Have you ever questioned the exceptionality of a Horace, or wondered what book was studied in medieval Islamic madrasas as the counterpart to Cicero’s De Inventione in the European curriculum? Ever wanted to explore the directions that Aristotle’s poetics has taken beyond Europe, or wished to relate Kant’s Erhabene to non-European conceptualizations? Were you ever curious to weigh Pope’s Essay on Criticism against his eastern counterparts, or to assess Shelley’s Defence of Poetry from a globalized perspective?
Search no more, for re-centring literary theory starts here!
While we at GlobalLit are working at addressing these issues in a forthcoming anthology of texts on literary theory from the Islamic world, Balaghas Compared: Cross-Cultural Readings in Classical Poetics, we use Licit Magic – GlobalLit Working Papers as a venue for interim science communication. Comprising translations of and commentaries on key works of poetics, rhetoric, literary theory, and related areas of inquiry from the literatures of the Islamic world, Licit Magic – Working Papers opens up new venues for literary scholars, allowing them easy access into texts that are otherwise accessible only to specialists. On a monthly basis, new—often first—translations of old texts are being made available, each time complemented with introductory headnotes and bibliographies and freely downloadable.
Appeared so far:
Licit Magic – GlobalLit Working Papers No. 1
Kristof D’hulster, Fuzūlī’s Preface to his Turkish Dīvān. Introduction & Translation
This working paper introduces the reader to an exquisite sample of mixed poetry and prose, in three languages, of one of the foremost litterateurs of the Turkic world: the 16th-century Fużūlī. Whereas his French counterpart Pierre de Ronsard gained the title of “Prince of Poets” by writing sonnets in his capacity of court poet, Fużūlī acquired lasting fame with the format of love poetry he was familiar with, the ghazal. Unlike de Ronsard, however, Fużūlī was never able to secure courtly patronage. These elements inform the preface to his Turkish divan. So, if you ever wanted to know what an Ottoman poet’s CV might have looked like, whom he would thank in his foreword and whom he would warn against, and what it would take for airports to be named after you and for your image to be found on stamps and coins alike? The preface to the Turkish divan of one of the greatest Ottoman poets of all times answers precisely these questions, and much more…
Download the PDF here.
Licit Magic – GlobalLit Working Papers No. 2
Kayvan Tahmasebian, Persian Dream Writing (khāb-nāma): With Translations from Khābguzārī (12th or 13th century), and ʿAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (12th century)
There is something literary about dreams when they are written down. Dreams and literature intersect in wonder, imagination, and freedom. The excerpts translated here are dream writings from Khābguzārī by an anonymous writer in the twelfth or thirteenth century, and ʿAjā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt by Muḥammad b. Maḥmūd Hamadānī (also known as Ṭūsī) (circa 1161–1178). Translated here for the first time into English, the two excerpts provide examples of how dreams shaped literary imagination in medieval Persian dream interpretation manuals (khāb-nāma) and anthologies of wondrous things (ʿajāyib-nāma).
Download the PDF here.
Licit Magic-GlobaLit Working Papers No.3
Nasrin Askari, Amīr Khusraw’s Introduction to his third Dīvān, The Full Moon of Perfection
Nicknamed as the “Parrot of India” for his exceptional eloquence, Amīr Khusraw of Delhi (1253–1325) wrote elaborate prose introductions to all his dīvāns, but the one he wrote to his Ghurrat al-kamāl (The Full Moon of Perfection) — compiled around 1293–94, at the approximate age of 43 — is particularly important because of his critique of Arabic and Persian poetry in general, and the critique of his own writing in particular. As a literary critique by an author of Turko-Indian background, who emulated the styles of various great Persian poets from Ghazni (in modern-day Afghanistan) to Shiraz and Isfahan (in modern-day Iran), to Ganja (in modern-day Azerbaijan), Amīr Khusraw’s work would provide valuable insights into the literary sphere of the medieval Persianate world. The present paper summarizes the author’s first part of the introduction to his third dīvān, Ghurrat al-kamāl (The Full Moon of Perfection), followed by an English translation of the section where he critiques his own poetry and prose.
Download the PDF here.
Licit Magic-GlobaLit Working Papers No.4
Bakir Mohammad, Al-Rāzī’s Discussion on The Meaning of Speech [Kalām] & Its Origins: Introduction and Translation
Known as one of the Sultans of the theologians, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (1150–1210) was a Persian Sunnī scholar of Arab origins who was renowned for mastering various disciplines including but not limited to exegesis [tafsīr], principles of Islamic jurisprudence [uṣūl al-fiqh], theology [kalām], logic [manṭiq], astronomy [falak], cosmology, physics, anatomy, and medicine. This paper delves into al-Rāzī’s discussion on semantics and its relation to the foundations of languages by examining multiple views on the composition of speech. By raising the rather simple question as to what constitutes speech (kalām) and what does not, al-Rāzī presents us with a terse, yet enlightening presentation of rhetoric’s very building blocks, the word. His focus then moves to the vexed issue of whether the waḍʿ or establishment of speech is through divine revelation or human convention?
Download the PDF here.
Licit Magic-GlobaLit Working Papers No.5
Kristof D’hulster- Enderūnlu Ḥasan-i Yāver’s Poetry’s Artistry, or How to “Turn Words into Licit Magic”
Purportedly in response to a request by his unnamed beloved one, the late 18th-century Ottoman poet Ḥasan-i Yāver wrote Poetry’s Artistry, a 441-verse mathnawī that offers some hands-on advice for trying one’s hand at poetry. As tashbīh, jinās, kināya, taḍādd, taḍmīn, ilmām, iltifāt, tardīd, ishtibāh, tawriya, īhām, takhmīs, tarkīb-band, and much more follow in quick succession, Ḥasan instructs the novice on how to compare and suggest, pun and puzzle, doubt and reject, paraphrase and translate. As a DIY, however, the work falls short. Clearly preaching to the choir, Ḥasan deals merely with a selection of figures and genres and presents these in their barest outlines only. However, it should be noted that Ḥasan has included some less ubiquitous items as well, such as the rhetorical figures of makhlaṣ-parvarī and taʿlīq al-muḥāl. In particular Ḥasan’s discussion of how to successfully combine two hemistiches into a distich — in such a way that “these constitute a single pith, as a pistachio or almond” — appears to be of rare occurrence. Nonetheless, rather than thinking of Poetry’s Artistry as a DIY or vade-mecum, a more fruitful way to engage with it is to think of it as a metapoem, that is, a poem that combines some of the technicalities of what poetics are with a more reflexive turn on what poetry and poets ought to be. As such, the succinct yet succulent Poetry’s Artistry is well worth a read, as it allows the modern reader not only to familiarize him- or herself with the stock motifs, figures and formats of Ottoman high poetry, but also to contemplate the radically different societal role that poetry once played.
Download the full file here.
Licit Magic — GlobalLit Working Papers 6. Nevāʾī’s Meter of Meters
Are you tripping over your own feet, incapable of advancing even a single metre, when it comes to understanding the technicalities of the feet and metres of pre-modern Islamicate poetry? Then you should probably not consult Nevāʾī’s Meter of Meters, since you are better off with the works of a Wheeler Thackston or a Finn Thiesen… If, however, you want to see for yourself just how sophisticated a toolbox Islamicate rhetoricians had developed to discuss poetic meter — the major but certainly not the only defining trait of this poetry — then you are well off with Nevāʾī’s Meter of Meters.
While the name of Nevāʾī might well not ring a bell with many of us, across vast swaths of the Islamic world it resonates deeply. Indeed, ever since the late 15th century, both professional poets and aficionados have marvelled at his countless verses, and this they did well beyond the poet’s homeland in present-day Uzbekistan: in the Balkans and in Sinkiang, and pretty much everywhere in between.
Introduced and partially translated here is not one of his celebrated divans or versified romances, but a didactic work that focuses squarely on the technicalities of the meter of classical Islamicate poetry. While his work, contrary to his own statement, is not the oldest of its kind in Turkic, it is still by far the best-known one, celebrated by Ottomans, Mughals, and Qajars alike. Starting from the bare letter as poetry’s fundamental building blocks, Nevāʾī details how these letters combine into pillars, how these pillars combine into feet (both the sound or basic ones and the unsound ones derived thereof), and, eventually, how these feet combine into nineteen sound and plenty more derivative meters. His analysis is sprinkled with illustrative verses, all in Chaghatay Turkic, and topped with a succinct defence of poetry, the tricks of poetry scansion, an appraisal of his patron and brother-in-arms, the Timurid ruler Ḥusayn Bayqara, and an excitingly rare discussion of Turkic prosodic forms that stretches the limits of classical prosody.
Now, to begin, sālim u mevzūn ṭabʿlı naẓm ehliġa ve maṭbūʿ u mülāyim zihnlik şiʿr ḫaylıġa maʿrūż ol ki bu bende Ḥażret-i sulṭānu’s-selāṭīn muʿizzü’s-salṭanati’d-dünyā ve’d-dīn(…)nıŋ her nevʿ naẓm bābıda taʿlīm ü terbiyetileri bile ve her ṣınıf şiʿr uslūbıda tefhīm ü taḳviyetleri bile ʿAcem şuʿarāsı ve Fürs fuṣaḥāsı her ḳaysı uslūbda kim söz ʿarūsıġa cilve vü nümāyiş birip irdiler…Prefer the translation? Check out the full work paper here.
Licit Magic Working Paper №7: Writing the Imagination in Medieval Persian Astrology,
with translations from Tanklūshā
Medieval Persian poets, Khāqānī Shirvānī (d. circa 1190) and Niẓāmī Ganjavī (d. 1209), have mentioned Tanklūshā in their poems as the culmination of human imagination. Tanklūshā (or Tanklūshā, as the word comes to name both a book and its author) is book of natal astrology. Natal astrology connects one’s fate or character to certain positioning of stars in the sky at one’s exact time and place of birth on earth. Legends obscure the true origins of the work. Seventeenth century Persian dictionaries, Farhang-i jahāngīrī and Majmaʿ al-furs, identify Tanklūshā as the book (tang) of a Roman sage named Lūshā. The book was believed to have contained superb examples of art in the West (mulk-i Rūm) and was comparable in visual splendour to its Eastern counterpart, Mani’s book of images, Arzhang. Nineteenth century orientalist scholarship discerned in the name Tanklūshā, a varied form of the name Teukros (also spelled Teucer) of Babylon, the ancient Egyptian astrologer who was cited by the major astrologers, such as Antiochus of Athens, Rhetorius, and Abū Maʿshar al-Balkhī. The book we read today in the name of Tanklūshā in Arabic and Persian versions is pseudepigraphic — most likely an imaginary reconstruction of an astrological work by Teukros, rich with images of everyday life appearing in supernatural tints as constellations on the vast screen of the night sky. Each of the twelve zodiac signs contains depictions, of varying lengths, of thirty sets of triptych images.
But what does a book of horoscopic astrology, with doubtful origins, have to do with literary studies today? For those interested in Islamic theories of imagination (khayāl), Tanklūshā offers highly visualised texts and fantastic combinations of images. For those interested in Islamic sciences and practices of divination and prognostication, Tanklūshā presents a vivid map of the constantly changing sky — variously rendered as charkh, gardūn, falak, all meaning “turning,” and all representing fate in classical Persian literature — with its aleatory faces. Falak (sphere), which was described by Khāqānī Shirvānī as a “blank dice [kaʿbatayn-i bī-naqsh],” turns, in Tanklūshā, into a dice with 360 sides each inscribed by its dream-like patchworks of arbitrary images.
If you’re interested in reading more about Tanklūshā, read Licit Magic — GlobalLit Working Papers 7, with an excerpt translated into English from Reza-zadeh Malek’s edition (Tehran: Miras-e maktub, 2005), containing the accounts of the entire thirty degrees of the sign Aries (burj-i ḥamal) in Tanklūshā.
link to the full paper here.
Licit Magic — GlobalLit Working Papers №8
Kristof D’hulster, Rūmī’s Drivel, Sayyids’ Chicanery, Poets’ Doggerel. Three Azerbaijani Texts by Ākhūnd-Zāde
In celebration of the tenth anniversary of the second centennial of Ākhūndzade’s birth, three Azerbaijani texts in translation by the Molière of Azerbaijan. The texts — one poem, one letter, and one prose text — reflect Ākhūndzāde’s sharp, sometimes vitriolic, take on Rūmī ’s teaching (a dangerous, incomprehensible word jumble), most poetry and poets (mere doggerel and poetasters), and sayyids (a lying and begging contemptible lot).
The opening lines of Ākhūndzāde’s mathnavi poem:
Sǝlyanda var idi bir Seyyid Əlǝm,
Əlǝmdǝn olmuşdu mǝrdi-möhtǝrǝm.
Yǝni mǝhǝrrǝmdǝ ǝlǝm gǝzdirib,
Hǝr adamın üstǝ onu süzdürüb.
There once was a sayyid in Salyan, called Mister Whiny,
a man all aah and aww, ouch and oww, alas and alack!
With the start of every Muharram month, he’d make a full show,
giving vent to his affliction in front of each and every single man.
Curious about Mister Whiny? Check out the full translation at LINK.
Licit Magic — GlobalLit Working Papers 9. Sugary Gratitude, Strolling Cypresses, Clouds Pouring Grass
Ḥalīmī on Paranomasia, Simile, and Metonymy.
By Kristof D’hulster
The translation of a short treatise on paranomasia, simile, and metonymy, by the foremost Persian-Turkish lexicographer of the 15th century, Lütfu’llāh el–Ḥalīmī. The text combines a rather dense and elliptic prose style with a remarkably lucid and clear-cut typology of seven types of tajnīs, seven types of tashbīh, and nine types of majāz, often illustrated with Turkic, Persian, Arabic or mixed-language verses.
Click on this link to read this work fully!
Licit Magic — GlobalLit Working Papers 10. On Poetry Translation (Tarjama)
As a Figurative Device in Persian Poetics
By Kayvan Tahmasebian
In classical manuals of Persian science of eloquence (balāgha), poetry translation (tarjama) is classified as a figure of speech along with other rhetorical devices, such as metaphor (istiʾāra), simile (tashbīh), and paronomasia (jinās). Premodern Persian poets impressed their readers by incorporating translations of Arabic verses in their poems. In an ode (qaṣida) composed on the occasion of congratulating his patron, Jalāl al-Din Shirvānshāh Akhsitān b. Manuchihr, on ʿEid al-Fiṭr, Khāqānī Shirvānī (d. 1190) translates a controversial verse by Yazīd ibn Muʿāwiya (d. 683), the second caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate. The verses are controversial for their praise of wine and Jesus Christ — extremely inappropriate for a Muslim caliph. Yazīd’s scandalous Arabic verses read (with a rough literal translation into English):
شُمَیْسَةُ كَرْمٍ بُرْجُها قَعْرُ دَنِّها
وَ مَشْرِقُهَا الساقی وَ مَغْرِبُها فَمی
فَاِنْ حُرِّمَتْ یَوْماً عَلی دینِ اَحْمَدٍ
فَخُذْها عَلی دینِ الْمَسیحِ بْنِ مَرْیَمِ
[My little sun of vineyard whose zodiac is placed at the bottom of cask,
and it rises from the cupbearer and it sets in my mouth,
If one day you’re forbidden to drink it in Mohammad’s religion,
Take it in the religion of Christ, the son of Mary.]
Khāqānī translates the first bayt as:
می آفتاب زرفشان، جام بلورش آسمان
مشرق کف ساقیش دان مغرب لب یار آمده
[Behold wine — the gold-pouring sun, in the crystal cup-sky,
rising from the saqi’s hand, setting on my beloved’s lips.]
Obviously Khāqānī has not rendered the verse word for word. The image of vineyard has been replaced by the image of the gold-yellow wine, the image of the cask is replaced by the image of clear skies likened to a crystal glass, and the image of the cup-bearer’s hands and the redness of the beloved’s lips — indistinguishable from the redness of the evening sky — are Khāqānī’s additions to Yazīd’s poem.
Although poetry translation was not practiced widely, traces of translation are present in the work of other pre-modern Persian poets, such as Ḥāfiẓ and Rūmī. Classical treatise of balāgha contain examples of these translations.
Licit Magic — GlobalLit Working Papers 11. Sitting in on an Ottoman Madrasa Course in Rhetoric.
Gürānī’s Interlinear Translation-cum-Commentary of the Preface of al-Qazwīni’s Talkhīṣ al-Miftāḥ
By Kristof D’hulster
This working paper presents a 16th- or 17th-century Ottoman translation-cum-commentary of the preface and introduction of one of the classics of Islamicate rhetoric, al-Qazwīnī’s Talkhīṣ al-Miftāḥ (The Key’s Digest), a 14th-century work on rhetoric based on al-Sakkākī’s 13th-century seminal Miftāḥ al-ʿUlūm (The Key of Sciences). This particular work is translated not because of its exceptional quality, but — quite on the contrary — because of its emblematic nature, as it provides us with a glimpse of the kind of texts on rhetoric that madrasa students throughout the Ummah engaged with, and — perhaps even more importantly — with a glimpse of the way in which they did so: through interlinear translations and/or commentaries. Al-Qazwīnī as the author and Gürānī as the translator-cum-commentator walk the student through some highly condensed definitions of “eloquence” and “rhetoric”, each of which is defined first and foremost negatively and hardly ever positively (negatively as the absence of tanāfur al-ḥurūf, gharāba, mukhālafat al-qiyās al-lughawī, al-karāha fī l-samʿ, ḍaʿf al-taʾlīf, tanāfur al-kalimāt, taʿqīd, kathrat al-takrār, and tatābuʿ al-iḍāfāt; positively as muṭābaqa li muqtaḍā l-ḥāl). The text concludes with a rather confusing discussion of the branches of rhetoric and their nomenclature.
To read the full paper, click here.
Licit Magic — GlobalLit Working Papers №12. “The World’s Richest yet Most Unfortunate Language”
By Kristof D’hulster
This working paper presents in full translation four texts of the Uzbek early 20th-century jadid reformist Abdurrauf Fitrat. Identifying educational reform as the main key to progress, he advocated for the emancipation and nationalisation of the Chaghatay/Uzbek language as a tool to educate the masses rather than to serve the interests of a religious-obscurantist elite only. However, as Fitrat was living at a time when even such seemingly “laudable objectives” could quickly turn into “subversive acts”, he fell victim to Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937. Although he was official rehabilitated in 1956, Fitrat pretty much remained a toy in the hands of successive ideological spin-doctors. Each pushing their own agenda, the pre-1991 Uzbek SSR framed Fitrat as “a true advocate of socialism”, while the post-1991 independent Uzbek republic hailed him as “a champion of the Uzbek national language”. Fortunately, starting with the Perestroika and Glasnost, Fitrat’s writings are no longer banned and/or heavily censured, and we can finally assess the author and his work on our own terms.
To read the full paper, click here.
Licit Magic — GlobalLIT Working Papers №13. On the Rhetorical Figures Tafsīr (Explication) and Laff wa-nashr (Folding and Unfolding)
By Kayvan Tahmasebian
What makes these two lines different from a straightforward description, like “the green sea, the red skies, and the yellow fields”? The way the landscape is offered to the beholder/reader. The scene is rendered first obscurely in sheer colours and then is clarified in distinct elements, as though in a cinematic zoom-out.
In Arabic and Persian rhetoric, this technique is called laff wa-nashr or laff-u-nashr. As suggested by its name, laff wa-nashr involves “wrapping up” and “scattering,” “folding and unfolding,” like a game of collection and dispersal. It’s when a statement or a number of statements are dissembled into their constituent parts and then reassembled in new arrangements.
To read the full paper, click here.
Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to contribute your own Working Paper!