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Alexander Elinson

Abstract

Alexander Elinson’s study of the Andalusian scholar Ibn al-Khatib (d. 1374) is based on a host of literary sources including both fictional and expository modes of discource. His descriptions of place and shifting definitions of al-Andalus and the Maghrib problematize the separation between the two at a time when al-Andalus which was once at the center of the Muslim West is increasingly relegated to the periphery. Elinson concludes with a focus on the importance of Granada and Fez in the 14th century in terms of what would soon become “Europe” and “North Africa” and how these two cultural locales came to be essential in the definition of Spain and Morocco respectively.

Looking Back at al-Andalus

The Poetics of Loss and Nostalgia in Medieval Arabic and Hebrew Literature

Series:

Alexander Elinson

Looking Back at al-Andalus focuses on Arabic and Hebrew Literature that expresses the loss of al-Andalus from multiple vantage points. In doing so, this book examines the definition of al-Andalus’ literary borders, the reconstruction of which navigates between traditional generic formulations and actual political, military and cultural challenges. By looking at a variety of genres, the book shows that literature aiming to recall and define al-Andalus expresses a series of symbolic literary objects more than a geographic and political entity fixed in a single time and place. Looking Back at al-Andalus offers a unique examination into the role of memory, language, and subjectivity in presenting a series of interpretations of what al-Andalus represented to different writers at different historical-cultural moments.

Alexander Elinson

Abstract

This article will provide a close reading of Abū al-Tāhir Muhammad b. Yūsuf al-Saraqustī's (d. 1143) Maqāma Qayrawāniyya. Taking into account social, political, and literary-historical factors, I will examine how and why the author effectively translates the poetic genre of rithā' al-mudun (city elegy) into rhymed prose. Writing during the Almoravid period when the prestige of poetry and literary prose was signi ficantly less than it had been in earlier periods due to a decline in courtly patronage, al-Saraqustī successfully expresses his own displacement as a writer and ambivalent relationship to the Arabic literary past and present by subverting the traditional metaphoric obscurity of poetry, and the clarity of prose. In utilizing the "hybrid form" of the maqāma, al-Saraqustī demonstrates the difficulties of remaining within narrowly de fined genres that do not necessarily re flect the complex twelfth century present in which the author lived.

Alexander Eben Elinson

Abstract

The unique structural qualities of the Andalusi strophic poem (muwashshah or zajal) lent itself to a type of poetic interaction called muārada, commonly translated as "literary imitation." By composing within the parameters of an already established metrical, rhythmic, and melodic scheme, as well as sometimes sharing the final lines of the poem (the kharja), poets opened up a dialogue with their audience, and/or their fellow poets. However, these "imitations" were more than simplistic copies of of one another composed for virtuosic show. When executed well, a muārada provided a variation, praise, parody, response, or combination of these, of the original work, which would not be lost on the audience familiar with the form. In this paper, I will examine three strophic pocms that share a common kharja, in addition to elements of thematic development, rhyme scheme, and metrical patterns. In our set, we have what appears to be three panegyrics -a muwashshah composed in classical Arabic, a muwashshah-like zajal in Andalusī colloquial Arabic, and a muwashshah in Hebrew. Through a close reading of the poems, I will show that despite their shared features and surface similarities, they are, in fact, quite distinct in language, tone, and purpose, thus calling into question their generic designation as panegyric poems.