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Transforming Loss into Beauty

Transforming Loss into Beauty: Essays on Arabic Literature and Culture in Honor of Magda al-Nowaihi

Marlé Hammond
Dana Sajdi
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Transforming Loss into Beauty
    Book Description:

    The contributors to this wide-ranging work of scholarship and analysis include mentors, colleagues, friends, and students of the late Magda al-Nowaihi, an outstanding scholar of Middle East studies whose diverse interests and energy inspired numerous colleagues. The book’s first part is devoted to Arabic elegy, the subject of an unfinished work by al-Nowaihi from which this volume takes its title. Included here is a previously unpublished lecture on elegy delivered by al-Nowaihi herself. Other contributors examine this poetic form in both classical and modern contexts, from a number of angles, including the partial feminization of the genre, making this volume perhaps the most comprehensive resource on the Arabic elegy available in English. The book’s second half features essays relating to al-Nowaihi’s other research interests, especially the modern Arabic novel and its transgressive and marginalized status as literature. It deals with authors as varied as Tawfiq al-Hakim, Latifa al-Zayyat, Bensalem Himmich, and Sonallah Ibrahim. Broad in its scope and rigorous in its scholarship, this volume makes a fitting tribute to an inspiring scholar. Contributors: Roger Allen, Dina Amin, Michael Beard, Jonathan P. Decter, Alexander E. Elinson, Marlé Hammond, András Hámori, Mervat Hatem, Wolfhart Heinrichs, Richard Jacquemond, Lital Levy, Mara Naaman, Magda al-Nowaihi, Dana Sajdi, and Christopher Stone.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-165-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Hamid Dabashi

    In the 1990s four of us at Columbia University were diagnosed with a life-threatening disease: Magda Al-Nowaihi, Edward Said, and Jeanette Wakin with cancer, and I with a congenital heart condition that required immediate open-heart surgery. This collective condition, all diagnosed within the span of a few short years, generated a sense of unspoken fragility amongst us. There was a shade of shared immanence—an implicit awareness that we all dwelt within the danger zone—that bound us together. None of us ever talked about this, but eventually the frequency of our calling on and seeing each other noticeably increased....

  6. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxvi)
    Marlé Hammond and Dana Sajdi

    Magda Al-Nowaihi, professor of Arabic literature at Columbia University in New York City, died in June 2002 at the age of forty-four, after a long and courageous battle against ovarian cancer. Her academic breadth and versatility, combined with her charisma, acumen, and integrity, made her a formidable force in her field, and she commanded the respect of senior scholars from early in her career. This volume of essays represents the latest in a series of tributes that have recognized her career and achievements.¹ It is, of course, an academic survivors’ cliché to say that she lives on, through her influence...

  7. Part I: Transforming Loss

    • 1 Elegy and the Confrontation of Death in Arabic Poetry
      (pp. 3-20)
      Magda Al-Nowaihi

      The following is the text of a lecture Magda delivered at the summer Arabic Language Institute of Middlebury College. Despite its simple syntax, which was entirely appropriate to her audience of language learners but which was not generally characteristic of her speaking style, the lecture conveys at least in part the warmth and charisma that Magda exuded in her public addresses. It also gives us a very rough idea of how she may have approached the elegy in her unfinished work on the subject. The speech has been translated and annotated by the editors with the help of Shahab Ahmed,...

    • 2 One Size Fits All
      (pp. 21-32)
      Michael Beard

      If all we knew about the dead were what we learn from the elegiac poetry they have inspired, our memories would be truncated and elliptical. To begin with the foundational elegies of English tradition, we would learn from Spenser’sPastoral Aeglogue upon the Death of Sir Phillip Sidney Knightonly the bare minimum: “When shalt thou see emong thy shepheards al, / Any sage, so perfect?” (ll. 51–53).² One line lists qualities, three adjectives consistent with the historical record, but they are hardly a full portrait: “curteous, valiant, and liberall” (l. 54). FromLycidas(1638) we would learn of...

    • 3 Notes On Abu Tammamʹs Elegy Kadha fa-l-yajilla l-khatbu
      (pp. 33-44)
      András Hámori

      A thousand years on, we can’t agree with the opinion recorded by Ibn Rashiq among others that there is no difference between a panegyric and an elegy, except that one addresses the living, and one the dead.¹ The attributed glories of another age turn to dust; death is unattenuated. Flattery has become repellent, but eulogy, no matter how remote in style, can be read with a willing charity. The rituals of death hold on to their power. We are touched when a father writes about the surviving brothers playing with a dead child’s toys,² but we can be moved, this...

    • 4 Dead Garments, Poor Nobles, and a Handsome Youth: Notes on a Poem by al-Sanawbari
      (pp. 45-78)
      Wolfhart Heinrichs

      The starting point for the following remarks is a poem by al-Sanawbari (d. 945). It is a polythematic poem in three parts; the distribution of topics within it is, however, rather unexpected.¹ It is possible that this seeming strangeness is an impression of the researcher rather than a characteristic of the poetry itself; a simple stocktaking of the topical structures of classical Arabic poems is still needed. However, there is no question that certain arrangements were extremely popular and that the poem at issue here does not exhibit any of these.

      Al-Sanawbari was a well-known poet. Unfortunately he fell through...

    • 5 Loss Written in Stone: Ibn Shuhaydʹs Rithaʹ for Cordoba and Its Place in the Arabic Elegiac Tradition
      (pp. 79-114)
      Alexander E. Elinson

      Andalusian poets perfected the art of describing urban settings with the purpose of recalling that which was either lost or was on the verge of being lost, and immortalizing them in poetry. With the numerous losses experienced in al-Andalus beginning in the eleventh century and continuing at an increasing pace until the final fall of Granada in 1492,ritha’ al-mudun(the city elegy) became a common genre for the Andalusian poet. With the fall of different cities, poets paid homage to homes, plazas, palaces, and entire cities by composing elegies for these places. Collectively, this body of poetry comprised a...

    • 6 Arabic Poetics and Representations of Women in the Andalusian Hebrew Lament
      (pp. 115-142)
      Jonathan P. Decter

      Like their Muslim contemporaries, the Arabic-speaking Jews of al-Andalus commemorated death with a specific set of rituals, including the recitation of poems of lamentation. From the pens of most of the major Hebrew poets survive panegyric laments over patrons and friends, intimate familial laments, laments that focus on comforting the anguish of surviving relatives, and even occasional examples of laments over oneself (written when one’s death was impending). Andalusian Hebrew laments exhibit significant variation, sometimes adhering to the structure and style of Arabic poetry but sometimes following different patterns. In the Arabic-influenced examples, we find metered verses that follow monorhyme...

    • 7 Qasida, Marthiya, and Différance
      (pp. 143-184)
      Marlé Hammond

      Theqasidaand themarthiyaboth originate from the depths of Arabic literary pre-history—on this most scholars would concur. They would also agree that, at some point in their evolution, they came to resemble each other in many important respects. Thematically, they both celebrate the exploits of tribal heroes, record individual contributions to communal history, and reflect an ethos of chivalry. They also exhibit structural similarities: Pellat concedes that the marthiya is, in effect, a bipartite qasida in which an encomium for the deceased is preceded by what he describes as a replacement for the nasib, namely an exhortation...

    • 8 Revisiting Layla al-Akhyaliyaʹs Trespass
      (pp. 185-228)
      Dana Sajdi

      This article revisits and revises my earlier study, “Trespassing the Male Domain: theqasidahof Layla al-Akhyaliyyah.”¹ I first thought about Layla’s transgressive poetry while a graduate student in an Arabic literature class taught by Magda Al-Nowaihi at Columbia University. Magda encouraged me not only to publish the paper I wrote for her class, but also to write my PhD dissertation on Layla al-Akhyaliya. I followed the first part of Magda’s advice (but not the second: I ended up writing my dissertation on eighteenth-century commoner histories from the Ottoman Levant), and the article on Layla came out in 2000 with...

    • 9 Writing About Life Through Loss: ʹAʹisha Taymurʹs Elegies and the Subversion of the Arabic Canon
      (pp. 229-252)
      Mervat Hatem

      I experienced Magda Al-Nowaihi’s death in June 2002 as a double loss: the loss of a personal friend and of an intellectual interlocutor whose knowledge and critical perspectives on the Arabic language, its literature, and its poetry provided sources of inspiration and support. Before her death, Magda’s work on the early history of Arabic elegy intersected with mine which focused on the life and work of the nineteenth-century poet ‘A’isha Taymur, who also wrote elegies that were praised by modern literary critics. Taymur was one of the prominent women writers and poets whose works of fiction and poetry were published...

    • 10 Sleep in Peace: Salah ʹAbd Al-Saburʹs Gentle Elegy on the Death of a Hero
      (pp. 253-266)
      Dina Amin

      In the spirit of honoring the memory of my dear friend Magda Al-Nowaihi’s scholarly and critical contribution as well as her humanistic legacy, I am contributing a study on modern Arabic poetry—a genre that was very close to Magda’s heart—and am focusing on the work of a poet whom I know she admired greatly, Salah ‘Abd al-Sabur. In this study, I will provide a close textual analysis as well as a translation of his poemSleep in Peace.

      (To the memory of my relative and friend, air force pilot Muhammad Nabil al-Baguri. He died a martyr on the...

  8. Part II: Crossing Boundaries

    • 11 Historiography as Novel: Bensalem Himmichʹs al-ʹAllama
      (pp. 269-280)
      Roger Allen

      In writing this contribution to a volume in memory of a much-respected and much-loved scholar, Magda Al-Nowaihi, I have come to consider it as something in the form of a debt repayment. During the early 1990s, I had invited Magda to give a lecture at the University of Pennsylvania. In accepting the invitation, she told me that she wanted to talk about a Moroccan novelist, Muhammad Barradah, and his novel,La‘bat al-nisyan. While, like many other specialists on modern Arabic fiction, I was already aware of the existence and even the importance of the ever-growing tradition of Arabic fiction in...

    • 12 Sonallah Ibrahimʹs Les années de Zeth, or The Exportability of Contemporary Arabic Literature
      (pp. 281-294)
      Richard Jacquemond

      In 1992, just a few months after the appearance of my French translation of Sonallah Ibrahim’s first novel,Tilka al-ra’iha(1966),² the Egyptian author publishedDhat, which many consider to be his masterpiece. A convergence of factors—the bond that had developed between us during my translation ofTilka al-ra’iha, the fact that I was living in Cairo at the time, and my enthusiasm forDhat—then mobilized me to translate this latter novel. Exactly one year later, in October 1993,Les années de Zethappeared in French courtesy of Actes Sud: an exceptionally brief delay, in the context of...

    • 13 Tawfiq al-Hakim, Yusuf al-Qaʹid, and the ʹMatureʹ Arabic Novel
      (pp. 295-320)
      Christopher Stone

      The Lebanese novelist and critic Elias Khoury has suggested that not a single detective novel exists in all of Arabic literature.¹ In making this statement, perhaps Mr. Khoury was not considering works like Tawfiq al-Hakim’sYawmiyat na’ib fi-l-aryaf(Maze of Justice, 1937) and Yusuf al-Qa‘id’s²Yahduth fi Misr al-an(It’s Happening in Egypt Now, 1977), both of which have been compared to the detective novel in the West.³ These two works share another similarity: they are both part of the century-long tradition of novelistic narratives about the Egyptian countryside. Despite these parallels, and also despite the fact that by all...

    • 14 The Anti-Romance Antidote: Revisiting Allegories of the Nation
      (pp. 321-342)
      Mara Naaman

      By way of a point of departure, I would like to insert myself into a somewhat dated, but no less relevant literary debate of the mid-eighties. Aijaz Ahmad, in his response to Fredric Jameson’s well-circulated 1986 article, “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,”¹ raises several points that deserve reconsideration for comparatists today. The debate centers around the sweeping arguments asserted by Jameson in his attempt to advocate for the integration of third world literatures into Western conceptions of canonized fiction.

      Among his many comments, Jameson points out that one of the key differences between first world and third...

    • 15 Self-Portraits of the Other: Toward a Palestinian Poetics of Hebrew Verse
      (pp. 343-402)
      Lital Levy

      In 1986, a Hebrew-language novel called‘Arabeskot(Arabesques) took the Israeli literary scene by storm.¹ For the Hebrew cultural establishment, the appearance of this complex narrative work by a Palestinian Arab author was a seismic event whose reverberations continue these two decades on to be experienced and measured. It is not the first time a Palestinian Arab had published in Hebrew;² in fact, the author, Anton Shammas, was already known in Israel as a journalist and poet before the novel established him as a writer of international renown.‘Arabeskotbecame a watershed in the history of Hebrew literature due to...

  9. A List of Magda Al-Nowaihiʹs Publications
    (pp. 403-404)