You can view Part One of this intriguing exploration by guest author Stephen Weinstock here.
In Part One, I outlined the parallels between Arabic fiction’s uphill battle for acceptance in the first centuries of Islam. I believe the criticism and slow acceptance of Visionary Fiction goes back to the same kind of interdiction against fiction that occurred at the start of Islam. To state a truth that is spiritual, religious, or transcendent in non-fiction is relatively acceptable, but when you attempt to express that truth using fictional characters, imaginative worlds, and intricate story lines, you risk cheapening or corrupting the statement. I worry about this impurity in my series 1001: The Reincarnation Chronicles, because I use humor, the banality of suburban life, and the characters’ foibles to make past life experiences more palatable. But does lightening the message water it down?
Inversely, infusing an accepted genre like science fiction, fantasy, or romance with a strong spiritual statement has been frowned upon for corrupting the intrinsic experience of those forms. Yet this was key to greater acceptance of both Arabic and Visionary fiction. The fantastical or ribald elements of the stories in Kalila wa Dimna or the maqamat derived from the popular culture of street storytellers. The Thousand and One Nights also had its origins in popular bedtime or ‘Night tales’ from ancient India and Persia, and it came out of the oral transmission of the marketplace as much as the literary manuscripts of the court. On top of this popular culture foundation, the court added an Islamic layer, where Scheherazade tells her stories to redeem the King’s monstrous behavior, to use stories as ethical and religious examples. Still, to this day, some Arabic scholars repudiate the Nights as literature because of its popular … Continue reading