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In: Philological Encounters
Editor: Kishwar Rizvi
Affect, Emotion and Subjectivity in Early Modern Muslim Empires presents new approaches to Ottoman Safavid and Mughal art and culture. Taking artistic agency as a starting point, the authors consider the rise in status of architects, the self-fashioning of artists, the development of public spaces, as well as new literary genres that focus on the individual subject and his or her place in the world. They consider the issue of affect as performative and responsive to certain emotions and actions, thus allowing insights into the motivations behind the making and, in some cases, the destruction of works of art. The interconnected histories of Iran,Turkey and India thus highlight the urban and intellectual changes that defined the early modern period.

Contributors are: Sussan Babaie, Chanchal Dadlani, Jamal Elias, Emine Fetvaci, Christiane Gruber, Sylvia Hougteling, Kishwar Rizvi, Sunil Sharma, and Marianna Shreve Simpson.
Nasrin Askari explores the medieval reception of Firdausī’s Shāhnāma, or Book of Kings (completed in 1010 CE) as a mirror for princes. Through her examination of a wide range of medieval sources, Askari demonstrates that Firdausī’s oeuvre was primarily understood as a book of wisdom and advice for kings and courtly elites. In order to illustrate the ways in which the Shāhnāma functions as a mirror for princes, Askari analyses the account about Ardashīr, the founder of the Sasanian dynasty, as an ideal king in the Shāhnāma. Within this context, she explains why the idea of the union of kingship and religion, a major topic in almost all medieval Persian mirrors for princes, has often been attributed to Ardashīr.
Abū Manṣūr al-Thaʿālibī and His Yatīmat al-dahr
Why did premodern authors in the Arabic-Islamic culture compile literary anthologies, and why were these works remarkably popular? How can an anthology that consists of reproduced material be original and creative, and serve various literary and political ends? How did anthologists select their material, then record and arrange it?

This book examines the life and works of Abū Manṣūr al-Thaʿālibī (350–429/961–1039), an eminent anthologist from Nīshāpūr, paying special attention to his magnum opus, Yatīmat al-dahr ( The Unique Pearl), and its sequel, Tatimmat al-Yatīma ( The Completion of the Yatīma). This book is a direct window on to an anthologist’s workshop in the second half of the fourth/tenth century. It examines the methodological consciousness expressed in Thaʿālibī’s selection and arrangement, and his sophisticated system of internal references and cross-references to other works; how he selected from his contemporaries’ oeuvres; how he sought, recorded, memorized, misplaced, and sometimes lost or forgot his selections; how he scrutinized the authenticity of material, accepting, questioning, or rejecting its attribution; and the errors and inconsistencies that resulted from this process.

In 1704 the Indo-Persian Sufi and poet Mirzā ʿAbdul Qādir ʿBīdil’ completed an autobiography entitled The Four Elements (Chahār ʿunṣur). Into the fourth “Element” of this text he set an account of a portrait of himself painted around 1677 by Anūp Chhatr, a painter famous for his portraits in the imperial Mughal ateliers of the time. Initially refusing his painter-acquaintance permission to paint him, Bīdil finally yields and is astonished at how the resulting portrait duplicates him like a mirror. After marveling at it for a decade, he falls ill. His friends visit him in his sickbed and one of them, leafing through his anthology of texts, comes upon the painting. He exclaims at how faded it is. Bīdil himself can barely make it out on the page. When he recovers his health, he opens the anthology to examine the faded portrait and is astonished and shocked, as his friends are, to see that it has recovered its brilliant colors. He tears the painting up.

This essay reads this ekphrastic account of self-transformation as an autobiographical and iconoclastic interpretation, playing on philosophical, literary and painterly traditions of visuality, in particular Ibn ʿArabi’s (d. 1240, Andalusia) theory of the imagination. Among the questions that will be pursued are: what understandings of self and self-transformation did Bīdil renew by this interpretation? How is this episode a focusing of concerns that pervade all of The Four Elements? What kind of reader and reading practices did this autobiography assume? And, finally, does an understanding of Bīdil’s iconoclastic self-transformation—turning on this episode—prepare us to better understand his works in other genres?

In: Philological Encounters

How should the field of philology react to the ongoing quantitative growth of its material basis? This essay will first discuss two opposing strategies: The quantitative analysis of large amounts of data, promoted above all by Franco Moretti, is contrasted with the canon-oriented method of resorting to small corpora. Yet both the culturally conservative anxiety over growing masses of texts as well as the enthusiasm for the ‘digital humanities’ and the technological indexation of large text corpora prove to be unmerited when considering the complexity of the problem. Therefore, this essay advocates for a third, heuristic approach, which 1) accounts for the changes in global text production and storage, 2) is conscious of the material-political conditions that determine the accessibility of texts, and 3) creates a bridge between close and distant reading by binding quantitative approaches to fundamental, qualitative philological principles, thus helping philologists keep track of the irritating, provocative, and subversive elements of texts that automated queries inevitably miss.

In: Philological Encounters

Is it possible to productively bring together two seemingly exclusive ideas: Africa and philology? This essay presents a case for working at multiple levels and numerous sites in bridging these apparently disparate realms. Indeed, there is already a tradition of philological study about and on the continent that reveal the many different trajectories of Islamic scholarship in particular. While surveying this field, which has advanced substantially in recent decades, it also suggests that there are key issues that require examination such as the question of the archive and the collection, their constitution and movement. Philology, no matter how it is conceived, rests on the availability of texts and therefore the histories of the way texts come to accumulate in certain places and are discovered or recovered at specific moments is part of the project of the philological encounter. We thus have to be mindful of the histories and practices before, in, and after the practice of deep, close reading.

In: Philological Encounters

This essay explores the cultural geography of the Malay world writ large by examining the trajectories of texts beyond the conventional national and regional boundaries of Southeast Asian studies. Although the Malay world could be studied in relation to a number of transregional orientations, this essay highlights its interconnectedness with the Indian Ocean. This orientation offers a broad enough frame to examine the transregional scale without losing sight of the local. The essay focuses on a collaborative effort at examining textual trajectories. It proposes a rethinking of the normative vocabulary of the nation-state by exploring the subterranean histories of the present. The essay proposes the term “Malay world” as a helpful vehicle for exploring the transregional connections that are not captured by the language of territory and boundedness. The cultural geography of the Malay world that emerges in this essay is multifarious as its interconnectedness with the Indian Ocean has taken complex and diverse forms. The trajectories of the texts examined have traced a world that has been enmeshed in the transregional traffic of people, goods, and ideas. The pervasiveness of the thinking and practice of the nation-state, has undermined, but not eliminated the multifarious cultural geography of the Malay world.

In: Philological Encounters

This article surveys the deep history of the discipline of comparative philology in the Indo-Persian world, and attempts to situate it within larger debates about global forms of intellectual modernity. From its early beginnings in the production of literary lexicons designed to help poets in different regional centers of the Persianate world understand each other’s works, comparative philology in South, Central, and West Asia developed into a key scholarly discipline in which a whole host of concerns relating to Indo-Persian intellectual life was negotiated: literary canon formation, the arbitration of good taste, the maintenance of cosmopolitan literary intelligibility in an increasingly vernacular world, and even the nature of language itself. These developments took place over many centuries, in a vast array of works, spread out over a vast region that stretched from Anatolia to India. But in their increasingly sophisticated scholarship, as well as their increasing cognizance of their own scholarly disciplinarity, we find several distinctly “modernizing” tendencies among many of the Indo-Persian philologists discussed here, long before the supposed “invention” of the discipline by western scholars like the British colonial judge and orientalist, Sir William Jones (1746-1794).

In: Philological Encounters

The present paper aims to examine some important hagiographies of the Muslim saints of Kashmir to illustrate how these accounts contributed to the creation of a space vital for the emergence of a new religious subjectivity from the fourteenth century onwards. It argues against the tendency, underlying much recent scholarship on medieval Kashmir, to approach these texts as unproblematic historical documents without raising certain important questions regarding the context of their production. It, therefore, argues against the dichotomy of ‘myth’ and ‘history’ assumed by most historians who have engaged with these hagiographies. Questioning this approach, it argues that these texts nevertheless offer insights into how a Muslim subjectivity emerged and consolidated itself in medieval Kashmir. Writing lives of the saints should be seen as a discursive practice constructing ideal images for imitation rather than imitations of real lives. Following certain archetypes of saintliness, these texts created and perpetuated the concept of ideal life among a population experiencing a cultural and religious transition. Basing its argument on the thesis that a life is not how it is lived but how it is told and remembered, the paper argues that the narratives of Sufis and Rishis of Kashmir should be seen as constitutive of the very processes by which the Muslim community perceived itself and hence seminal to the formation of a distinct Muslim identity. It concludes with the argument that the binary opposition posited by certain stake holders between a Sufi/Rishi Islam and ‘scriptural’ Islam is a fallacy with no foundation in the recorded lives and teachings of Kashmiri Muslim saints.

In: Philological Encounters