Decapitated statue of Abu al-`Ala’ al-Ma`arri (d. 1058), the subject of my PhD dissertation and whom many still consider to be one of the greatest heretics against Islam.

My academic research in Arabic literature and culture all starts with a curiosity about what Alexander Veselovsky called “literary history” — the formation, evolution, and reception of literary form, which includes devices, themes, genres, styles, and conceptual categories. I am particularly attracted to debates about human expression of belief — including heresy and blasphemy, sectarian poetry, scriptural parody, recantation, and criminal slang — in the eleventh century AD, a time when decentralizing political and economic forces in the Middle East coincided with startling innovation in thought and literature. I am also interested in the history and development of strophic poetry in Arabic, including the Andalusian zajal and muwashshah and their possible reception in Romance dialects, as well as an array of cognate forms assumed by Arabic and Persian verse beginning as early as the eighth century. I take a comparative approach to these issues, considering questions of hermeneutics, semiotics, genre, ethics, and affect, which help to clarify the history of Arabic literature and its status as a transregional enterprise, and to lend perspective to ongoing questions of speech and social power.

For examples of my work, please see:

An Elegy by al-Ma`arri (My English translation of an elegy in Arabic by al-Ma`arri)
On the Harrows of War (My translation of a poetic meditation on war by modern Iraqi poet-activist Ma`ruf al-Rusafi)

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