Announcing Our New Podcast

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 10:21 am

LAL Podcast on SoundcloudWe are excited to announce the launch of the Library of Arabic Literature podcast! Wherever you may be, and whatever you find yourself doing—walking, driving, flying, cooking—steal a moment and listen to the episodes on SoundCloud, featuring conversations with our LAL fellows as they discuss their upcoming projects.

Episodes are available in English and Arabic. Click here to listen now, and don’t forget to subscribe to our SoundCloud channel!

Opposites Attract: An Excerpt from The Philosopher Responds on the Nature of Affection

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019 10:42 am

cover of The Philosopher RespondsIn this excerpt from The Philosopher Responds: An Intellectual Correspondence from the Tenth Century, the litterateur Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥidī asks the philosopher Abū ʿAlī Miskawayh why opposites seem to attract, and Miskawayh offers a response on the nature of and reasons for affection.

 On why friendship arises between apparently dissimilar individuals—a volitional and ethical question

Why does reciprocal affection arise between two individuals who do not resemble each other in external appearance, are dissimilar in physical build, and do not dwell in physical proximity, so, say, one hails from the city of Farghānah, the other from Tāhart, one is tall and well-built, the other short and unattractively diminutive, one is lean and meager, the other sturdy and tough, one is hirsute and covered in thick hair, the other smooth and with very little hair, one is more tongue-tied than Bāqil, the other more eloquent than Saḥbān Wāʾil, one is more generous than a rain cloud after a lightning storm, the other more avaricious than a dog nursing a fleshless bone it toiled to secure, so that the divergence and discordance between the two provoke the spectator and inquirer to wonder? (more…)

The Excellence of the Poets: Poetry and the Shaping of History in Ibn Qutaybah’s Excellence of the Arabs

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019 9:10 am

In this guest post, Jonny Lawrence, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford, considers the powerful role of poetry in The Excellence of the Arabs by Ibn Qutaybahtranslated by Sarah Bowen Savant and Peter Webb. “How mighty the pen, how feeble the sword,” he writes.

cover of The Excellence of the ArabsIf a tree falls in the forest and there is no poet to record it, did the tree really fall?

In The Excellence of the Arabs, Ibn Qutaybah, a third/ninth-century polymath and Arabophile, frames much of the titular excellence around the Arabs’ innate claim to fields of knowledge not shared by other cultures, notably, for him, that of the Persians. Poetry and a few other arts and sciences—pre-Islamic methods of divination, the art of horse-husbandry, and the Islamic fields of jurisprudence (fiqh) and grammar (naḥw)—are “particular to the Arabs. Non-Arabs can master them only by learning and parroting; the Arabs alone possess the brilliance and glory of having developed them,” as Ibn Qutaybah writes. All the other branches of knowledge are “common to all peoples,” including the Arabs. But it is poetry which truly sets the Arabs apart: theirs is the knowledge of prosody, rhyme, and description.

Poetry is at the heart of Arab Excellence: technically brilliant and aurally stunning, pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabic poetry also serves as the very record of that Excellence. It is both a technical and narrative wonder, appreciated both by Ibn Qutaybah and by his readers, contemporary and modern. Most strikingly in the first, more polemical, section of The Excellence of the Arabs, poetry serves as evidence for the general statements about Arab Excellence that Ibn Qutaybah makes. (more…)

War Songs longlisted for the National Translation Award

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019 10:01 am

The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) announced the longlists today for the 2019 National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose. Included on the longlist for poetry is War Songs by ‘Antarah ibn Shaddad, translated by James E. Montgomery with Richard Sieburth!

Fall 2018 PaperbacksThe National Translation Award, now in its 21st year, is the only national award for translated fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction that includes a rigorous examination of both the source text and its relation to the finished English work. Featuring authors writing in 13 different languages, this year’s longlists expand the prize’s dedication to literary diversity in English. The selection criteria include the quality of the finished English language book, and the quality of the translation. ALTA will highlight each book on the longlists with features written by the judges on the ALTA blog: https://literarytranslators.wordpress.com/

The Complete 2019 National Translation Award Longlist in Poetry:

War Songs
by Antarah ibn Shaddad
translated from the Arabic by James E. Montgomery with Richard Sieburth
(Library of Arabic Literature/NYU Press)

Architecture of Dispersed Life: Selected Poems
by Pablo de Rokha
translated from the Spanish by Urayoán Noel
(Shearsman Books)

(more…)

Conceptions and Configurations of the Arabic Literary Canon: A Discussion with the Editors of the Library of Arabic Literature

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019 8:00 am

On June 19th, 2019, Marina Warner moderated a panel discussion with several of the editors of the Library of Arabic Literature at the workshop “Conceptions and Configurations of the Arabic Literary Canon,” held at the Paris Columbia Global Center and organized by Sarah bin Tyeer and Claire Gallien. The panel focused on the genesis of the Library of Arabic Literature and the ways in which the question of “the canon” in Arabic literature affected the selection of titles. Some highlights from the conversation follow:

The panel began with a discussion of the origins of the project. Philip Kennedy, General Editor, explained that the Library of Arabic Literature decided early on to use the term “literature” not in the sense of “adab” but in the sense of “anything that is written, the written heritage of a culture.” The Library of Arabic Literature, then, “seeks to be a library that is inclusive,” he added.

Marina Warner asked about the process for creating a new LAL edition and translation of a work. James Montgomery, Executive Editor, described how LAL editor-translators work with manuscripts to create new, authoritative editions. “Editing is a form of translation,” he said. Shawkat Toorawa, Executive Editor, chimed in to emphasize the collaborative nature of the LAL process, noting, “We subject every single word to review.” (more…)

Julia Bray on Translating Al-Tanūkhī, ‘A Useful Thinker for Our Times’

Thursday, May 30th, 2019 6:00 am

Al-Muḥassin ibn ʻAlī al-Tanūkhī (939–994) was a judge, collector of stories, and litterateur who was born in Basra and died in Baghdad. Raised in a lettered family with significant connections to the ruling elite, Tanūkhī knew many of the stories behind the great rises and falls of his day. Deliverance Follows Adversity is one of two influential anthologies he compiled, and it is full of stories of imprisonment, loss, and liberation.

More than a millennium after the author-editor’s death, Julia Bray, the Abdulaziz Saud AlBabtain Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford, has translated the first three chapters of Deliverance, titled Stories of Piety and Prayer, into a sharp, clear English. Bray’s scholarly interests focus on medieval Arabic literature, life-writing, and social history, which puts Tanūkhī’s Deliverance—part autobiography, part social history, and part self-help—directly in her crosshairs. Indeed, Bray said that, when she began reading Tanūkhī, she found “practically everything I was interested in was there.”

What do Tanūkhī’s multiple—and varied—tellings of events tell us about his project? Why does Bray feel Deliverance was “a struggle to write,” and why is it a must-read for historians of emotion and narratologists? In this second part of a two-part discussion, Bray also talks about her translation decisions, and why she tried to stay as close as possible to the Arabic.

I’m usually someone who falls asleep during the isnāds, but I was surprisingly charmed by this book’s vigorous sourcing. Not only do we have chains of transmission, but sometimes Tanūkhī cites a book and a chain of transmission; sometimes he notes whether an anecdote was memorized or loosely remembered; he notes sometimes that he has permission to re-tell a story; sometimes whether the anecdote was read back and verified. Also, he gathers multiple tellings of events. In doing so, does he stand out from other authors in offering a kind of extra scholarly rigor? The function of the isnāds is generally clear, to tie us into a history, but what about the function of the multiple versions? (I find the idea that some translators would have cut the variations a bit shocking; they seem very important to this project.)  (more…)

The ‘1001 Nights’ Outclassed: The 10th-century Stories of Tanūkhī

Thursday, May 23rd, 2019 8:00 am

Stories of Piety and PrayerAl-Muḥassin ibn ʻAlī al-Tanūkhī (939–994) was a judge, collector of stories, and litterateur who was born in Basra and died in Baghdad. Raised in a lettered family with significant connections to the ruling elite, Tanūkhī knew many of the stories behind the great rises and falls of his day. Deliverance Follows Adversity is one of two influential anthologies he compiled, and it is full of stories of imprisonment, loss, and liberation.

More than a millennium after the author-editor’s death, Julia Bray, the Abdulaziz Saud AlBabtain Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford, has translated the first three chapters of Deliverance, titled Stories of Piety and Prayer, into a sharp, clear English. Bray’s scholarly interests focus on medieval Arabic literature, life-writing, and social history, which puts Tanūkhī’s Deliverance—part autobiography, part social history, and part self-help—directly in her crosshairs. Indeed, Bray said that, when she began reading Tanūkhī, she found “practically everything I was interested in was there.”

Why does Bray think Tanūkhī’s tales “outclass the Nights in every way,” and why does she call him “the opposite of imperturbable”? In the first of a two-part discussion on the charming, self-pitying, and erudite Tanūkhī, Bray talks about the author and what his Deliverance might have meant to him and his contemporaries, as well as the ways in which it’s been passed down, adapted, and understood by later readers.

I’d like to start with what brought you to this translation. How does it build out of your work and interests, as well as the work of David Samuel Margoliouth (1858-1940), Alfred Felix Landon Beeston (1911-1995), and ʿAbbūd al-Shāljī (1911-1996)? How do we insert you, and this translation, into the Tanūkhī story?

Julia Bray: How do I connect with Tanūkhī? I got interested in Arabic storytelling as a teenager through a book of translations edited by James Kritzeck. I liked the pieces he chose because of their plots, and because some of the translations were outstanding.

I think it was that that pushed me in the direction of learning Arabic at university. I was greedy for stories, but not 1001 Nights-type stories. I think Tanūkhī’s stories outclass the Nights in every way, and unlike Shahrazad, he doesn’t go on and on. His plots are brisk and varied, even though in Deliverance Follows Adversity all the stories are about someone, usually someone just like you or me, getting into some sort of tight spot in one of their less bright moments, and coming out gratefully on the other side—one of the unfailing shared plot types that western readers can recognize from Ancient Greek comedy to P.G. Wodehouse. Tanūkhī’s Deliverance stories are written in all the then-available literary registers about very human characters that we only get glimpses of, but long to know more about. Most of them aren’t by him—he makes it quite clear that the book is a collection of stories by other people, and he’s very anxious that his readers should know who those people are. It’s one of the ways he makes things individual and specific, which is part of what makes the stories so attractive. (more…)

The Story of the Snake: An Excerpt from Stories of Piety and Prayer

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019 4:51 pm

Stories of Piety and PrayerOne of the most popular and influential Arabic books of the Middle Ages, al-Tanukhi’s Deliverance Follows Adversity is an anthology of stories and anecdotes designed to console and encourage the afflicted. Stories of Piety and Prayer consists of the first three chapters of Deliverance Follows Adversity and features stories that show how God’s providence works through His creatures to rescue them from tribulations ranging from religious persecution to romantic woes, and in this case, an encounter with a treacherous serpent. The story begins:

[…] I have also heard the story told differently, though with the same meaning, as read back for verification to the Baghdadi Qurʾan scholar, Abū l-ʿAbbās the Gap-Toothed, whose name is Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Ḥammād ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Thaʿlab, in his house in Basra in Jumada I 335 [December 946] in my presence and hearing, as follows: You cite ʿAlī ibn Ḥarb al-Ṭāʾī of Mosul, who heard it from Jaʿfar ibn Mundhir al-Ṭāʾī the holy man in Mahrūbān, who said: I was with Sufyān ibn ʿUyaynah when he turned to a Hadith scholar who was present and said, “Tell us the story of the snake!” The man said, citing ʿAbd al-Jabbār:

Ḥumayd ibn ʿAbd Allāh had gone to the place where he practiced his devotions, when suddenly a snake appeared and said to him, “Protect me, that God’s shadow may protect you!”

“From whom am I to protect you?” he asked.

“From a murderous enemy,” the snake replied. (more…)

General Editor Philip Kennedy Profiled in The National

Friday, April 26th, 2019 2:18 pm

UAE’s The National recently published a profile of our general editor Philip Kennedy, who was recently awarded the prestigious Sheikh Zayed Book Award for his book Recognition in the Arabic Narrative Tradition (Edinburgh University Press, 2016). The article begins:

Philip Kennedy accepts his award during a ceremony at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair

“Writing academic books is a very private affair,” says Philip Kennedy, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and comparative literature at New York University Abu Dhabi. “I feel lucky when a book is published, lucky if someone in my field notices it and writes a review, lucky if a student takes it up for a class.”

So you can probably imagine how Kennedy felt when he discovered earlier this year – via text message – that he had won a Sheikh Zayed Book Award for his 2016 work, Recognition in the Arabic Narrative: Tradition: Discovery, Deliverance and Delusion. “I thought I was dreaming and then realised I wasn’t,” he says.

Read the full article here.

The Quintessence of Reality: An Interview with LAL Fellow Mohammed Rustom

Thursday, March 21st, 2019 9:02 am

Two Library of Arabic Literature Fellows, Mohammed Rustom and Bilal Orfali, recently sat down together to discuss the edition and translation projects they’ve been working on this year at NYU Abu Dhabi. Here, Bilal Orfali interviews Mohammed Rustom about his work on ‘Ayn al-Qudat’s Zubdat al-Haqa’iq (The Quintessence of Reality).

Who was ‘Ayn al-Qudat, and why was he so important in the Islamic tradition?

Mohammed Rustom

Library of Arabic Literature Fellow Mohammed Rustom

‘Ayn al-Qudat was a major theologian, philosopher, jurist, and Sufi who died in the middle of the 12th century CE. The Seljuq government had him put to death because he was a critic of their corrupt administrative practices and they feared his influence among his students, many of whom worked for the Seljuqs.

‘Ayn al-Qudat was the disciple of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ghazali, who was of course the brother of the famous Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali. ‘Ayn al-Qudat is significant because he wrote in both Arabic and Persian, and was equally influential on both the Arabic tradition and the Persian tradition. Many of the important Sufi authors writing in Persian after him were influenced by him, such as Farid al-Din ‘Attar, Jalal al-Din Rumi, and Mahmud Shabistari. They drew on his writings, especially his original discussions on love and the imagery of the lover and the beloved, the moth and the flame, etc. The authors writing in Arabic, such as Ibn ‘Arabi, Nasir al-Din Tusi, and Mulla Sadra were also influenced by his theoretical discussions on God, the nature of knowledge, and the path to acquiring true knowledge. (more…)