Premodern manuscript production was fluid. Books and papers freely changed hands, often against their authors’ wishes. In the absence of copyright laws, certain countermeasures arose. This study considers one of them: self-commentary, meaning an author’s explanations on his own works. The article deals with two cases of medieval self-commentary across linguistic and cultural boundaries: the Arabic author and rationalist Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī (d. 1057 CE), and the professional Byzantine littérateur John Tzetzes (d. 1180 CE). After an overview of their lives and works, with a focus on the key role of self-explanation, the article considers their respective manuscript cultures, which involved face-to-face educational settings that nonetheless permitted widespread copying. There follows a discussion of textual materiality, which reveals a mutual concern to avoid tampering or misinterpretation. Then, the article shows how both men tried to direct readers by exploiting language’s capacity for multiple meanings. The conclusion ponders the relevance of this study for problems posed by digital book technology.
In 1508 the legendary Sulṭān of Sindh, Niẓām al-Dīn Jām Nindō, of the Samma dynasty (1351–1522) died. The Sulṭān’s death occasioned a major political shift in Sindh at the turn of the sixteenth century, which ultimately led to the fall of the Sammas in 1522. This period is marked with repeated instances of military and civil unrests and dethroning attempts. The primary theme of this article is to demonstrate that these particular cycles of political instability defined the parameters of contemporary architectural undertakings. For this purpose, two of the most ambitious funerary constructions in the Samma royal necropolis of Maklī at Thatta (southern Sindh)—the tomb enclosure of Samma military commander Mubārak Khān and the monumental mausoleum of Sulṭān Niẓām al-Dīn—are reassessed. The article also locates political undertones in the architecture of these mausolea, and deciphers the implicit subtext interlaced into their epigraphic as well as visual motifs.
In this Philological Conversation, Carlo Ginzburg reflects on the place of philology in his work and explores the connections between philology, microhistory, and casuistry. We talk about the people who inspired his early thinking, including his father Leone Ginzburg, his mother Natalia, and his grandfather, moving on to Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer, and Sebastiano Timpanaro. We discuss the ethical and political implications of his research and reflect on the power of philology to give voice to the marginalized and suppressed. The conversation, which was edited for readability, took place during the Corona pandemic over three meetings via Zoom on July 13, September 10, and September 17, 2021.
This essay will examine two “graphic novel” depictions of WWI epidemics: one that depicts scientific advances during the dysentery epidemic on the European front in World War One; and another that depicts the Spanish influenza epidemic unfolding across the United States of America. Both texts narrativise an epidemic through a verbal and visual engagement with historical and scientific discourses. These texts were produced within five years of our current Covid-19 pandemic and show us how language (visual and verbal) can be employed to make sense of a plague threat that involves an invisible “enemy”. The way that meaning is blended and elaborated throughout each text can help us understand how a figurative framing of a pandemic might help open up new understandings or possibilities. Popular imagination can productively link with tropes from the past, particularly tropes that were in play as understandings of the role of science shifted.
This article brings attention to a form of narrative fiction that has engaged with the Covid-19 outbreak by embracing social media. Microcuentos, a form of very brief short stories usually referred to as flash fiction in English, have widely circulated across Latin America through digital platforms in pandemic times. But more than simply thriving in a context of globally spread fear, death, and isolation, I argue that – in the 2020s – microcuentos are uniquely suited for pandemic times. By combining narrative intensity condensed in a structurally limited wordcount with social media’s capacity to circulate swiftly and widely, writers of microcuentos across the region have been exceptionally capable of responding to the crisis as it is happening. The case of the Latin American microcuento in the time of Covid-19 invites us to question the hegemony of the novel while rethinking the meanings of World Literature in a pandemic and post-pandemic world.
The following is an edited transcript of the opening plenary session of the Institute for World Literature in July 2020 – held online as a result of Covid-19. In this conversation with IWL’s director and associate director, Orhan Pamuk discusses his understanding of world literature and his place in it, and his ongoing work on his novel Nights of Plague, then nearing completion.