Robyn Creswell is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale. He is the author of City of Beginnings: Poetic Modernism in Beirut.
 (March 2019)


‘An Enthusiastick Sect’

‘The Hanging of al-Hallaj in 922’; attributed to Iran, late nineteenth century

Sufism: A New History of Islamic Mysticism

by Alexander Knysh

Hallaj: Poems of a Sufi Martyr

by Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, translated from the Arabic by Carl W. Ernst
Simon Ockley was the first writer in English to compose a history based on Arabic sources. The Conquest of Syria, Persia, and Ægypt, by the Saracens (1708), which recounts the Arab conquests following the death of Muhammad, deeply influenced Edward Gibbon and, in the words of a recent scholar, “revolutionized …

Waking the Dead

Patrick Modiano on the Quai Conti, Paris, 1969

The Occupation Trilogy: La Place de L’Étoile, The Night Watch, Ring Roads

by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Caroline Hillier, Patricia Wolf, and Frank Wynne

Missing Person

by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Daniel Weissbort
Patrick Modiano’s first novel, La Place de l’Étoile, published fifty years ago, is a satire of French anti-Semitism as hilarious as it is unsettling. Modiano, who was twenty-two years old at the time, seems not to have known—or, in some moods, to have cared—whether his book was a parody of …

The Seal of the Poets

‘The Conference of the Birds’; detail of an illustration by Habiballah of Sava from a Persian manuscript of the poem by Farid ud-Din Attar, circa 1600

The Conference of the Birds

by Attar, translated from the Persian by Sholeh Wolpé
Almost nothing is known for certain about the life of Farid ud-Din Attar, a Persian poet celebrated for his delightful long poem The Conference of the Birds. He had no contemporary biographers and the few vignettes of his life that do exist feel apocryphal. He was born toward the middle …

Tripoli Nights with a Master of Arabic

Elias Khoury, London, 2006

Broken Mirrors: Sinalcol

by Elias Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies


by Rabee Jaber, translated from the Arabic by Kareem James Abu-Zeid
A little more than halfway through Elias Khoury’s novel Broken Mirrors, the main character, Karim Shammas, meets an architect from Solidere, the real estate company that razed and rebuilt downtown Beirut after Lebanon’s ruinous civil war. The architect shows Shammas a computer program that works like the video game SimCity …


Persia’s Hybrid Art

“Technologies of the Image,” now at the Harvard Art Museums, is fascinated by precisely the thing that repelled many Europeans about art of the Qajar period (1779-1925)—its hybrid aesthetic, a combination of “native styles” with European sources and technology. The curators are especially interested in what they call “remediation,” that is, images made in one medium subsequently emulated in another: a painting that incorporates a photographic model, for example, or a lithograph based on a sculpture. The longer one studies them, the more absorbing they become.

Voices from a Different Syria

The characteristic style of Abounaddara, an anonymous Syrian film collective, took shape during the early days of the Syrian uprising, before it became an armed conflict, and the collective’s work remains close to the ethos of the protest movement. But their politics have more to do with challenging the way we consume images than with taking sides in the conflict.

Syria’s Lost Spring

The Syrian People Knows Its Way: This is civil disobedience. There's no excuse for silence anymore, circa 2012

What happened to the Arab Spring in Syria? Amid a wave of jihadist violence extending from Aleppo to Paris, it is sometimes hard to remember that many of the original participants aspired to something dramatically different. In their courage, humor, defiance, and occasional moments of optimism, these protesters already seem to belong to another era—before sectarian war and waves of refugees made the idea of revolution seem quaint.