspora • To provide a historical and cultural context for reading texts from the Middle East and its diaspora

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Critical approaches to gender, nationalism and religion in literature and the visual arts from the Middle East and its diaspora
  • Different genres and cultural traditions in literature and visual arts from the Middle East and its diaspora
  • Issues of cultural difference and translation in literature and the visual arts from the Middle East and its diaspora
  • The impact of political events such as the Palestinian disaster and the Iranian Revolution on writing and visual arts from the Middle East and its diaspora
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • deliver oral presentations in a concise and clear manner
  • write with sensitivity about cultural and social experiences which may be different to your own
  • discuss complex issues in a clear and sophisticated way that is sensitive to the views of others
  • research a problem, both as an individual and as part of a group, synthesize different types of information, and discuss it in depth
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • work practically with others in a group to explore appropriate ways of reading writing and visual culture from the Middle East and its diaspora
  • conduct independent research using research tools and resources available via the library and the internet
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse the representation of cultural and national identity in different literary and cultural forms from the Middle East and its diaspora
  • reflect on the ways in which contemporary writing and visual culture has challenged orientalist representations of the Middle East in European culture
  • question the ways in which gender, religion, nationalism and politics are reflected in writing and visual culture from the Middle East and its diaspora
  • develop a critical position in postcolonial approaches to Writing and Visual Culture from the Middle East and its diaspora


The module will address literature and visual culture from the Middle East by focusing on Emile Habiby’s The Secret Lifeof Saeed, Diary of an Ill-Fated Pessoptimist, Assia Djebar’s experimental novel Fantasia, Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men, the film Offside (dir.Jafar Panahi) and Hanan Al-Shaykh’s novel Beirut Blues. We will also discuss the representation of memory, nationalism and the refugee in Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Men in the Sun, S. Yizhar's novella Khirbet Khizeh, and Elias Khoury's Gate of the Sun, and consider how narratives of Palestinian nationalism are mediated in the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and Elia Suleiman’s film Divine Intervention. The module also looks at how power, sexuality and money are framed in Alaa al Aswany's fictional depiction of postcolonial Egypt in The Yacoubian Building.

Special Features

This module is an introduction to Literature and Visual Culture from the Middle East, and as such assumes no prior knowledge of the texts, contexts or issues that we will be discussing in the module. For this reason, the module provides different forms of learning and assessment which will allow you to ask questions, to explore critical problems that you encounter in your reading of particular texts, and to have the opportunity to develop and improve your work. The oral presentation provides an opportunity to present your ideas to the rest of the group, and to develop your reading through a dialogue with other participants, and the two essays will allow you to develop a critical vocabulary and conceptual framework appropriate to read writing and visual culture from the Middle East. The combination of two essays and an oral presentation is used to broaden your portfolio of written and spoken communication skills, to conform to the established assessment policy of the school, and to enable you to synthesise the course and show an achieved understanding of the issues.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • lectures • tutor and student-led seminar discussion • audio-visual presentation (e.g. videos or audio recordings of readings) Learning activities include • preparing and delivering presentations • leading or actively participating in small-group discussions • individual internet and library research Innovative or special features of this module • use of Blackboard • engagement with questions of cultural difference

Independent Study252
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Assia Djebar. Fantasia. 

Roger Allen (2000). An Introduction to Arabic Literature. 

Fouad Adjami (1999). The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey. 

Ghassan Kanafani. Men in the Sun. 

M. M. Badawi (1975). A Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry. 

Elia Suleiman's (dir.) Divine Intervention. Film

Hanan Al-Shaykh. Beirut Blues. 

Edward Said (1992). The Question of Palestine. 

Robert Irwin (1999). Night and Horses and the Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature. 

Robert Irwin (1995). The Arabian Nights: A Companion. 

Edward Said (2002). ‘Arabic prose and prose fiction after 1948’ in Reflections on Exile. 

Elias Khoury. Gate of the Sun. 

Joe Cleary (2002). Literature, Partition and the Nation State. 

Anastasia Valassopoulos (2007). Contemporary Arab Women Writers. 

Hisham Matar. In the Country of Men. 

Emile Habiby. The Secret Life of Saeed, the Ill-Fated Pessoptimist: A Palestinian Who Became a Citizen of Israel. 

Jafar Panahi. Offside. 

S. Yizhar. Khirbet Khizeh. 

Kamran Rastegar (2007). Literary Modernity between Middle East and Europe. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal, on-module feedback • Peer feedback on oral presentations • Small group peer feedback on essays (facilitated by tutor) • Mid-term group feedback on strategies for improving specific teaching methods and learning activities • Individual feedback on essays (in weeks 8-9)


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 65%
Examination  (2 hours) 35%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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