Volume 12 (2012)

(pdf 4.3 Mb. pp. 1–263)

The book in fact and fiction in pre-modern Arabic literature

edited by Antonella Ghersetti and Alex Metcalfe

Antonella Ghersetti, Editor's introduction (pdf 206 kB, pp. 1–-15).

Peter Webb , 'Foreign books' in Arabic literature: discourses on books, knowledge and ethnicity in the writings of al-Jahiz (pdf 569 kB, pp. 16-–55).

Abstract: Al-Jahiz is one of the ‘Abbasid era's most celebrated bibliophiles, and his praise of books and championing of ‘writerly culture' in 3rd/9th-century Iraq are well documented. However, he also expressed distinctly negative appraisals of books that have hitherto received much less scholarly attention. This paper will examine the curiously paradoxical views of al-Jahiz by considering his opinions on non-Arabic books in the context of scholarly debates in his contemporary Iraq. Al-Jahiz's conception of such books intersected debates regarding (a) the suitability of books to transmit knowledge, (b) rivalries between Arabs and non-Arabs in early Abbasid Iraq, and (c) the merits of translating scholarly writings from pre-Islamic civilisations. Al-Jahiz's opinions on these issues led him to develop a particular conception of the ‘perfect book' whereby he could unreservedly praise his own writings and extol ‘Abbasid literary culture, but at the same time subordinate foreign literary cultures to the non-literate pre-Islamic Arabians. Al-Jahiz's theories reveal that 3rd/9th-century Iraq had not yet become entirely a ‘civilisation of the book', and that conceptions of language, ethnicity and knowledge influenced the formation of Muslim bibliophilia.

Ahmad Nazir Atassi, The transmission of Ibn Sa'd's biographical dictionary Kitab al-Tabaqat al-kabir (pdf 487 kB, pp. 56–-80).

Abstract: This develops the concepts and tools for the systematic study of the mechanics of survival medieval Islamic books. These concepts and tools are then applied to studying the history of the earliest extant biographical dictionary of the Islamic tradition Ibn Sa'd's Tabaqat. First, the book's transmitters and their historical contexts are investigated using a large number of transmission chains. Then, conclusions are extracted from this data concerning the book's authorship, the survival process of its many versions, and the trajectories of its geographical diffusion at different phases of its long life.

Noah Gardiner, Forbidden knowledge? Notes on the production, transmission, and reception of the major works of Ahmad al-Buni (pdf 786 kB, pp. 81-–143).

Abstract: This article is a preliminary presentation of findings from an extensive survey of the large manuscript corpus of works attributed to the 7th/13th-century Sufi and putative ‘magician' Ahmad al-Buni. In addition to addressing the texts themselves, the survey has included attention to patterns over time in the reproduction of works, and to paratexts such as transmission certificates and ownership notices. Through detailed presentation of the latter, the article serves in a part as a methodological demonstration. It presents: 1) new information on al-Buni's life; 2) a brief overview of the major works of the medieval Bunian corpus, with a proposal that five of these works can be attributed most securely to al-Buni; 3) a discussion of the spread of Bunian works between the 8th/14th and 10th/16th centuries; and 4) evidence that the work through which al-Buni is best known, Shams al-ma'arif al-kubra, is in significant ways a product of the early 11th/17th century, and that at least two lines of teachers claimed for al-Buni in this work were plagiarized from the works of 'Abd al-Rahman al-Bistami. It is argued that the tenor of al-Buni's teachings and the history of their reception have been broadly misunderstood due to reliance on printed editions and a modern scholarly disinclination to regard the occult sciences as a serious topic of inquiry. It ends with a call for more complete integration of manuscript studies into the broader field of Islamic historical studies.

Samuela Pagani, Il libro come maestro: sufismo e storia della lettura nel medioevo islamico (pdf 496 kB, pp. 144–-185).

Abstract: Between the end of the 8th/14th century and the beginning of the 9th/15th, the literate elites in Yemen and al-Andalus publicly debated the legitimacy and the educational function of Sufi books. In Yemen, where Ibn 'Arabi's ‘school' thrived, some jurists urged the ban of his books, while 'Abd al-Karim al-Jili and his associates extolled their educational virtue for Sufi novices. In al-Andalus, the debate focused on whether books could take the place of the master in Sufi education, an issue whose relevance was felt well beyond Sufi circles, prompting Ibn Khaldun to join the discussion. These controversies, even though they were connected to specific local contexts, are significant in a general way because they offer evidence for the spread of private reading among Sufis in the later Middle Ages. To appreciate the historical importance of this, one should ask how far it is new and whether it is limited to Sufism. These two questions are addressed in the first two parts of this article. The first part outlines key changes relating to Sufi literary output in the 12th and 13th centuries In particular, it examines the tension between orality and writing within Sufism, and the ways in which the written transmission of mystical knowledge was controlled or repressed. The second part draws attention to shared paradigms of both to esoteric and exoteric knowledge as the connection between private reading and innovation, and the preservation of oral symbolism in written transmission. Finally, the third part re-examines the 14th and 15th-century debates from the angle of the history of reading in medieval Sufism. The arguments exchanged in these debates bear witnesses to changes in reading practice linked to the shifting relationships between authority and knowledge in Islamic cultural history.

Monica Balda-Tillier, La prose amoureuse arabo-islamique médiévale, de l'isnad traditionnel aux sources livresques (pdf 508 kB, pp. 186-–214).

Abstract: This article focuses on the method of transmission in akhbar belonging to the Arabic literary genre of love prose. The survey of the system of quotations in thirteen love treatises written between the 4th/10th and the 11th/17th centuries indicates that the traditional isnad, in which the names of the transmitters are included, was progressively abandoned. Authors starting from Mughultay (d. 762/1361) chose instead to favour quotations of books by their titles, even though the preferred method of transmitting knowledge was still oral during the Mamluk period. Use of written ‘references' not only indicates a formal change of conventional practice, but also implies the willingness of later authors to claim a kind of authorship in reshaping stories taken from old material.

Letizia Osti, Notes on a private library in fourth/tenth-century Baghdad (pdf 553 kB, pp. 215-–223).

Abstract: Studies on medieval Arabic bibliophilia have mainly focussed on public and semi-public institutions, for some of which we have detailed information. Less is known about private libraries and their physical arrangement. This paper looks at the library of Abu Bakr al-Suli (d. 335/947), which is described by the sources in unique terms, contextualising it with al-Suli's own words on collecting and organizing books.

Konrad Hirschler, 'Catching the eel' – documentary evidence for concepts of the Arabic book in the Middle Period (pdf 197 kB, pp. 224–-234).

Abstract: This article reflects on the concept of the 'book' in the Middle Period (fifth/eleventh to early tenth/sixteenth centuries). On the basis of a seventh/thirteenth-century library catalogue from Damascus it discusses how contemporaries faced the challenge of defining what a book actually was. Focusing on the catalogue's section on composite manuscripts (majami') it suggests that this document's writer employed two – ultimately irreconcilable – definitions of a book: the book as a discrete textual item (taking the title as the main criterion) and the book as defined by its physical shape. This writer's cataloguing practices illustrate the fluid nature of the 'book' well beyond the Formative Period between the first/seventh and the fourth/tenth century.

Giovanni Canova, Libri e artigiani del libro: le raccomandazioni dei giuristi musulmani (pdf 461 kB, pp. 235–-263). (An English translation of this article is in preparation).

Abstract: The paper deals with the remarks some 14th-century jurists (Ibn al-Hajj, al-Subki) made on books and bookmaking. It also highlights their ambivalent attitude towards the crafts of those implied in the production of books. While extolling the merits of papermakers, scribes and bookbinders in connection with the production of religious books, the jurists urged these craftsmen to proceed in strict compliance with Islamic law code. Copying and binding a certain kind of books, like folk romances, was therefore severely censured or even prohibited. Some suggestions aiming at the prevention of frauds and illicit behaviours are also included in the sections of legal treatises dealing with the crafts of book production.

Publisert 5. feb. 2013 14:01 - Sist endret 29. apr. 2014 11:20