Part III in the continuing series by our friend and dramaturg Mr. Jordan Sudermann. This time Jordan examines the stories that inspired not just the title of the play but also the structure of the story of The Arabian Night. For those of you jonesing for some sweet Linkin's action here on the Rorschach Blog he should be back before the end of the week, as for my self I am off to points north of here tomorrow morning as I hit White River Junction, VT, Boston, MA and Harve De Grace, MD this weekend. See the play that audiences are calling mind blowing (got that from the commercials for 6th Sense).
The Arabian Night: 1001 Nights
What is often called The Arabian Nights is more accurately known as 1001 Nights (or 'Alf Layla wa-Layla in Arabic) has no definitive text or author, having existed and continuing to exist in a variety of forms and iterations. Essentially, the various versions (in Arabic as well as through translation) work in a similar (though less improvisational) fashion to the joke explored in The Aristocrats, where there is a set setup and punch line, but the path to the punch line is up for grabs, yet is understood to be thematically uniform. In the case of 1001 Nights, the "setup" and "punchline" are Shehrazad's need to spin stories to save her life, while the path is the stories she tells in order to acheive this goal. While Schimmelpfennig's reference to 1001 Nights (or The Arabian Nights) is more in atmosphere than critical engagement, the themes of magic and repetition connect both the stories and Schimmelpfennig's play.
Magic, or the fantastic, has been used in various forms in western and non-western literature, from the uncanny elements of Gogol's short stories, to the magical realism of Borges and Garcia Marquez, to pre-modern Arabic fiction and storytelling. It is often the case in many of these works that magic is used to comment upon everyday society and reality, issues which are often presented in the guise of the weaving of fantasy. In addition to and in conjunction with magic are dreams, dream analyses, and fate, all of which place a certain emphasis of determining or accepting the future.
Time and repetition are also important to the frameworks of both 1001 Nights and The Arabian Night. There exists the idea that there really is no end to the former story, as 1001 could stand for merely "a lot" or "infinity," as in literally one past "a lot." An interesting approach to examining The Arabian Night would be to look at it in terms of repetition and rupture. What might instances of repetition in the play signify? What might the points of rupture within this repetition signify?
In my next installment, a quick look at the German side of the literary equation.