One Thousand and One Nights is an oriental repertoire of narratives and images that has haunted the works of Western writers since the birth of the Enlightenment, when Antoine Galland launched his French translation of the Arabic work, Les mille et une nuits. Yet close analysis of the ways the text has been articulated in Western culture has yet to be undertaken. Edward Said mentions The Nights as a foundational text of Orientalism only to abandon it a few lines later. More recently, Robert Irwin in his sweeping Companion to The Arabian Nights surveys the text's history but not its influence. In searching for the secret of this nomadic, talismanic tome that crosses epochs, genres, and nations, I attempt a new approach by asking the following questions: What is the political and cultural context in which Galland translates The Nights? How does the The Nights haunt the narratives of Montesquieu and other Enlightenment thinkers? Finally, what is so dangerously fresh about Shahrazad today in the work of postcolonial writers like Mahfouz, Rushdie, Sebbar, Faqih, and Hariharan?
Last modified: 7 May 2001