Middle East Studies

Emily Drumsta – Ways of Seeking: The Arabic Novel and the Poetics of Investigation

Thursday, March 12, 2020

12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room, Watson Institute
111 Thayer St.

Registration is required and will open up closer to the date

Thrilling and suspenseful, steeped in darkness and mystery, crime fiction is one of the world’s most widely read genres. Yet in the recent resurgence of interest in global fictions of detection, literature from the Arab world has been largely neglected. In this talk, Professor Drumsta will give a brief tour through her book project, Ways of Seeking: The Arabic Novel and the Poetics of Investigation. The book offers a selective history of Arab detective fiction in the twentieth century, focusing in particular on how the formal features of crime, noir, and detection have consistently enabled Arab authors to explore questions of power, knowledge, and the social in the modern era. Far from staging awe-inspiring feats of logical ratiocination or cultivating sympathy for the police, however, the Arab detective novels examined in this project mock the truth-seeking practices on which modern exercises of colonial and national power tend to be premised, including criminology, academic research, psychoanalysis, and even literary criticism itself. At the same time, they also return to the archives of Arabic folklore, Islamic piety, and mysticism to translate and explore different, less coercive ways of seeing, seeking, and knowing. Ways of Seeking ultimately tells a different story about the novel’s place in the constellation of Arab modernism, crafting an innovative and hopefully transportable method of open-ended, self-effacing inquiry based on the investigative poetics of literary texts themselves. The talk will focus in particular on the work Drumsta completed as an NEH fellow at the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in 2018-2019.

Middle East Colloquium


Emily Drumsta is assistant professor of comparative literature at Brown University, specializing in modern Arabic and Francophone literatures. Her current book project, Ways of Seeking, explores the history of detection and investigation in twentieth-century Arabic fiction. Her translation, Revolt Against the Sun: The Selected Poetry of Nazik al-Mala'ikah (forthcoming with Saqi Books in 2020), was the recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation prize in 2018. She is a co-founder of Tahrir Documents, an online archive of newspapers, broadsides, pamphlets, and other ephemera collected in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprisings in Egypt.