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Associate Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature
Chair of the Undergraduate Affairs Committee
Director of Undergraduate Studies, Comparative Literature
Director of the Stanford Humanities Core
Alexander Key is a scholar of Classical Arabic literature with interests ranging across the intellectual history of the Arabic and Persian-speaking worlds from the seventh century onwards. Language Between God and the Poets (UC Press, open access) 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. It has been reviewed in TMR, the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, and the Journal of the American Oriental Society.
He is currently working on an under-contract edition and translation of al-Jurjani's Dala'il al-I'jaz for the Library of Arabic Literature. This attempt to introduce Arabic poetics into English critical discourse follows his contribution to a kitabkhana dealing with Innovations and Turning Points: towards a history of kavya literature in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East and a JAOS review of Ali Ahmed Hussein’s The Rhetorical Fabric of the Traditional Arabic Qasida in Its Formative Stages. He also curates an Arcade Colloquy "Comparing Literatures: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian, Turkish, Urdu" that came out of the 2018 Trans;form symposium.
In 2018, Key guest-edited the Journal of Abbasid Studies, with a special issue on the literary critic ʿAbd al-Qahir al-Jurjani that included an article on al-Jurjani's bilingual theory of translation from Persian into Arabic.
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