The Rhetorical Fabric of the Traditional Arabic Qasida in Its Formative Stages: A Comparative Study of the Rhetoric in Two Traditional Poems by 'Alqama l-Fahl and Bashshar b. Burd.

Author:Key, Alexander M.
Position:Book review
 
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The Rhetorical Fabric of the Traditional Arabic Qasida in Its Formative Stages: A Comparative Study of the Rhetoric in Two Traditional Poems by 'Alqama l-Fahl and Bashshar b. Burd. By ALI AHMAD HUSSEIN. Abhandlungen fur die Kunde des Morgenlandes, vol. 98. Wiesbaden: HARRASSOWITZ, 2015. Pp. xv + 292. [euro]78 (paper).

In the study under review, Ali Ahmad Hussein turns his careful, honest, and engaging scholarship to the challenge of analysing exactly what happened to rhetorical texture during the transition from pre-Abbasid to muhdath ("modern") poetry. He develops a literary critical toolbox that combines Classical Arabic poetics with twentieth-century European criticism.

The challenge of accounting for change in poetry is one Hussein faced in his earlier work. In JAL articles in 2004 and 2005 (35,3: 297-328 and 36,1: 74-102 respectively) and in his monograph The Lightning-Scene in Ancient Arabic Poetry: Function, Narration and Idiosyncrasy in Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Poetry (Harrassowitz, 2009), he argues that Classical Arabic accounts of structure failed to enable critics to either locate or discuss development and innovation. This holds true whether the critics were Classical Arabic scholars or twentieth-century Europeans. The Europeans failed to identify the changes observed by Hussein because of their dependence on the Arabic scholarly heritage to understand how the sections of Classical Arabic poems fit together; this led them to treat the poetry as "imitative and traditional" (The Lightning-Scene, xii).

In Rhetorical Fabric the challenge is the same, but this time Classical Arabic resources are substantially more useful to the author. Hussein commits to the Classical Arabic toolbox of rhetorical figures, and supplements it with European accounts of rhetorical figures. He explains that he wants to do for his two poems what the Mu'tazili exegete al-Zamakhshari did for the Quran in the twelfth century: give a complete account of poetics throughout a literary text. Hussein selects eleven rhetorical figures from al-Zamakhshari, ranging from metonymy (kinaya) to redirection (iltifat) via paranomasia (tajnis) and ploke ([pi][lambda]ok[??], radd al-'ajuz 'ald l-sadr), and then builds his own critical toolbox with the help of Francois Moreau from late twentieth-century France: metonymy, simile, metaphor, analogy, and the loose trope (synecdoche). Hussein is careful, and appropriately historicist, when it comes to historical development--he knows and says that the figures enumerated in Classical Arabic are not quite the same as those found in twentieth-century European and Anglophone criticism. But in this book he is committed to the use of rhetorical...

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