Paris conference – summary

Summary of the contributions: Critical stances of a neo-classical mind, carving new spaces by literary means and the instrumentalized voice of Maulānā Jāmī

The aim of the project A Worldwide Literature: Jāmī in the Dār al-Islām and Beyond is to provide a template for philologically grounded studies of trans-regional and cross-linguistic trends in the Muslim world. Whereas the symposium organized in Chicago in October 2012 allowed us to map the field of the diffusion and reception of Jāmī’s works, the goal of the second event was to delve into the specifics of each contribution. As one could expect, getting closer to the texts and paying attention to specific contexts highlighted compelling transversal issues and fostered discussions that became more substantial in terms of treatment of the sources.

The project looks at the reception of Jāmī’s works, not only as the transmission of the oeuvre of one intellectual and his individual voice, but as the outcome of larger phenomena that characterized the cultural history of the Persianate world from the 9th/15th century onwards. Jāmī consciously positioned himself at the center of debates and reflections on the desired trajectories and orientations of the Muslim cultural ethos. He imposed himself as a major actor of those debates and often, seemingly unequivocally, formulated his views on how knowledge should be conceived and conveyed. Another striking feature of Jāmī’s case is the scope of his persona as reflected in his reception throughout the Muslim world. We have the rare situation of a name that can be associated with a precisely defined author whose biography can be written in amazingly precise details for a man who lived in the 9th/15th century. But as we explore the uses of his name as an authoritative figure, we see that the outlines of his individual persona fade to give way to the scholarly authority ‘Maulānā Jāmī’ and if we go further, we see that ‘Mullā Jāmī’ is used, not to designate the man, but rather the text – namely his work on Arabic grammar.

Francis Richard’s keynote on the diffusion of Jāmī’s work during his lifetime, besides setting a clear frame for the study of the intellectual life during the late Timurid period, highlighted the major centers that contributed to the fast diffusion of his works and the political background of the circulation of his manuscripts between various courtly milieus. Francis Richard as well as Alexey Khismatulin stressed the rare fact of the availability of autographed manuscripts of Jāmī. During the discussion we also came to realize that the project will allow the first comprehensive survey of those manuscripts. Khismatulin also identified a new work composed by Jāmī and discussed its significance to ascertain the authorship of the Anīs al-ṭālibīn, an important hagiographical work on the founder of the Naqshbandī Sufi order. Another contribution concerned with manuscripts and their diffusion was Florian Schwarz’s study of the role of the scholar Ibrāhīm al-Kurānī (d. 1101/1690). Kurānī and his disciples were instrumental in the diffusion of and commentary on the religious writings of Jāmī within the Ottoman world, as well as in Yemen, Mughal India and the Malay World. After Francis Richard’s comprehensive survey of the diffusion of the manuscripts in the 9th/15th century, this contribution was crucial in tracing the physical spread of those works and the intellectual networks involved in the production of their commentaries.

Frank Lewis took up the challenge of answering what lay behind Jāmī’s peculiar usage of tropes such as the superiority of silence over speech, or the insincere courtly versifier. He demonstrated how these tropes bears a new relevance when relocated in Jāmī’s broader discourse on poetry and when looking at the evolution of his own poetical output. Ertuğrul Ökten’s study of the tremendously influential treatise on Arabic grammar titled by Jāmī after his son’s name, al-Fawā’id al-Ḍiyā’iyya, spoke to the place of Jāmī in reflections on the theory of meaning in the Arabic tradition and gave us a glimpse of the social significance of this text in the Ottoman context. After addressing the issue of the nature of poetry in Jāmī’s didactical prosimetron the Bahāristān, Justine Landau introduced us to the properly technical writings of Jāmi on poetry: the Risāla-yi ‘arūḍ (on meter) and the Risāla-yi qāfiya (on rhyme). Comparing Jāmī’s treatises to previous works on the topics written in Arabic and Persian, she came to the conclusion that Jāmī’s contribution evinces few attempts to address issues of philosophical poetics and instead he seems to confine his comments to purely technical aspects; the philosophical elements being addressed in other parts of his oeuvre. By providing comparative analyses of lyrics illustrating the contrasted fate of Jāmī’s poetry in Safavid Iran, Paul Losensky gave us a lively and detailed account of what was at stake in terms of poetic anxieties in the reception of his dīwān during this period. By adopting a critical stance at Jāmī’s neo-classical discourse and at his – often successful – attempts at defining authoritative views in the fields of lyric and narrative poetry, grammar or prosody, the aforementioned contributions all problematized in a compelling way what is often seen as the uncritical synthesis of the styles and views of previous authors performed by Jāmī.

The close analysis of the transmission of Jāmī’s texts east- and westwards demonstrates the deliberate use of the templates he provided to build new religious and political spaces. Marc Toutant’s meticulous reassessment of the function of ‘Alī Sher Nawā’ī’s narrative poems showed at the textual level how the spread of Persianate ethics and Naqshbandi Sufi doctrine were conceived by one of the foremost architects of the eastern Turkic literary tradition. Alexandre Papas provided a thorough study of the religious and political space defined by Turkic versions of the hagiographical work of Jāmī, the Nafahāt al-uns. He demonstrated how this template was reworked both to edify locally rooted forms of religiosity and to narrate the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.

Another example of the broadening of the social space related to Jāmī’s texts and/or authorial figure is the fascinating case of qawwālī performances in modern South Asia. With the bilingual poems based on Persian verses attributed to Jāmī in qawwālī performances studied by Mikko Viitamäki, we observed the multiple strategies used by performers to meet the expectation of audiences with various degrees of familiarity with Jāmī’s theological views and aesthetics.

Another salient theme of this conference, which is closely linked to the creation of new ideological and social spaces using literary means, resides in the various modes of transmission and their implications for trans-regional intellectual history. Jāmī’s texts were used to carve out new intellectual spaces, but also to infuse new concerns – or at least support specific views in locally relevant debates – within the framework of already existing traditional literary practices. After observing how the models produced by Jāmī were utilized to formulate new discourses, one can see how some special features of his own ideas impacted local traditions.

The South Asian reception of Yūsuf u Zulaikhā, which itself contained strong statements regarding the orientation of the Persian narrative poetic tradition, provides several examples of how Jāmī’s views were instrumentalized. Muzaffar Alam gave a rich and insightful introduction to the topic of Jāmī’s reception in South Asia by looking at the place occupied by the author as a poet and mystic in Mughal Persian literature.  Alam concluded with an overview of the many Urdu renderings of Yūsuf u Zulaikhā in the late Mughal period. Luther Obrock highlighted the courtly framework and playfulness of the religious equivalences and contrasts of Śrīvara’s Sanskrit rendering of Jāmī’s famous poem. In the case of the late Bengali versions of the text discussed by Thibaut d’Hubert, the Quranic origin of the poem is highlighted and combined with other local figures of religious authority to underline the moral teachings of the story as Jāmī refashioned it. In most contributions that discussed the reception of this text, we could trace the many strategies at work to convey and adapt Jāmī’s understanding of the theme of love. Ayesha Irani provided a detailed analysis of the re-localization of this theme in the imaginaire of pre-modern Muslim authors of eastern Bengal. By tracing the manuscript transmission of the Pashto version of the poem, Ryan Perkins raised questions about the political significance of the transmission of this text during the formative period of a Pashto literary identity in late Mughal India. Similarly Rebecca Gould discussed literary translations to stress the political implications of the compositional choices of the Georgian king Teimuraz I (1586-1663).

The easternmost reception of Jāmī in China and the Malay world, despite the shared conclusion that different physical routes were used, underscored interesting parallels regarding what texts should be transmitted. The context of the diffusion of Jāmī’s Sufi texts was set by Ralph Kauz in the case of China and by Mohamad Nasrin in the Malay world, with a very comprehensive and critical survey of the available material, including many unpublished works that are still extant only in manuscript form. Yiming Shen performed a remarkably thorough comparative textual study showing the recourse to Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist terminology to translate Jāmī’s Sufi treatises. Shen also made the prosopography of the two translators and traced their careers as wandering scholars throughout China. Using a comparable approach, Paul Wormser showed the dynamic translation of Jāmī’s mystic poetry into Malay in the early 16th century by Hamza Fansuri and the relevance of Jāmī as an authoritative figure in the formation of a Malay poetical mystic idiom.

This brief overview of some of the main topics discussed during the second event of the project A Worldwide Literature gives a sense of the content of the forthcoming handbook on the conception and reception of Jāmī’s works.  The efforts of the contributors and the conceptual issues tackled collectively during those two days produced new material that confirms the relevance of this project as both a resource for anyone interested in trans-regional intellectual trends and a methodologically innovative attempt at writing a multilingual and connected cultural history.

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