On Ibn al-Hajjaj, Whose Poems Schoolboys Were Beaten for Memorizing


Arabic Literature (in English)

If there were two disappointments I had while reading the opening chapter of Sinan Antoon’s   The Poetics of the Obscene in Premodern Arabic Poetry Ibn al-Hajjaj and Sukhf : Genealogies,” they were: 1) that the full book is listed at more than $70, and 2) that there wasn’t a companion historical novel that gives full imaginative license to a re-crafting of Ibn al-Hajjaj and his contemporaries:

51Tef7thPVL._SY300_As an opening chapter, “Ibn al-Hajjaj and Sukhf: Genealogies,” is a delight. Ibn Hajjaj (941 – 1001 CE) was, as Antoon notes, the great al-Mutanabbi’s (915 – 965 CE) “contemporary, erstwhile enemy and ultimate ‘other[.]'”

While al-Mutanabbi’s poetry has remained a part of the Arabic canon, al-Hajjaj’s has fallen off in recent times, something Antoon calls “one of the most serious cases of cultural amnesia and academic neglect.”

It’s not hard to see why Ibn al-Hajjaj and…

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