Persian narrative sources provide a colorful picture of Mughal courtly life, but in order to zoom in on cultural practices one has to turn to the artefacts of cultural pursuits. This article studies one specimen of the empirical treasure trove of Arabic manuscripts in South Asia in order to approach a lacuna in Mughal scholarship: the role of Arabic at the Mughal court. In the following, I will analyze the different paratextual layers of a manuscript of the thirteenth century Arabic grammar commentary Sharḥ al-Radī by Radī al-Dīn al-Astarābādhī to study its reading and transmission. The manuscript version represents a written artefact, which emerged out of a series of intellectual engagements. On the one hand, these textual engagements offer a perspective on the manuscript’s initial owner, Saʿd Allāh Khān (d. 1656), and his intellectual pursuits, as well as the scholarly framework in which he was brought up and worked in. On the other hand, the history of this manuscript’s circulation highlights the treatment of Arabic written artefacts at Shāh Jahān’s court. In an exemplary manner, the manuscript’s history of circulation demonstrates how courtly elites engaged with Arabic during the seventeenth century.
The discourse about the Arabian Nights illustrates the ways through which hegemonic poetic and literary discourses crystallized themselves, while developing a set of distinctions as a yardstick for the estimation of literary works, as well as the connections between these various distinctions—namely ‘realistic’ and ‘fantastic’, East and West, and oral storytelling and folklore versus written literature. This article focuses on the discourse about the Arabian Nights in the field of modern Hebrew literature. In turning towards the collection, discussing it and translating some of its sections, the various characters who dealt with it expressed and promoted a cultural and political narrative which saw cultural affinities as a potential basis for broader political cooperation between Arabs and Jews. I will argue, however, that the discourse about the collection illustrates a process of modern Hebrew literature adopting a definition of itself as European and secular literature. I will also argue that the discourse on the Arabian Nights reveals the various directions taken by those who resisted the construal of modern Hebrew literature as a vector in the European- secular tradition. These counter-hegemonic assertions particularly took the form of arguments that the collection was a multifaceted cultural treasure that includes Hebrew layers, or, alternatively, representing it as a model of a modern literary genre, the city-centered anthology.
This article focuses on a pioneering figure in the philological study of language and literature in early modern Japan, Motoori Norinaga 本居宣長 (1730–1801). In his studies of Japan’s “ancient Way,” Norinaga describes the correct understanding of the syntactical elements of the ancient Japanese language as a way to restore a lost sense of the world as enchanted, the abode of powerful presences known as kami. For Norinaga, the study of Japan’s ancient literature and language was thus situated within a broader interpretive framework. This article will show how philology contributed to the configuration of this framework as the method by which the disciplined individual was empowered to retrieve a lost sense of enchantment. As such, it takes the position that Norinaga’s philological restoration of enchantment is best understood as a re-enchantment, an attempt to transcend (early) modern disenchantment.
In his insightful essay, “Silence Across Languages,” (1995) A.L. Becker suggested that every language consists of a particular balance between speech and silence: between what can be expressed in words and what must remain unspoken. One important implication of this fact, he further claimed, is that the different silences between and across languages make translation very difficult, if not utopian. Taking Becker’s essay as its starting point this essay explores the question of silence and sound in translation through a study of interlinear translation. An inter-linear translation in which each line is Arabic is followed by its translation into Malay constitutes a microcosm in which to view the act of translation from up close and in detail. The essay suggests that it is also a space in which silences are “not allowed,” or must be overcome, as these translations do not offer the luxury of adaptation and re-tellings where words, idioms, grammatical and syntactical elements can be glossed over, ignored or remain unheard. An interlinear space forces the scribe, translator, reader and listener to produce and pronounce the sounds of different languages even when they are “incompatible” and thus may overcome the silences, in however small a way, and offer us a paradigm of “sound across languages.”
In the late sixteenth century, the Mughal Emperor Akbar sponsored the translation of more than one dozen Sanskrit texts into Persian, chief among them the Mahābhārata. The epic was retitled the Razmnāma (Book of War) in Persian and rapidly became a seminal work of Mughal imperial culture. Within the Razmnāma, the Mughal translators devoted particular attention to sections on political advice. They rendered book twelve (out of eighteen books), the Śānti Parvan (Book of Peace), into Persian at disproportionate length to the rest of the text and singled out parts of this section to adorn with quotations of Persian poetry. Book twelve also underwent significant transformations in terms of its content as Mughal thinkers reframed the Mahābhārata’s views on ethics and sovereignty in light of their own imperial interests. I analyze this section of the Razmnāma in comparison to the original Sanskrit epic and argue that the Mughal translators reformulated parts of the Mahābhārata’s political advice in both style and substance in order to speak directly to Emperor Akbar. The type of advice that emerged offers substantial insight into the political values that Mughal elites sought to cultivate through translating a Sanskrit work on kingship.
Nineteenth-century travelogues by British travelers to Persia commonly include warnings against “excessive” Persian politeness, casting it as flattery or deceit. While this pejorative representation of Persian cordiality is a token of British Orientalism, it also highlights the incompatible measures for pleasantries in Persia and Britain. This essay traces the competing economies of social courtesy in these two contexts: a desire for utmost calculability in the British market entailed a new conception of politeness, one more moderate and commercial; by contrast, Persian politeness operated through gift-giving and “extravagant” greetings and complimenting. While the former hinges on a “modern” conception of commerce, the latter pivots around the bargain entailed in gift-giving. (Mis)recognition and (mis)translation of Persian “excess” as the hypocrisy of the ancien régime in the travelogues, however, signpost a teleological fabrication of the past which urges a global circulation of the British notion of polite character.
In the New Science (1744), Giambattista Vico defined filologia as “the doctrine of all the institutions that depend on human choice” of the mondo civile. When nineteenth-century European nationalism was on the rise, supported by narratives of cultural homogeneity and specificity, philological comparatism was the state-of-the-art and it, often, legitimated the obsessions with the purity of origins and genealogies. Italy, characterized by internal plurality and its Mediterranean entanglements, is a model case. Whereas many discourses of the Risorgimento aspired to shape a new Italian nation after the classical model, Michele Amari’s History of the Muslims of Sicily (1854–1872) marked an astonishing exception. For him, going back to Islamic-Sicilian history, its literary, rhetorical and linguistic culture, meant to resume, on a higher level of incivilmento (Vico), what had been obscured by cultural decline: the spirit of freedom and equality, which Ibn Khaldūn had attributed to the Bedouins and their dynamics in history.
The history of Khaldunian readings in the twentieth century reveals an analytical capacity of non-Orientalists definitely greater than that demonstrated by the Orientalists. The latter, at least until the 1950s, prove to be prisoners of that syndrome denounced by Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), which projected on Islamic historical development a specificity and an alterity, which make it an exception in world history. Orientalist scholarship has often wanted to see in Ibn Khaldūn’s critical attitude to the philosophy of al-Fārābī and Averroes only the confirmation of the primacy of the sharīʿa over Platonic nomos. This article seeks to highlight some aspects of Ibn Khaldūn’s critique of classical political thought of Islamic philosophy. His critique focuses on the importance given to the juridical dimension of social becoming, and to the role of the political body of the jurists in the making of the City. Those aspects witness Ibn Khaldūn’s effort to interpret change and fractures as factors which make sense of history and decadence.
In his historical and legal works, Giambattista Vico points out several times that there are significant differences between human societies. From The Universal Law onwards, the Neapolitan philosopher proposes the restoration of the history of nations and recognizes that travel, migration and cultural exchanges play a significant role in the vicissitudes of peoples. At the same time, he also searches for constants (economic and social, political and cultural) that are common to all nations and that may be compatible with the natural and historical differences remaining between them. This project grows and matures over the three editions of the New Science. In this regard, this article aims to dissect the course of Vico’s intent and show that he does not appear to neglect cultural differences or the importance of cultural exchanges in the history of humankind to the exclusive benefit of the invariants occurring in all human communities.