Essays in Arabic Literary Biography, 925-1350.

Author:Boullata, Issa J.
Position:Book review

Essays in Arabic Literary Biography, 925-1350. Edited by TERRI DEYOUNG AND MARY ST. GERMAIN. Mizan: Studien zur Literatur in der islamischen Welt, vol. 17,1. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ, 2011. Pp. vii + 371. 68 [euro].

This is the first volume of a three-volume series whose general editor is Roger Allen. For each volume forty authors are selected from a particular period of Arab literary history, organized in a newly devised periodization, namely, 950-1350, 1350-1850, and 1850-1950. (Another volume on an earlier period was published independently--Arabic Literary Culture 500-950, ed. Shawkat Toorawa and Michael Cooperson [Detroit: Thompson Gale, 2005].) This new periodization is said to reflect cultural and intellectual changes in Arab literary history better than the traditional one based on political and dynastic changes. For each volume invited specialized scholars contribute independent literary biographies on the authors selected.

Each essay begins with a list of the selected author's works, followed by a list of editions and then a list of translations, and it ends with references. Arranged alphabetically by the authors' last names, the essays differ in length and, in this volume, may be as short as two and a half pages (e.g., on RQzbihan Baqll) or as long as twenty-one (e.g., on Ibn al-'Arabl). They also differ in approach, in depth and breadth, and, of course, in style; but they are all informative and some, really erudite.

As the two editors explain in their excellent eleven-page introduction, the three centuries of this period were centuries of great creativity in many ways. Despite the political fragmentation of the time, literary production continued under rival patrons in a vast Islamic domain extending from the Iberian Peninsula to North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean lands, and reaching Arabia and the plateaus of Iran and Afghanistan.

This period saw the flourishing of Arabic poetry based on earlier classics, the addition of new poetic genres like strophic verse and vernacular verse, and the rise of new prose genres like the narrative picaresque and the popular shadow play. The period also witnessed the development of literary criticism and the study of Arabic rhetoric; the growth of religious, mystical, and philosophical writings; the production of travel and historical literature, and of compendia of past Arab literary achievements and bibliographical sources for them.

To select forty authors from this extensive literary...

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