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Chapter 1 addresses the debate about the stylistics of the new (muḥdath) Abbasid poets, with a particular focus on rhetorical figures (badīʿ). It establishes that there was a shift in paradigm from an old school of criticism (ninth–eleventh century), which based its evaluation of poetry on its truthfulness and naturalness (qualities associated with the idealized “classical style” of the pre-Islamic poets), to a new school of criticism (eleventh century onwards) based on an aesthetic of wonder. This new school, represented first and foremost by ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. 1078), articulated the beauty of the kinds of rhetorical figures (badīʿ) that the muḥdath poets relished, especially hyperbolic and fantastic make-believe imagery, by adducing their ability to evoke wonder in the listener. By doing so, they shifted their judgment of poetry from a truth-based scale, to one that is based on an experience of wonder, which results from novelty, strangeness, and the unexpected that can exist in the poetic form regardless of the truth or falsehood of its content. The chapter argues that an aesthetic of wonder is inherent in the very structure of many of the rhetorical figures, including those identified by critics beyond al-Jurjānī, namely, al-Sakkākī, and al-Khaṭīb al-Qazwīnī.
Chapter 2 demonstrates that a similar shift took place in the reception of Aristotle’s Poetics in Arabic. Arabic philosophy was faced with the problem of making sense of the poetic as a type of syllogism, since it inherited a classification of Aristotle’s treatise as part of his books on logic (the Organon). While initial attempts in late antiquity distinguished the poetic from other types of syllogism based on its falsehood, Arabic philosophy, especially with Avicenna (d. 1037), decoupled the poetic from truth and falsehood and distinguished the kind of conclusion that one attains through the poetic syllogism as “make-believe” (takhyīl). This new solution shifted the assessment of the poetic from a statement’s truth and falsehood to its ability to conjure a make-believe image. This process was also expected to allow for an experience of discovery and wonder in the listener according to the philosophers. While Aristotle discussed wonder as resulting from manipulations of a tragic plot, Arabic philosophy developed a theory of wonder resulting from the verbal arts, especially simile and metaphor. The chapter follows the development of these ideas in the works of Averroes (d. 1198), al-Qarṭājannī (d. 1285), and al-Sijilmāsi (d. c. 1330).
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