Date of Graduation
Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (PhD)
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Since the advent of the modern era and the subsequent age of Enlightenment, the rational tradition has enabled the West to assert command of a large area of the globe and its population. While advancing the conditions of living for many, rational structures have also been used to control and repress others. The theosophy of the medieval Islamic mystic Ibn al-ᶜArabī, with its basis in irrational thought, offers a counterpoint to the rational and empirical traditions, the social orthodoxies to which these epistemologies contribute, and the ontologies with which these epistemologies and orthodoxies are correlated. Yet mystical expression is very often recondite and reliant upon a bewildering array of apophatic stylistic devices in an attempt to convey ineffable gnosis. More than in the reportage of the mystics themselves, irrational gnosis could be transmitted to wide audiences by writers who have gained world-wide fame.
From this point of departure, this dissertation project analyzes the degree to which “literary depictions of mysticism” suggest alternatives to rational ontologies, perhaps more effectively and efficiently than mysticism qua mysticism. Indeed, “literary depictions of mysticism,” when juxtaposed with aspects of Ibn al-ᶜArabī’s theosophy, can “impolitically” deconstruct or re-conceptualize orthodox, rational conceptions of the ontological categories of time, space, and subjectivity. While an impossibly large number of authors, texts, and genres could be used to investigate how “literary representations of mysticism” challenge these ontological categories, this dissertation—favoring methodological depth over breadth—essays a rigorous examination of only a small sample of the literary production of two “canonical” twentieth century authors: Jorge Luis Borges and Naguib Mahfouz.
By highlighting the authors’ depictions of irrational mystical approaches to the ontological categories of time, space, and subjectivity in their literary production, the present work concludes that readers who have been alerted to these irrational approaches by critically engaged teachers might then be encouraged to incorporate them into meaningful and productive strategies for resistance to power and towards initiating individual and social transformation. Ideally, such resistance and transformation will contribute to a “speech addressed to the other, recognized as other” and establish a roadmap for the “democracy to come.”
Elder, David Shane, "“Between the Yes and the No”: Alternative Ontologies and Literary Depictions of Mysticism in Borges and Mahfouz" (2016). Theses and Dissertations. 1614.