Taḥqīq vs. Taqlīd in the Renaissances of Western Early Modernity

In: Philological Encounters
Matthew Melvin-Koushki University of South Carolina

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This essay reviews a major new study of European Renaissance Arabist-humanist philology as it was actually practiced, humanist neoclassicizing anti-Arabism notwithstanding. While definitive and philologically magisterial, that study nevertheless falls prey structurally and conceptually to the very eurocentrism whose ideological-textual genesis it chronicles. Situating it within the comparative global early modern philologies framework that has now been proposed in the volume World Philology and the present journal is a necessary remedy—but only a partial one; for that framework too still obscures the multiplicity of specifically genetically Western early modernities, thus hobbling comparative history of philology. I therefore propose a new framework appropriate to the study of Greco-Arabo-Persian and Greco-Arabo-Latin as the two parallel and equally powerful philosophical-philological trajectories that together defined early modern Western—i.e., Hellenic-Abrahamic, Islamo-Judeo-Christian, west of South India—intellectual history: taḥqīq vs. taqlīd, progressivism vs. declinism.

But a broadened and more balanced analytical framework alone cannot save philology, much less Western civilization, from the throes of its current existential crisis: for we philologists of the Euro-American academy are fevered too by the cosmological ill that is reflexive scientistic materialism. As antidote, I prescribe a progressivist, postmodern return to early modern Western deconstructive-reconstructive cosmic philology as prerequisite for the discipline’s survival, and perhaps even triumph, in the teeth of totalitarian colonialist-capitalist modernity.

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