Truth and Narrative: The Untimely Thoughts of 'Ayn al-Qudat al-Hamadhani
by Alan Jones
Ayn al-Qudat was born in the western Persian town of Hamadan in 1098, the year - as Professor Dabashi points out - in which the Crusader Bohemund of Otranto captured Antioch. He received the traditional education given to those who were destined to be ulema, becoming in the process a master of both Persian and Arabic. About 1120 he was appointed as a judge in his home town. In addition to his official duties, he turned increasingly to writing and to mysticism. His first extant work was the Zubdat al-Haqa'iq (`Essence of Truth'), written in Arabic in 1122. This was followed by the Maktubat ('Epistles') and Tamhidat ('Essays'), both written in Persian with a mixture of Arabic. In 1130 he was arrested, taken to Baghdad, and put in prison there. Whilst in prison he wrote the Sha l Gharib (`Complaint of the Exile'), an apologia. In May 1131 he was taken back to Hamadan and executed. The Shakwa indicates that the charge against him was one of blasphemy, though Dabashi suggests that there may have been political reasons. In general it was a dangerous time to cross the authorities in the Muslim world. A decade or so later the Andalusian poet al-Abyad was crucified for writing a satirical poem about the local governor.
The Shakwa has been available in English for thirty years (Arberry) and in French for nearly seventy (Ben Abd el-Jalil), and there is a French translation of the Tamhidat (Tortel), but there has been no judicious analysis of the whole of Ayn al-Qudat 's surviving output.
I have to say that I do not think that Dabashi has filled the gap. The essence of a monograph appears to be there, but it is wrapped in so much jargon and meandering thought that one cannot be sure. Where, for example, is the intellectual rigour or the meaning in a passage such as: `As "non-- books," both Maktubat and Tamhidat are textual culminations of Ayn al-- Qudat's active experimentations with a mode of counter-narrativity that tests the limits of not only the politically successful "Islamic law," but much more seriously always already assumed the Islamic metaphysics. Through these two texts is produced a highly personal and soft "voice" in which is collapsed the deadly-serious metaphysics of "Truth-Telling" and all its surrogate agencies operative in the nomocentricity of the Islamic Law, the logocentricity of the Islamic Philosophy, and here I insist against a whole history of mystifying Ayn al-Qudat, the "institutionalized" theocraticism of the "Islamic mysticism."' If the reader makes something of a passage like this (pp. 302-3), he may gain something from the book. I find it totally undisciplined and a disastrous advertisement for `post-orientalist scholarship' of which Dabashi is a self-proclaimed proponent: nearly 700 pages on a figure hitherto considered to be a minor Sufi martyr; a text puffed out with verbiage, and replete with mistakes and misspellings of all kinds, many of them due to word-processor error. The book appears not to have been subjected to any serious editing by the publisher, but simply provided with puffs for the dust jackets from more senior academics. The intellectual rigour applied by academic publishers is, on the evidence of this and many other recent books, a thing of the past.
Oxford ALAN JONES
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