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The Maqāma: Finding the Third Way in Classical and Modern Arabic Literature

Bocher, Joshua
Thesis/Dissertation; Online
Bocher, Joshua
Hueckstedt, Robert
Hermes, Nizar
The pre-Islamic poetic form of the qaṣīda has always had a strong relationship with “officialdom,” whether in the form of the tribal hierarchy of the Jahilīya (Age of Ignorance) or the courts of the Islamic empires (Umayyad and Abbasid). In the qaṣīda, the poet extolls the virtues of the rulers in order to validate their right to positions of leadership. With the spread of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries, and the replacement of the tribe with a vast state apparatus, a new class of educated secretaries (kuttāb) brought an end to the poet’s monopoly on speech. The result was a literary golden age that saw the rise of prose and new poetic genres, albeit with strictly defined purposes (to inform and to evoke emotional responses, respectively). The conventions of the qaṣīda adapted to reflect the changing times. Poets and prose writers alike were no longer exalting the tribe or the caliph, but the city. The city elegy (rithā‘ al-mudun), whether poetic or prosaic, reflects the writers of the medieval Islamic world’s attempts to delineate unique city-based identities. With the fragmentation of the Abbasid Caliphate, and the Persian-speaking Buwayhids’ de-facto military rule over much of its land in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Arabic literary genre of the maqāma emerged, blending both poetry and prose and drawing from a wealth of literary traditions and sources. The conventions of the maqāma were revived by the Palestinian novelist Emile Ḥabībī in the face of a similar cultural threat, namely, the emergent State of Israel. Taking these factors into account, this paper will contend that the maqāma serves (in one way) as a critique of medieval and modern nationalism. It will demonstrate this element of the genre through a comparative analysis of the works of Badī‘ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī, the progenitor of the maqāma, and the 20th-century novelist Emile Ḥabībī.
University of Virginia, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, MA (Master of Arts), 2017
Published Date
MA (Master of Arts)
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