Mechanization of human life is the main subject of the oil novel, a genre that charts the explosion of industrial production in the remote regions of the earth. One of the products of this process is a nostalgic vision of nature, imagined as an untouched, utopian paradise. Agrarian existence becomes infused with authenticity, valorized as a site of cultural origins, and envisioned as an antidote to the globalizing force of the military-industrial complex. This essay examines two seminal works in the canon of Arabic literature, Ghassan Kanafani's Rijal fi al-Shams (Men in the Sun, 1963) and `Abd al-Rahman Munif's Mudun al-Milh (Cities of Salt, 1984). Both depict metaphysical, transcendent worlds that are destroyed by the inexorable march of modernity. These narratives begin with idealized agrarian communities but climax with the metamorphosis of humanity into a machinelike entity. Machines preside over—and embody—the ritualistic state of transition to the age of technology. There is a spiritual cost to this material transformation. Apocalyptic imagery permeates the novels' climactic scenes, as the natural order is turned upside down, man falls from the garden, and paradise is lost. The world is abandoned by God, Lukács very definition of the novel. Paradoxically, it is precisely through this loss that Kanafani and Munif become modern novelists, producing a sacralized aura of authenticity that they then proceed to destroy.
Ellen McLarney; “Empire of the Machine”: Oil in the Arabic Novel. boundary 2 1 May 2009; 36 (2): 177–198. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-2009-010
Download citation file: