In 1902 Rūḥī al-Khālidī produced what may be the first modern work of comparative criticism in Arabic. In his History of the Science of Literature, Khālidī (1864–1913), a Palestinian polyglot, used the discourse of literary criticism to develop a modern understanding of liberty, but at the cost of obfuscating the coloniality on which this notion of liberty was predicated. The following discussion examines colonial relations of power in the rise of modern Arabic literary criticism as registered in Khālidī’s comparative treatise. Thus the ensuing analysis employs the conceptual apparatus of decolonial thought to explore Khālidī’s contribution to the nineteenth-century Arab cultural renaissance and modernization, known as the Nahda.

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