University of California, Riverside

Comparative Literature and Languages

Jeff Sacks

Jeffrey Sacks, with airquotes

Office: HMNSS 2508


Iterations of Loss


Jeff Sacks

Associate Professor and Chair
Ph.D., Arabic and Comparative Literature, Columbia University, 2006

Professional Bio

I was educated in Cairo, Beirut, Ann Arbor, Austin, and New York, where I earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society and the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (now the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies).

I write and teach around a series of questions, with which I'm engaged in various ways, separately and together, and which I'd list as follows: (1) poetics, (2) philology, (3) violence and the law, (4) Arabic poetry, (5) medieval Arabic philosophy, (6) Arab Jewish writing, (7) colonialism and the state, (8), deconstruction, (9) Ibn Khaldun, (10) Arabic and Islamic studies, (11) the question of Palestine, and (12) loss.  

My first book, Iterations of Loss: Mutilation and Aesthetic Form, al-Shidyaq to Darwish (New York: Fordham UP, 2015), which was awarded the Harry Levin Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association (2016), engages debates around poetics, literary comparison, and colonial violence in relation to loss. Reading nineteenth through twenty-first century texts published in Arabic, Hebrew, and French, I argue that, with loss, language is already languages, that it becomes something other than what it is, interrupting the domestication of politics, language, and sociality in the state form. I consider the formation of monolingual literary objects and the desire to shape language into coherent, legible, temporally recognizable forms, to suggest that language disrupts its coerced legibility. Reading language and loss in relation to poetic form, I suggest that literary comparison does not privilege a renewed giving of sense but gives place to a new sense of relation.

I am presently writing three books. The first, a critique of the theological-political idea of the simple, is entitled Simplicities: A Colonial Archive. It traces the proliferation, morphing, distribution, and restating of the simple—a concept that is said to have fallen away into the past in modernity and Enlightenment. Never having simply departed, anxiety about the simple drives diverse fields of scholarly research, fuels the colonial and neo-colonial imaginaries, sets in motion regimes of incarceration, targeted assassination, and torture, and calls for our compulsively Bildungs-centric practices of education, language, and reading. Simplicity, I argue, divides populations, mobilizes juridical categories, asymmetrically distributes violence in the interest of the state, and leverages it all against the gravitas of the divine. The colonized, after all, had to be colonized, because they were simple—uneducated, illiterate, and on the side of religion, backwardness, and incivility. And yet the simple, I also argue, was never solely itself: disrupting the desire for coherency in reading, the simple exceeds itself and its time and it becomes simplicities.

The second, entitled Arabic Poetics in the Philological Turn, considers the shared and divided histories of philology and poetics. It studies the formation and persistence of aesthetic-philological categories in colonial modernity—for example, the category of the literary or poetic work—as they move between languages and touch upon poetic writing. Linking the transformation and proliferation of an older, European inheritance to the practice of the poetic in Arabic, and in French- and English-language Arab poetic writing, this book returns us to the relations between poetics and philology—two language practices which, if they have been separated in the organization of the humanities disciplines in modern university, compel our sustained attention in their recurring return(s) to each other.  

The third reads the question of Palestine in relation to the politics of death and asymmetrical forms of juridical and racialized violence, and it's entitled For Decolonization: The Lyric Poem and the Question of Palestine. I offer close readings of poetic texts in relation to the law, political philosophy, historiography, and psychoanalysis, and argue that the terms and logics of colonial violence exceed the time of modernity, displacing a privileging of the modern in the reading of the question of Palestine. And I argue, through a close attention to language, that the lyric poem deconstitutes the state and the juridical forms it privileges and the force it imparts. Poetic language, in the fragility of its form, becomes a lyric critique of violence, as it gives to us the gift of non-soveregn, interruptive poetic acts.


Iterations of Loss: Mutilation and Aesthetic Form, al-Shidyaq to Darwish (New York: Fordham UP, 2015).


Mahmoud Darwish, Why Did You leave the Horse Alone?, tr. Jeffrey Sacks (New York: Archipelago, 2006).


"New Texts Out Now: Jeffrey Sacks, 'Iterations of Loss: Mutilation and Aesthetic form, al-Shidyaq to Darwish'." Jadaliyya (2015).

Articles, Book Chapters, Reviews

Available here:

"The Philological Present: Reading the Arabic Nineteenth Century." Journal of Arabic Literature 47.1-2 (2016): 169-207.

"Palestine and Sovereign Violence." Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 34.2 (2014): 368-389.

"Falling into Pieces, or Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq and Literary History: A Love Letter." Middle Eastern Literatures 16.3 (2013): 317-333.

"Untranslatability." Modern Language Notes 126.5 (2011): 1083-1122.

"Reading with Darwish." Journal of Palestine Studies 40.4 (2011): 104-106.

"Latinity." CR: The New Centennial Review 9.3 (2009): 251-286.

"For Decolonization." Arab Studies Journal 17.1 (2009): 110-134.

"Futures of Literature: Inhitat, Adab, Naqd." diacritics 37.4 (2007): 32-55.

"Language Places." In Mahmoud Darwish: Exile's Poet, ed. Hala Khamis Nassar and Najat Rahman (Northampton, Mass.: Interlink Books, 2008), 239-272.


More Information

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

UCR LibrariesCampus Status
Career OpportunitiesDiversity
Visit UCRMaps and Directions

Department Information

Department of Comparative Literature and Languages
2401 Humanities & Social Sciences Bldg.

Tel: (951) 827-1423
Fax: (951) 827-2160
Contact Us