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Assistant Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature
Alexander Key is a scholar of Classical Arabic literature whose interests range across the intellectual history of the Arabic and Persian-speaking worlds from the seventh century onwards. Language Between God and the Poets (Berkeley: 2018) explains Classical Arabic theories about poetry and philosophy to all who are interested in how language produces affect and reflects the world.
The book deals with multiple genres of scholarship in the work of four famous scholars: Ragib al-Isfahani, Ibn Furak, Ibn Sina, and ʿAbd al-Qahir al-Jurjani. Their detailed theories about how language works remain applicable today: we still want to understand how poetry works through syntax to create affect, and we are still interested in the problem of how language, mind, and reality interact. Language Between God and the Poets makes Classical Arabic solutions to these problems available for the first time in twenty-first-century English – within a rigorous and original theoretical framework for the translation of theory.
Key received his Ph.D. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Harvard University's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in May 2012 and started work at Stanford that same year. He has authored a number of articles on aspects of Classical Arabic literature and culture. These include a study of translations from Persian proverbs into Arabic poetry, a chapter co-authored with Peter Adamson on the debate between grammar and logic, a study of Quranic inimitability in ar-Raghib, and an argument against calling Classical Arabic civilization "humanist."
He is currently working on questions of comparative poetics, with a forthcoming contribution to a kitabkhana dealing with Innovations and Turning Points: towards a history of kāvya literature in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, a forthcoming JAOS review of Ali Ahmed Hussein’s The Rhetorical Fabric of the Traditional Arabic Qasida in Its Formative Stages, a study of the interaction between genre and Neoplatonism for the British Academy conference "Faces of the Infinite: Neoplatonism and Poetics at the Confluence of Africa, Asia and Europe," a contribution on translation of Persian poetry for a special issue of The Journal of Abbasid Studies that he has organized on the Classical Arabic critic ʿAbd al-Qahir al-Jurjani, and an article in progress with the working title “There are no allegories in Egypt: formalism in comparative poetics.”
Key teaches, inter alia, a survey of the canon of Arabic poetry from before Islam to the present day, and a survey of great Arabic books across a similar period. In 2018-2019 he will teach the new "Middle East" track in the Humanities Core.
2012: Ph.D., Arabic and Islamic Studies, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University
2001: M.A., Arabic and International Relations, University of St. Andrews