Assigned: Adūnīs. From An Introduction to Poetics, from Chapter 1. “Poetics and Orality in the Jāhiliyya” and from Chapter 4. “Poetics and Modernity” (1552-71). Also read the editors’ introduction (1547-51).

From An Introduction to Arab Poetics (1985)

From Chapter 1. Poetics and Orality in the Jāhiliyya

1. On 1552-54 (“I use the term orality here…”), how does Adūnīs delineate the key term “orality” as a marker of early Arabic poetry? What were the main characteristics of poetic orality, and how did the need for expression in poems and transmission of poems shape the early tradition? How, according to Adūnīs, do we know that an “organic link” (1552) existed between poetry and song? As this early period transitioned into the Muslim period, what religious and cultural imperatives led to an emphasis on rule-giving in language generally and on fixing the metrical rules of poetry more particularly?

2. On 1554-56 (“[I will now discuss] the relationship between…”), as he discusses “the relationship between poetic orality and the act of listening” (1554), what points does Adūnīs make about key characteristics of Arab poetic theory regarding the relationship between a poet and his or her poem (i.e., expression), and between the poet and the audience (reader response, as we would call it in the West)? What further involutions of poetic theory does he discuss, and how did these lead to “the separation of poetry from thought” (1555) and to valorization of the naturalistic style and attitude of “pure bedouinism” (1555) rather than the urbane poetry preferred in Arab cities?

3. On 1556-57 (“From the above it is clear that…”), Adūnīs concludes that “the view of poetry in Arab-Islamic society, particularly in the early years, was dictated by pre-Islamic orality.” How does he sum up the results of this dominance of orality in the understanding of poetry? Why did this emphasis lead to a virtual identification of poetic recitation with life itself, and why did it also lead to particular emphasis on the significance of rhyme in Arab poetry as something more than a mere stylistic convention or flourish?

4. On 1557 (“I have discussed the theory of…”), how does Adūnīs assess what both “pre-Islamic poetic orality” and the critical tradition that grew up around it have meant to Arab culture? What “crisis in our relationship with this poetry,” according to him, besets the modern Arab region? By implication, what is the practical cultural and historical significance of the crisis Adūnīs describes?

From Chapter 4. Poetics and Modernity

5. On 1558-60 (“We will only be able to reach…”), why, according to Adūnīs, does “modernity” (1558) have a controversial status within Islamic societies? In what sense are the poetic, the political and the religious dimensions of those societies intertwined? During the period of the nahḍa (revival, renaissance) from around 1800 through the 1950s, what two attitudes towards modernity and contact with Western powers confronted each other? (1559) Which attitude or approach won out, and what repercussions did this victory have for poetics and for epistemological method (i.e., the theory of the nature of learning and knowledge) more broadly? (1559-60)

6. On 1560-61 (“Because of the dominance of this…”), according to Adūnīs, in what sense has modern Arab thinking failed adequately to confront the pronounced preference for the ancient ways, the “fundamentalism,” of Arab religious, political and intellectual life? Why is it a problem that many Arab theorists interpret modernity mainly in terms of “technological achievement” (1560) rather than ideas? To what “double dependency” (1561), in Adūnīs’s view, has this way of casting modernity led Arab societies?

7. On 1561-63 (“I should acknowledge here…”), how does Adūnīs situate himself in relation to Arab approaches to modernity? How did he initially respond to increased contact with the West? However, in what way did his engagement with Western literature lead him to a reconsideration of a more ancient Arabpoeticmodernity, one not modeled on Western literature? Even so, how does Adūnīs go on to describe the dilemma or “problem” (1562) that many modern Arab poets have both in terms of their relation to the West and their relation to the fundamentalism of their own societies? How is a certain confusion about the status and role of the Arabic language itself caught up in this dilemma?

8. On 1563-65 (“In the light of these considerations…”), how does Adūnīs sum up what he calls a “crisis” in contemporary (1980s) Arab societies, one related to the troubled experience and conceptualization of modernity? In his view, how does the close alliance favored by the authorities between religion and politics figure in this crisis? (1563) How does modernistic Arab thinking configure itself in relation to a foundational religious text constituting truth that is not to be questioned? In what sense, according to Adūnīs, is Arab society living a hollowed-out, inauthentic, or “specious” (1564) modernity, one that does not understand the roots of a productive modernity? Similarly, how has ill-grounded borrowing of technological advances from the West led to an emphasis on an unsatisfying materialism? (1564-65)

9. On 1565-66 (“This superficial modernity which is…”), according to Adūnīs, what five “illusions” beset those who adhere to the “superficial modernity” (1565) he has been examining and who yet want to develop a modern poetry for Arab culture? Briefly list all five, and choose two for more detailed analysis. How do the two you choose supposedly hinder the development sought?

10. On 1566-68 (“The poetics of modernity in Arabic…”), what brief “historical context” (1567) does Adūnīs offer for Arab modernist poetry and its reception? (1566-67) How, according to him, does this context demonstrate that cultures are not isolated but instead interconnected? What reflections on how current poets and scholars should approach the past does Adūnīs set down, and what attitude and focus does he suggest will be necessary if a new modernity is to be authentic and not simply “a commodity imported in some underhanded way” (1567)?

11. On 1568-69 (“Consciousness of the other assumes…”), how does Adūnīs suggest that Arab cultures should relate to the West, meaning Europe and America? (1568) How does he describe the “scientific revolution” (1569) and assess its paradoxical hold over Arab cultures?

12. On 1569-71 (“In this climate…”), how does Adūnīs explain what happened when poets of the modern stamp began to engage in more nuanced reflections on what they had to offer beyond the things made available by “the merely mechanical and technical side of science” (1570)? What does Adūnīs himself say he came to see about the value of poetry and the possibility of a productive engagement with the past? (1570-71) How does he redefine “progress” (1571) to mean something other and more integral, more humane, than what scientific rationalism means by that term?

13. General question: In Chapter 1. “Poetics and Orality in the Jāhiliyya” of An Introduction to Arab Poetics, Adūnīs repositions himself in relation to the purely technical and materialistic side of modern scientific development and achievement, presumably without rejecting the best of the scientific approach, which entails openness and honesty in the face of new ideas and discoveries. Do you believe that the approach he describes is sustainable? Can one keep one’s distance from certain aspects of the scientific paradigm without rejecting it altogether, and not be swallowed up by its power in spite of one’s best efforts? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake