Rethinking Orient

In Search of Sources and Inspirations

by Adam Bednarczyk (Volume editor) Magdalena Kubarek (Volume editor) Maciej Szatkowski (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 281 Pages


The contributions in this book address a vast variety of questions concerning the sources and mutual inspirations in Oriental and European literatures. The authors discuss selected texts from both historical and synchronic perspectives. They reveal and scrutinise the sedimented layers in their search for the original as well as for the repetitive and universal. The book revolves around the creative reception of one’s own cultural heritage and of works which originated in other cultures.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface (Adam Bednarczyk / Magdalena Kubarek / Maciej Szatkowski)
  • Maghreb & Near East as Literary Inspiration
  • The Hadj to Utopia: Reiteration of Moslem Society on Al-Qahira in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars (Juraj Bakoš)
  • The Early Ideas of Arab Scholars about Philological Science in the Ṭabaqāt aš-Šuabaqāt aš-Šu‘arāarā’ of Muḥammad b. Sallām al-Ǧumaḥī (Arzu Sadykhova)
  • About a Traveler Who Failed to Find what He Longed For: Piotr Ibrahim Kalwas and his Early Novels (Weronika Sztorc)
  • Borderature: Blending Borders between English and Arabic Literature in the Writing of Arab English Women Authors (Zuzana Tabačková)
  • From South to East Asia – Sources and Inspirations
  • Traditional Buryat Anaphoric Versification in the Contemporary Poetry of Bair Dugarov (Galina Dondukova)
  • Leszek Dunin Borkowski and his Use of the Oldest Written Records: The Vedas and the Exploration of Religious Ideas (Halina Marlewicz)
  • The Ethics of Difference: Japanese Writers in Search for Sources and Inspirations (Justyna Weronika Kasza)
  • Indian Inspirations in the Works of the Slovak Writer Herman Klačko (Róbert Gáfrik)
  • The Motif of Legendary Emperors Yao and Shun in Ancient Chinese Literature (Dawid Rogacz)
  • Nala and Damayantī – Indian Epic Love Story in the European Literary Tradition (Iwona Milewska)
  • The Myth of Shambhala, Knights-Yogis and Mahatma Knowledge. Esotericism and the Orient in Tadeusz Miciński’s Nietota (Elżbieta Flis-Czerniak)
  • West and East – Cross-cultural Inspirations
  • Dressing Japanese: The Russo-Japanese War and The Oriental Body in Fedor Sologub and Andrej Belyj (Martina Morabito)
  • A Reading of Encounter & Comparison. From West to East and East to West (Nihan Abir)
  • Self-Quoting and the Classics: Orientalist Suggestions in Carla Serena’s Travel Writing (Daniele Artoni)
  • The Other and the Stranger in Contemporary Chinese Drama: Two Dogs’ Views on Life Directed by Meng Jinghui (Maciej Szatkowski)
  • Literary Sources and Inspirations – Linguistic Approach
  • Challenges of Language Re-Documentation: a Case of Miyakojima-no uta (Aleksandra Jarosz)
  • The Graphic System as a Matter of Choice for Hausa Poets (Jibril Shu’aibu Adamu)
  • Planet’s Dualar from the Collection of the Historical Museum in Białystok. Identification – Classification – Characteristics (Magdalena Lewicka)
  • Index of Names
  • Series index

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A source is an origin, a place where something is born. It may reveal the truth and is a fundamental condition for something to happen.

Barbara Skarga, A Metaphysical Quintet1

Joseph Hillis Miller in his study on literature addressed the question of reaching to its sources. He referred to Greek literature and the Bible as the groundwork for most literary genres of the secular literature of the West. But Plato, Aristotle, and the Bible, as he noted, are not the absolute beginning. Plato’s writings are compared to “a stone that contains fossils in itself”, whereas the Bible appears in his discussion as “a sedimented or agglomerate text”. The scholar also quoted the famous saying of Alfred North Whitehead, who concluded that ‘all Western culture is a footnote to Plato’, even though few elements of Plato’s oeuvre can be termed as truly original.2 Similar tendencies may be noticed in the literatures of other cultures, some of which, such as those of North Africa and the Middle East, were exposed to some extent to the influence of classical heritage and the Bible; nonetheless, these literatures have had their own models and frameworks of reference, which are partly a result of inspirations coming from the Far East. Similarly the literatures of the Far East at a certain stage of their development did succumb to foreign influence, despite the fact that they developed independently from Mediterranean civilization and produced paradigms and forms of expression of their own. It is thus true of every culture that even their earliest literary works are, to quote Hillis Miller, “like a tapestry woven of threads used before, or like an organic body that renews itself over time.” This constant renewal results in contemporary literature being “reweavings of themes already present in these “origins” that are not themselves original”, regardless of how we shall define literature and what sorts of functions we shall assign to it.3

The studies contained in this volume address a vast variety of questions concerning the sources and mutual inspirations in Oriental and European literatures. The texts selected from various cultures and historical periods have provided a useful material for the authors who, with reference to Miller’s terminology, aim to ← 9 | 10 → reveal and scrutinize the sedimented layers in their search for the original as well as for the repetitive and universal. Considered in both historical and synchronic perspectives, the issues revolve around the creative reception of one’s own cultural heritage and of works which originated in other cultures. It is our hope that readers will appreciate the multiple perspectives of the description of sources and inspirations contained in this book, as well as the dynamics of the criss-crossing strands of Eastern and Western literatures which is inextricably linked with these perspectives. With this book, we wish also to provide an impulse for discovering the twists and turns of literature of various cultures and civilizations.

Adam Bednarczyk
Magdalena Kubarek
Maciej Szatkowski

1 B. Skarga, Kwintet metafizyczny, Wydawnictwo Universitas, Kraków, pp. 7–9.

2 J. Hillis Miller, On literature, Routledge, London and New York, 2002, p. 83.

3 Ibid., p. 83.

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Maghreb & Near East as Literary Inspiration

| 15 →

Juraj Bakoš

Palacký University Czech Republic

The Hadj to Utopia: Reiteration of Moslem Society on Al-Qahira in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars

Abstract: In his epic trilogy about the colonization of the planet Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson opens and deals with many possible problems of such a venture. Written in 1990s, the books present a bleak vision of the near future where the humankind sets on a quest to build a settlement on another planet to disburden the overpopulated Earth. Amongst the various whether national or ideological enclaves rapidly growing on Mars, important focus is placed on the orthodox Moslem community, the so called Qahiram Mahjaris. Mars, or Al-Qahira in Arabic, with its vast and inhospitable deserts might be a suitable place at least for Bedouins to start a new life on their own. The aim of the paper is to analyze the way Robinson addresses and debunks the stereotypes of the Moslem marriage ties and the role of women in the Moslem society. The author also discusses the eligibility of the concept of transferring the traditions of Orient to a completely new environment on a hostile planet and the possibility of a reiteration of the traditional and pure Moslem society in the late 21st century.

Key words: Mars, utopia, Moslem society, science fiction

The history of imagining people or even societies on Mars is now more than 130 years old. These concepts began to form in the heads of science fiction writers shortly after the scope of the observations of the Earth’s planetary neighbor exceeded those of its color and its movement. The first novel about a civilization on Mars was published only three years after the new data gave birth to an idea of a possible life on the planet in 1877. The concepts varied over the time. As the data about the conditions on the planet grew richer and more detailed, the imagined civilizations turned from highly developed through dead or dying to the colonies newly founded by Earthmen. With the growing possibility of Mars colonization, writers began to search for the optimum solution to this challenge. For example, there were science fiction writers that imagined Indians1 to be the ← 15 | 16 → most suitable humans for this task in the 20th century. It was obvious – there is sand and there are mountains, hot days and cold nights, and enough free space to roam. Evidently, a world every Indian wants to live in provided he gets over the lack of the bison to hunt. But does it not as well remind us of a world ideal for, say, Bedouins? Would it not be an opportunity for a new start, for a new iteration of the Moslems’ view of the world? Over the years in Martian fiction, the idea of Moslems on Mars has covered a long journey – from stereotyped views to more knowledgeable perceptions.

The library of these novels where Mars is important in terms of the narrative can be divided into three historical eras which are closely connected to the contemporary level of the scientific knowledge of the planet. It all started with the first telescopic observation of Martian surface which consequently proliferate a number of romances. The romantic era lasted more than thirty years until those first promising observations were generally recognized erroneous. The following symbolic era continued to produce novels until the late 1960s. The novels written since then can be considered a contribution to the last ironic era. I will now provide a more specific explanation of the above stated categorization and also its correlation to the title of this essay. The Arabs have their specific place in each of these periods, and in this regard, I will focus on one representative work of fiction in every era.

At the end of the nineteenth century, a small scientific crisis broke forth after an Italian astronomer Schiaparelli2 observed weird structures on Mars, which he named canali in Italian and which were wrongly translated into English as canals, connoting artificial origin of those structures. The correct translation would read channels, that is, natural rifts in a terrain. The resulting theory of life on Mars triggered many discussions amongst contemporary scientists before it was refuted few decades later together with the rejection of the Schiaparelli’s discovery in the first place. However, the advocates of the theory, like the American astronomer Percival Lowell,3 inspired through their work many contemporary writers and ← 16 | 17 → thus gave birth to a number of works of science fiction and definitely provided a new way of looking on the planets as possible abodes of extraterrestrial life.

The first milestone and the starting point for the Martian fiction as such is Schiaparelli’s observation of Mars. Almost all of the works from this period can be considered as utopian romances, since the newly discovered world, like any new place, initially ignites interest and hopes. This romantic period ranges from 1880, which is the year of the publication of the very first novel taking place on Mars, until the second decade of the 20th century. That first book is Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record by an English writer Percy Greg and it is worth mentioning because of the very first coinage of the now widely used term astronaut. In Greg’s novel, however, the term is a name for the hero’s spaceship. The more important thing is the author’s view of the alien Martian society. And this is strongly influenced by the contemporary perception of Oriental cultures. The highly advanced Martian civilization is totalitarian, ruled by a despot, the so-called Sovereign, and the Martian marriages are polygamous. The hero of the novel is not spared this privilege and is assigned a bunch of ladies by the Sovereign as a gift. Though definitely challenging. the responsibility is too much for the Victorian gentleman who has eyes only for the one of his heart. He explains his despair to his beloved female Martian as follows:

The thing to note in this passage is the expression ferash which is explained by the narrator as meaning a “Persian executioner”.5 But according to The Arabic Contributions to the English Language: An Historical Dictionary, the term designates rather an “Oriental servant employed in usually menial work”6 and comes from colonial India. We may try to advocate the author by saying that the term executioner is an obsolete synonym to executor which would better suit the definition ← 17 | 18 → from the dictionary; however, the context proves Greg was simply misled here and did not have that experience with the Orient that the persona of the narrator claims to have.

The second milestone is the unofficial consensus of astronomers about the erroneous basis of the promising observations of the canals. This has been reached in the second decade of the 20th century. Though it started to be viewed as a wasteland by the scholars, the planet did not lose its charm for the writers. The utopian Martian civilizations turned into the dead or dying civilizations and Mars as a locale shifted onto a more symbolic level. One outstanding book of the symbolic era is Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land published in 1961. The novel is about a human raised on Mars by and among the last of the ancient race of Martians. Thanks to his strange education he gains mental powers awfully exceeding those of the regular humans. The Arabs are in this novel represented by a semantician, Dr Mahmoud, who is the first to learn the very complex Martian language. He is able to understand the alien language among other things by virtue of his perfect command of both Arabic and English. He is the only one that is able to explain the complexity of the language, and he does it in a very cosmopolitan way:

Dr Mahmoud’s explanation can be considered to be an implicit message of the novel: that we, the peoples of the Earth, are just one nation on the surface of our planet. The languages in this sense are symbols of the respective cultures. This cosmopolitan approach to humankind is probably one of the reasons this novel became so widely popular in the hippie culture of the 1960s.

The third and so far the final change in the paradigm towards the Martian worlds in fiction came with the Mariner 4 flyby of Mars in 1965. The probe confirmed the nonexistence of the canals, but at the same time it increased the probability of a manned mission to the red planet. What is more, it stirred up speculations about the possible colonization of the planetary neighbor. The mode of the fiction of this era which lasts until nowadays is highly ironic. It is ironic in essence because of the juxtaposition of the two concepts: the dead world above us on one hand, and the beginning of a new life upon it on the other. Upon the ever more globalizing and thus ever less private Earth, Mars became a perfect place ← 18 | 19 → for a new-day utopia. Long story short, if the writers of the romantic era invested their efforts into exploring the strange Martian utopias, the authors of the recent ironic mode directly build them anew.

The Arabs finally land on Mars in 1992 with the publication of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Red Mars. The story revolves around an American-Russian project of Mars colonization. The first wave of colonizers consists of 100 carefully chosen American and Russian top scientists, which are to prepare the ground for succeeding waves of settlers from the overpopulated Earth. This fictional idea has most likely served as an inspiration even for a real-life project.8

When the First Hundred prepared the surface and the newcomers – again mostly the necessary scientists of various nationalities – started to land on the planet, Mars became a map of separate diasporas. Some of them are formed by different Arab communities grouped according to their specific denominations and they are called Mahjaris, meaning Arabs living out of the borders of the realm of Islam. Al-Qahira,9 which is the ancient Arabic name for Mars, is for some of them a new opportunity to restart the Islamic way of life, for others still it is a place of fulfillment, a destination of their pilgrimage. It is definitely a place of hope for every Arab Martian, or Qahiran Mahjari. Let me quote Robinson directly on this:

In practical terms Al-Qahira was the pan-Arab dream come alive, as all the Arab nations had contributed money and people to the Mahjaris. The mix of Arab nationalities on Mars was complete, but in the individual caravans it separated out a bit. Still, they mixed; and whether they came from the oil-rich nations or the oil-poor ones didn’t seem to matter. Here among the foreigners they were all cousins. Syrians and Iraqis, Egyptians and Saudis, Gulf Staters and Palestinians, Libyans and Bedouins. All cousins here.10

They all are turning Mars into the new habitable Earth, they are terraforming it. Geologists, biologists, microbiologists, astrophysicists, engineers, they all are doing their job exclusively without ever bothering about any mortgages, without ← 19 | 20 → fear of losing the job. They are building their own utopia. Because, in words of the Russian scientist Arkady Bogdanov, life on the hostile Mars:

As the new Martian population grows, the thoughts on independency from Earth begin to proliferate, since Earth still considers Mars as a colony and a source of natural resources in the first place. The separatist tendencies are one thing, but to have a vision of the future of Mars is another one. And it is more important because it is directly connected with the political status of the planet. And the vision, of course, needs an advocate. Robinson elaborates on two possible approaches to this problem, each personified by one of the First Hundred, which are universally taken for authorities by the rest of the settlers. John Boone is the idealist and strives to build a new world on Mars, with new concepts of economy and ecology, not burdened with the mistakes made in the history of Earth. Frank Chalmers, on the other hand, is rather an old-world politician with an appetite for power, and Mars to him is just another country that should keep good relationships with Earth. On their trips across the surface of Mars, they individually visit the diasporas to consult their views on the future of the planet.

In this manner, John Boone visits a community of Qadarite Sufis, the Islamic mystics and followers of the doctrine of free will, and in their words “pantheists influenced by early Greek philosophy and modern existentialism.”12 Their universal conception of the existence and its meaning correlates implicitly, but to a wide extent, with Boone’s own. Their Martian experience is just another spiritual journey. The very place where one stands depends on his personal spiritual evolution. They explain the creed to John Boone as follows:

There are four mystical journeys […] The first begins with gnosis and ends with fana, or passing away from all phenomenal things. The second begins when fana is succeeded by baqa, or abiding. At this point you journey in the real, by the real, to the real, and you yourself are a reality, a haqq. And after that you move on to the center of the spirit universe, and become one with all others who have done likewise.13 ← 20 | 21 →

His reaction is “I guess I haven’t begun the first journey yet […] I don’t know anything.” And they cordially appreciate his honesty. To become “one with all others” is something John Boone strives for on his Mars. In ideal case he would burn all the bridges with Earth and start a completely new civilization on Mars without the burden of the Earth’s history. A new mystical journey. New planet to him means a new world with new rules and new race of people. And the Sufis seem to understand him, however, in their own peculiar way. When he asks them about their intentions on Mars, he gets the following explanation:

The similar conception of such gift economy is both earlier and later in the novel backed or proposed also by other members of the First Hundred and the Sufis in this way support the Boone faction in the Martian politics. The Sufis’ drunken chant – yes they do drink alcohol on Mars – “Possess nothing and be possessed by nothing. Put away what you have in your head, give what you have in your heart. Here a world and there a world, we are seated on the threshold,”15 puts this notion into extreme that cannot be understood by the opposite faction lead by the pragmatic Chalmers. The mystic Sufis understand also this tension and explain to John that Chalmers is his nafs, where “one’s nafs is one’s evil self, which some used to believe lived in one’s chest.”16

Besides the Sufis, John meets also with the orthodox Egyptian Moslems. The idea of a journey is present also in their view of the life on Mars, however, here it is understood in a more pragmatic rather than a spiritual way. John tries to persuade them about the wrongness of their attitude. He argues in the following manner:

Look, we are part of a new world. If you don’t base your actions on Martian reality then you become a kind of schizophrenic, with your body on one planet and your spirit on another. No society split like that can function for long.17 ← 21 | 22 →

And what he gets in return is an unshakable Islamic fundament:

Frank Chalmers, the second leader of the Martian independence movement, befriends the Arab community as well. In his case, however, he gets along better with the Bedouins, the orthodox Moslems coming from Egypt. The reason behind this good relationship is that Frank can use their religious zeal in his plans. Such an advantage is unthinkable with the Sufis, because their interests are not compatible with the corrupted material world. This is not to say that the Bedouins are corruptible, it is just that the fundamentalists, regardless of the religion, can be easily abused by politicians due to their black-and-white vision of the world. Frank even speaks Arabic, but one can only wonder if he succeeded in learning any culture with the language, for his thoughts on the Moslems are presented in the beginning of the novel as follows:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (August)
Literature Asia-Africa European literature Comparative literature Translation studies Intertextuality
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 281 pp., 9 b/w ill., 1 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Adam Bednarczyk (Volume editor) Magdalena Kubarek (Volume editor) Maciej Szatkowski (Volume editor)

Adam Bednarczyk is Assistant Professor at the Department of Japanese Studies, Nicolaus Copernicus University. Magdalena Kubarek is Assistant Professor at the Center for Arabic Language and Culture, Nicolaus Copernicus University. Maciej Szatkowski is Head of the Center for Chinese Language and Culture, Nicolaus Copernicus University.


Title: Rethinking Orient
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286 pages