Mihyar’s precarious journey: imagining the intellectual in modern Syrian literature

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This article investigates the representations of the literary persona of Mihyar in three works by Syrian authors. First established as a central figure in Arab literary culture by Adonis in his influential 1961 poetry collection The Songs of Mihyar of Damascus, Mihyar embodies the worldviews of the progressive intellectual of the 1950s and 1960s. As it examines Adonis’s Mihyar as well as his ensuing remobilisation in Haydar Haydar’s Banquet for Seaweed (1983) and Rosa Yasin Hasan’s First Draft (2011), this article calls attention to the implications of their literary re-makings in relation to fluctuating cultural and political conditions. I argue that both Adonis and Haydar assume the persona of Mihyar to model their idealised version of the public intellectual in their own image, whereas Hasan incorporates the figure of Mihyar into her novel to dismantle him entirely. By so doing, First Draft interrogates the totalising models of sovereign paternalism that a previous generation of intellectuals had produced and the genealogy they had constructed for Arab modernity. Hasan’s work speaks to the preoccupations of a new generation of Syrian writers who share an overwhelming sense of disillusionment with both the grand narratives that had governed the cultural field and the epistemological frameworks that had given rise to these narratives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-21
Number of pages17
JournalContemporary Levant
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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