Critics, Moralists and Intellectuals: The Transformation of the Udabāʾ in the Arab Nahḍah: a Historical-Conceptual Approach

In: Oriente Moderno
Teresa Pepe University of Oslo

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This article analyzes the importance of the Nahḍah (Arabic Renaissance) for current developments in the field of Arabic literature. In particular it links the contemporary debate concerning the role and nature of writers and intellectuals (udabāʾ) in Arabic society to the semantic transformations undergone by the term adīb during the Nahḍah.

The study analyses a number of statements made by Egyptian writers in the historical cultural press, critical essays, and ̩̩literary works, in which the term adīb is discussed, using R. Koselleck’s method of conceptual history. It shows that, during the Nahḍah, the term absorbed the European concepts of “author”, “man of letter”, “intellectual”. Nonetheless, the classical meanings of adīb as a subject associated with eloquence, encyclopaedic knowledge and moralistic attitude, were also revived, and this spurred a lively debate characterized by plurality of views and intellectual dispositions.

Linking the nahḍawī debates to the debate concerning writers and intellectuals (udabāʾ) in contemporary society, the article shows how these same meanings are being re-disputed today in the midst of global and local cultural transformations.

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