Dr. Matthew L. Keegan
It is often assumed that Classical Arabic literary theory was either hostile to fiction or failed to account for it. However, the concept of fiction is not a universal category with identical definitions in all times and places. It is therefore anachronistic to search for attitudes to "fiction" in the past. Over the course of history, different cultures developed and debated a whole host of different ways to conceive of the relationship between narrative discourse and reality.
There were several sophisticated theories of fictive writing in Classical Arabic, and these can be studied through a close examination of the reception of Kalīla and Dimna. The reception of Kalīla and Dimna can be traced through discussions and adaptations in Arabic philosophy, literary criticism, and later works of belles-lettres.
Classical Arabic theorizations of fictive writings are not identical to the various modern concepts of fiction, which are often based on the novel. However, Classical Arabic authors and readers were not hostile to fictive writing. By understanding how Kalīla and Dimna fit into the conceptual maps of early readers, this portion of the project sheds light on the history of Arabic belles-lettres.