Friday, December 8th, 2023 12:03 pm

In this second portion of a three-part interview about In Deadly Embrace, AJ Naddaff speaks with editor and translator James E. Montgomery on his approach to translating Ibn al-Muʿtazz, Abbasid-era literature, and poetry as a means for political engagement. 

AJN: What made you want to work on Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s hunting poetry rather than his most well-known treatise on poetics?  

JM: The reason that roughly ten years ago I went back to the hunting poem as a project was to do, as you said earlier, with the early stages of LAL; we were looking for things that were non-canonical but that also were things that people without any background in Arabic literature could read and appreciate very quickly without having to develop or apply a whole tool kit of knowledge. I hope that you can open this book and read any of these poems without knowing anything about Arabic, and you can appreciate them for the vividness of the imagery or the breathless excitement of the situations that they are describing. And although you might not know the difference between a sparrowhawk and a goshawk, you will probably have a fairly decent idea of what a hawk or a falcon is, so you can appreciate them as a form of, well I almost hesitate to describe it as such, but nature poetry. 

AJN: What have you learned from translating Ibn al-Muʿtazz, and Abbasid-era literature more generally, as opposed to translating pre-Islamic poetry? How did your method change, if at all?  

JM: The mighty pre-Islamic poems, no matter how hard one tries, always demand so much of the reader, whether that reader be someone fluent and well-versed in Arabic or someone who only knows English. However, what struck me when working on this collection in particular is that I don’t think you need to be familiar even with modern poetry to just get what they are about. In the course of working on the poems, I was really keen to have them stand without any footnotes; I wanted the poems themselves to explain themselves, and I didn’t want there to be any distraction from a twelve-, fifteen-, twenty-line firework display by having to flick to another part of the book and read a running commentary. I was very strict in this book, and I put all the effort into making each poem a self-contained unit that would provide all the explanation that I thought a reader would need.

AJN: In my estimation, you greatly succeeded; the translations read lucidly, like English poetry. I enjoyed them a lot, and I enjoyed hearing about your zero-footnote/endnote approach. I’m curious, though, why you did end up succumbing to a couple footnotes?

JM: Those were forced on me by my editors. I did not give in gracefully to that insistence. 

AJN: Is this why you write that, if you had succeeded in producing a text with no footnotes, you would be a character created by Borges?

Illustration from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, found in the late-fourteenth-century Pearl Manuscript, via Wikimedia Commons.

JM: Yes, and it seems paradoxical for me, an academic, to make such a statement. The academic’s calling card, the imprimatur, the stamp of her authority, is the footnote. For an academic to so radically dispense with the footnote seems an almost Borgesian situation. I read lots of books on poetry by poets or translations by poets. Take, for example, the English poet Simon Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. He has no footnotes whatsoever: the poetry is how he communicates his métier, his qualifications as a poet. Academics largely communicate their authority through the footnote.  

But I think there is a lot to be said for experiencing an explanation of literary history without it being dragooned or marshalled by me as the authority. I like that loose, almost quasi-bricolage feeling about it. I have tried as much as possible to make discoveries achievable by the reader, just as I have come over the last decade or so to think that the real power of translation is almost as a form of poetic commentary: to try to achieve a translation that communicates not only what I see in the poem but what I understand the poem to be about. 

AJN: Let’s talk about Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s biography because it’s so interesting and I think worth mentioning. How has history portrayed him?

Ibn al-Muʿtazz, via Wikimedia Commons.

JM: He was the direct descendent of a line of six caliphs; born in the year 861 in Samara, the caliphal palace complex that was built to house the Turkish troops that the Abbasid caliphs relied on so heavily. Despite growing up there, because his line was unsuccessful in holding onto the caliphate, I think history has tended to see him in apolitical terms. 

AJN: You write that he has traditionally been portrayed as a tragic aesthete, a reluctant ruler of the Abbasid caliphate, but that is not the full story. 

JM: When history is not written exclusively by the victors, it is often written in favor of them. Because his line lost the caliphate, and he only ruled for one day, his history has been written partially as a defeat. But then, even though he is an accomplished poet and wrote works on poetry such as the Kitāb al-Badīʿ (On the New Style) and al-Shuʿarāʾ al-Muḥdathīn (The Modernist Poets), there is also a reluctance to view a ruler as a talented poet at the same time. Yet I do not think that it is in the realm of the impossible to entertain the idea that not only were the caliphs and senior power brokers very invested in panegyric poetry, but that poetic praise itself acted as a rallying cry, to which their own and other factions could think: ‘we can give allegiance to this.’

AJN: Who inspired this new perspective of Ibn al-Muʿtazz as using poetry for and about politics?

Explorando 21Casino: Características, Bonos y Juegos para una Experiencia de Casino Excepcional

Características Especiales de 21Casino
En el competitivo mundo de los casinos en línea, 21Casino destaca por varias características especiales que hacen que los jugadores vuelvan una y otra vez. Desde su diseño elegante hasta su variada selección de juegos, descubramos qué hace a 21Casino único.

Bonos y Promociones de 21Casino
Requisitos de Apuesta del Bono en 21Casino:
Antes de sumergirte en los tentadores bonos de 21Casino, es crucial entender los requisitos de apuesta asociados. Estos determinan cuántas veces debes apostar el monto del bono antes de poder retirar las ganancias. Comprender estos requisitos te ayudará a aprovechar al máximo las promociones.

Otras Promociones de 21Casino:
Además de los bonos de bienvenida, 21Casino ofrece una variedad de promociones adicionales. Desde giros gratis hasta torneos exclusivos, los jugadores pueden disfrutar de incentivos regulares que añaden emoción a su experiencia de juego.

Juegos de Casino 21Casino
Juegos de Slots de 21Casino en Perú:
La sección de tragamonedas de 21Casino es un paraíso para los amantes de las máquinas tragamonedas. Desde las clásicas hasta las modernas con gráficos impresionantes, la variedad asegura que todos los gustos estén satisfechos.

Juegos de Mesa y Carta de 21Casino Perú:
Ruleta Online:
La ruleta online en 21Casino ofrece múltiples variantes, desde la europea hasta la americana. Los jugadores de Perú pueden disfrutar de la emoción de la ruleta desde la comodidad de sus hogares.

Blackjack Online:
Para los aficionados al blackjack, 21Casino presenta una amplia gama de mesas con variantes emocionantes, ofreciendo experiencias que se adaptan a jugadores de todos los niveles.

Online Casino Póker:
La sección de póker en línea de 21Casino brinda diversas opciones, desde Texas Hold’em hasta Omaha, para aquellos que buscan desafíos estratégicos.

Lotería Online:
La lotería online añade una dimensión única a la experiencia de juego en 21Casino. Participa en sorteos regulares para la oportunidad de ganar premios emocionantes.

Juegos en Vivo y Live Shows de 21Casino:
La experiencia de casino en vivo de 21Casino lleva la autenticidad a un nivel superior. Juega con crupieres reales y disfruta de live shows para una inmersión total en el mundo del juego en tiempo real.

Apuestas Online:
La sección de apuestas online en 21Casino agrega otra capa de emoción. Desde eventos deportivos populares hasta competiciones especiales, los jugadores pueden participar en apuestas en vivo.

¿Cómo Jugar a 21Casino en el Móvil?
21Casino ha optimizado su plataforma para ser accesible en dispositivos móviles. Jugar en el móvil es sencillo; solo necesitas un navegador y conexión a internet. La mayoría de los juegos y funciones del casino están disponibles para disfrutar sobre la marcha.

21Casino Métodos de Pago
Para garantizar transacciones seguras y eficientes, 21Casino ofrece diversos métodos de pago. Desde tarjetas de crédito hasta billeteras electrónicas, los jugadores tienen opciones flexibles para depositar y retirar fondos.

En resumen, 21Casino se presenta como una opción completa para los entusiastas del juego en línea. Con características únicas, una variedad emocionante de juegos y bonos tentadores, este casino ofrece una experiencia de juego excepcional para los jugadores en Perú y más allá. ¡Explora todo lo que 21Casino tiene para ofrecer y sumérgete en la emoción del casino en línea!

JM: I am not taking credit for this for myself. It was the late Wolfhart Heinrichs and my friend Julia Bray at Oxford who both initiated this revision of Ibn al-Muʿtazz as a failed caliph who was more interested in poetry than he was in power, instead seeing him really as a failed caliph who was unsuccessful despite being able to mobilize his support through the means of poetry.

Based on their insights, when I came to consider the role of hunting poetry in constructing the cultural hero as an icon of heroic masculinity, Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s work seemed to me to be another prime inflection of this use of poetry as a way of rallying supporters to one’s cause. Of course, if one were out on a hunting expedition with supporters, then that would be in itself a bonding exercise. So, the work of Heinrichs and Bray allowed me to see aspects in the poetry that might have otherwise been hidden to me.

When I started really to grapple in detail with the poetry, I noticed that there were a couple of poems in the collection which were overtly political. That’s why I think Ibn al-Muʿtazz’s Ṭardiyyāt should be thought of not as the frivolous pastime of a pleasure-loving prince but actually as a vital form of Abbasid power-making. Every once in a while, the curtains are pulled aside, and you can see what is going on behind them.

Part three will be posted 12/15.

James Montgomery is Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity Hall. His latest publications are Fate the Hunter: Early Arabic Hunting Poems, and Kalīlah and Dimnah: Fables of Virtue and Vice, with Michael Fishbein.

AJ Naddaff is a writer and Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at Stanford University.