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This two-part article argues that the earliest Arabic manuscripts of the 1001 Nights celebrate sameness, especially physical sameness, in sexual relationships to the extent that a category of erotic embodiment emerges that cannot be understood through a binary construction of sex. The first part of the article proposes a reading of a fifteenth-century manuscript that takes its descriptions of beautiful bodies on their own terms. Eroticized characters recur as both lover and beloved in a series of parallel sexual encounters that situate them in emphatic mutual relation and accumulate weight as the text unfolds. The resulting erotics of sameness decenters the perspective of adult men and displaces or undermines, at least temporarily, the lines of gender otherwise drawn in the stories. By contrast, when difference is stressed via explicitly sexed or racialized bodies, it is used to deem a relationship ridiculous or threatening. The second part of the article presents a diachronic analysis of one story, “The Story of Qamar al-Zaman and Budur,” to show how modern editors, translators, and scholars have read binary sex into the text in order to make sense of its erotics. Manuscripts of the Nights dating from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries differ considerably from the earliest Arabic print editions in their presentation of the story. This case study reveals what translators and scholars miss when they work from these print editions and/or from modern constructions of gender, sexuality, and embodiment.
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