Brave Words, Bold Moves
Ibn Jinnī's Shajā'at al-'Arabiyya and Its Legacy
What does it mean for language—or a user of language—to be “brave”? This talk begins with 10th century Arabic grammarian Abū Fatḥ ‘Uthmān Ibn Jinnī and his idiosyncratic notion of shajā’at al-‘arabiyya (the bravery of the Arabic language), then looks ahead to shajā’at al-‘arabiyya’s afterlife in a small and eclectic collection of later texts. I will consider this concept’s indebtedness to earlier grammarians’ interventions as well as its rootedness in the particular social and theological milieu in which Ibn Jinnī worked. But I also attend to its affective etymology—that is, the emotional and embodied understanding of bravery conjured by the poetry that shaped Ibn Jinnī’s conception of language and its ethics and aesthetics. Along the way, I will ask: what does an experience of language equivalent to a warrior’s bold charge on an enemy city look, sound, and feel like? What is so special about the seemingly standard grammatical features that Ibn Jinnī considers part of shajā’at al-‘arabiyya? And finally, how and why have a select few of Ibn Jinnī’s readers—“premodern” and “modern” alike—taken up the challenge of modeling their own conceptions of linguistic bravery?
Betty Rosen is a Ph.D. candidate focusing on Arabic and Hebrew literature in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and in the Designated Emphasis Program in Critical Theory at the Univeristy of California, Berkeley. She earned her A.B. in Comparative Literature from Harvard in 2012 and her M.A. in Arabic Literature from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in 2013. She is interested in medieval Arabic theories of poetics and rhetoric—as well as Hebrew texts that respond to those theories—and in reading this Near Eastern critical tradition as an equal partner alongside the Continental tradition. In doing so, she aims to enable new, productive, and genuinely multicultural ways of thinking about the possibilities of literature and literary thought.
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