Monday, January 7, 2013

Lecture (10): O Majnun, Why So Blue?

As a bit of early January serendipity, I came across a lecture by a true doyenne of Persian (and Arabic!) literature, Julie Scott Meisami, entitled "'I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues': Depictions of Majnun in Persian Illustrated Manuscripts," given at the 2009 Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art, just as I was studying for my Classical Persian Literature midterm, for which we must study, amongst other things, selections from Nizami Ganjavi's celebrated Layli va Majnun. Prof. Meisami needs little introduction for she is a scholar of such stature that it would be hard to come across a dissertation or monograph on pre-modern Persian or Arabic literature without her name in the bibliography.

Prof. Meisami's talk discusses how depictions of Majnun in illustrated manuscripts of three of the most famous Persian tellings of this romance (that of Nizami's, Amir Khusraw Dihlavi's and Jami's) remained consistent despite the differences in authors, narratives, and the workshops in which they were produced. Her talk may be seen here, along with a detailed abstract of it and a brief biography of the presenter. 

Layla visits Majnun, from Akbar's Quintet of Amir Khusraw Dihlavi
Late 16th century, Mughal India. Courtesy: Walters Art Museum photostream.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Procrastination Progress Report

Alas, dear readers, this humble, meanest, vilest wretch and slave (did I get the commas correct?) has been negligent, utterly and stupendously negligent when it comes to this blog. I had an entire blog entry ready for Christmas, which involved a ghazal of Mirza Ghalib, sung by the great Begum Akhtar, set to a series of paintings from the Mughal era Mirʾāt al-quds (apologies for the slap dash use of diacritics in this entry), but then I discovered the BBC production of Sherlock and well, here we are ready for a new semester! Are we thrilled? Are we ready? 

2013, save a belated Mayan apocalypse, looks to be a busy year. This coming semester is my last term of coursework. After nearly four years of graduate coursework I am looking forward to it ending. However, at the same time I look to it with some trepidation since it means that I shall no longer be operating within the comfy confines of classwork, which may be likened to bowling with bumpers that prevent gutter balls. In the fall I shall begin my comprehensive exams and eventually next year dissertation research and writing, which, to reach for an analogy in order to maintain parallelism, is like playing fruit ninja and sucking at it (incidentally how do people get such high scores in that thing?).

I shall continue translating Abd al-Haqq Dihlavi's Risalah-i Nuriyah-i Sultaniyah, more as an exercise to improve my Persian than anything else. Ever since last semester, when we had to translate one section from the Qabus-namah (mentioned here) for a seminar, I have come to appreciate the hard work that goes into translation and the how much of a compromise the whole process is. Traduttore, traditore indeed. Then again, to some degree all academic writing is an act of compromise, since,  in the words of Hayden White "every narrative, however seemingly ‘full,’ is constructed on the basis of a set of events which might have been included but were left out." [“The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Critical Inquiry 7 no. 1 (1980): 144]. However, there is a certain joy to translation, even if no one else will ever see it; a joy, I suspect, that comes from setting down ideas in your own words, mimetic as they may be, that reflect the thinking of a mind that is far more perceptive and erudite than one's own.

So farewell for now dear readers and, to steal a line from John Green, "Don't forget to be awesome!"