Estrangement and Selfhood in the Classical Concept of Watan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The modern Arabic term for national homeland, watan, derives its sense from the related yet semantically different usage of this term in classical Arabic, particularly in classical Arabic poetry. In modern usage, watan refers to a politically defined, visually memorialized territory whose expanse is cognized abstractly rather than through personal experience. The modern watan is the geopolitical locus of national identity. The classical notion of watan, however, is rarely given much geographical content, although it usually designates a relatively localized area on the scale of a neighborhood, town, or village. More important than geographical content is the subjective meaning of the watan, in the sense of its essential place in the psyche of an individual. The watan (also mawtin, awtan), both in poetry and other types of classical writing, is strongly associated with the childhood/youth and primary love attachments of the speaker. This sense of watan is thus temporally defined as much as spatially, and as such can be seen as an archetypal instance of the Bakhtinian chronotope, one intrinsically associated with nostalgia and estrangement. The watan, as the site of the classical self's former plenitude, is by definition lost or transfigured and unrecoverable, becoming an attachment that must be relinquished for the sake of virtue and glory. This paper argues that the bivalency of the classical watan chronotope, recoverable through analysis of poetic and literary texts, allows us to understand the space and time of the self in classical Arabic literature and how this self differs from that presupposed by modern ideals of patriotism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-42
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Arabic Literature
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2016


  • Bakhtin
  • Persian literature
  • Schiller
  • childhood
  • chronotope
  • family
  • geography
  • homeland
  • idyll
  • love poetry
  • naïve
  • pastoral
  • patriotism
  • watan

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Estrangement and Selfhood in the Classical Concept of Watan'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this