Ali Sardar Jafri (1913-2000) was an influential Urdu poet and critic, as well as a leading figure in the taraqqī pasand taḥrīk (Progressive Writers’ Movement), which espouses Marxist literary sensibilities. Carlo Coppola, a pioneer in the study of modern Urdu literature, spoke to Jafri in 1968 about the historical, ideological, and aesthetic orientations of the Progressives.
Since the early twentieth century, Urdu poets have recited verse at locally-organized poetry gatherings held in country fairs across North India’s Gangetic plain. Critical engagement with these mushāʿarahs overturns assumptions about historical and affiliative aspects of vernacular and elite literary practices, revealing a patchwork of patronage, influence, and taste among poets and their audiences, while also highlighting unexpected routes of textual circulation outside urban locales. This essay examines poetry gatherings in and around the city of Muzaffarnagar located in North India’s Upper Doab. Ethnographic and archival materials tell a history of the performance arenas, tea stalls, and municipal structures of a semi-urban milieu that changes the scale of Urdu literary spaces over time.
In histories of the Urdu novel, the name of G.W.M. Reynolds (1814-1879) is either not mentioned at all or only in passing reference to his possible influence on Sharar, Urdu’s first writer of historical romances. But the actual role that this ill-reputed contemporary of Dickens played in the development of Urdu prose fiction was far greater. By 1918, twenty-four of his massive works were available in Urdu, some in more than one translation, and all reprinted more than once. Among his translators were a number of significant poets and fiction writers of the time. Arguably, between 1890s and 1920, Reynolds was not only the most widely read author in Urdu but also the most admired. He influenced not only writers of historical romances, but also inspired what can be best described as the earliest original crime tales in Urdu.
Some of the most important structural patterns and devices used in individual ghazal verses by the famous poet Mirza Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ are identified and analyzed; their literary effectiveness is illustrated with examples and discussion. In particular, the paper considers two such patterns. One set of verses have a ‘twist’ to them, such that the reader (or, ideally, hearer) is first misled or confused, then at the last possible moment is suddenly and almost explosively enlightened. Another set of verses create an inherently unresolvable ‘tangle’ of several possible meanings which cannot be either affirmed or rejected on any non-arbitrary grounds. The context-free independence of such small ghazal verses, together with their division into two formally distinct and performatively separated lines, makes for unusual poetic constraints and opportunities. The author has prepared an extensive commentarial website on the poetry of Ghalib and Mir.
The reception of Mullā Ṣadrā in South Asia began soon after his death through the dissemination and commentary culture on his Sharḥ al-Hidāyah that was adopted into the Dars-e Niz̤āmī pedagogy in the eighteenth century. However, the modern reception of his thought in Urdu has been somewhat removed from that initial scholastic engagement. I examine four modalities of this reception: translation of his major work the Asfār; analytic engagement by a philosophy doctorate; triumphalism in the literary sphere; and responses to the intellectual challenge of the West by a Shiʿi seminary student. I attempt to show that these varied receptions are indicative of trends and developments in the modern intellectual history of Pakistan.
Physiognomy in Ming China: Fortune and the Body, Xing Wang investigates the intellectual and technical contexts in which the knowledge of physiognomy (
xiangshu) was produced and transformed in Ming China (1368-1644 C.E.). Known as a fortune-telling technique via examining the human body and material objects, Xing Wang shows how the construction of the physiognomic body in many Ming texts represent a unique, unprecedented ‘somatic cosmology’. Applying an anthropological reading to these texts and providing detailed analysis of this technique, the author proves that this physiognomic cosmology in Ming China emerged as a part of a new body discourse which differs from the modern scholarly discourse on the body.
Chinese Visions of Progress, 1895 to 1949 offers a panoramic view of reflections on progress in modern China. Since the turn of the twentieth century, the discourses on progress shape Chinese understandings of modernity and its pitfalls. As this in-depth study shows, these discourses play a pivotal role in the fields of politics, society, culture, as well as philosophy, history, and literature. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the Chinese ideas of progress, their often highly optimistic implications, but also the criticism of modernity they offered, opened the gateway for reflections on China’s past, its position in the present world, and its future course.