Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages
Anis Makdisi Program in Literature
The Madhāhib of Modernity
Al-Shidyāq and Literary Politics
Monday, March 20, 2017
West Hall, AUD C, 6:00 pm
The works of Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq have recently received renewed scholarly attention. Al-Shidyāq’s life serves this purpose well. A travelogue writer, a lexicographer, a translator, and an editor, al-Shidyāq is a representative of the "modern" intellectual of the Nahḍa.
However, if we want to remain faithful to the “possible modernity” that Radwa ‘Ashur and Fawwaz Traboulsi read in al-Shidyāq, then our method of reading must be altered and its lenses adjusted. This paper reads the work of al-Shidyāq through al-Shidyāq. I ask, how can we attend to the relation between the maqālah form (the opinion article) that al-Shidyāq published in his paper, al-Jawā’ib, and his other literary, autobiographical and lexicographical writings? Can this relation between these different forms inform al-Shidyāq’s own view of modernity? I will argue that these different forms are connected through analytics provided by the keyword madhhab, which might be translated as “sect,” “school,” “direction”, or “destination”.
This paper analyzes an article from al-Jawā’ib, “On The Differences between the East and The West”. The analysis extracts al-Shidyāq’s own vision of modernity as one of many directions, sects and schools of thought, all encapsulated in the word madhhab.
The multivalent uses of madhhab allows us to glean al-Shidyāq’s literary and political understanding of the 19th century: Modernity as a destination (madhhab) with many roads. This understanding allows us to read al-Shidyāq’s adab (literature) without committing to analytics imposed on us by genre criticism, which limits meaning to expectation, or historicism, which limits our understanding of these udabā’ (litterateurs) as agents. Instead I approach al-Shidyāq and other Arab intellectuals of the 19th century as conscripted into the unbound (technologically, industrially) yet bonded (through the world market and its geopolitics) world of the 19th century, committed to writing modernity as they practice it.
Ziad Dallal is a PhD Candidate in the Comparative Literature Department at New York University. His dissertation traces the literary politics of 19th Century Egypt and the Levant through a comparative philology. His research areas include, but are not limited to Arabic Intellectual History; Arabic Literature, Theater and Film; Philosophy; Marxism and Finance.