C. Ceyhun Arslan is a Ph. D. candidate in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. His current project, Ambivalences of Ottoman Modernity: Nahda, Tanzimat, and World Literature, reframes our understanding of modernity as expressed by or constructed in Arabic and Turkish literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His work on Ahmad Shawqi has recently appeared in Middle Eastern Literatures and he has a forthcoming publication on the process of canonization in Comparative Literature Studies.
Towards a Politics of Adab: Reconceptualizing Shuʿūbiyya through al-Bīrūnī’s Critique of Alexander's Persian Patrimony
My paper is a close and comparative study of Arabic and Turkish literary histories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as Kitāb tārīkh ādāb al-lughah al-ʻArabīyah (1911-1914) by Jurjī Zaydān, Al-Adab al-ʻArabī al-muʻāṣir (1957) by Shawqī Ḍayf, Tarih-i edebiyat-ı Osmaniye (History of Ottoman Literature, 1912) by Şehabeddin Süleyman, and 19uncu asır Türk edebiyatı tarihi (History of 19th Century Turkish Literature, 1939) by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. It argues that these works describe the Ottoman literature as the final destination of a teleological Islamic literary history whose origins rest in pre-Islamic Arabia. They also project this history as the mirror image of a European history that has a similarly teleological trajectory whose origins lie in ancient Greece and Rome. For example, these works compare medieval Arab poets such as Abū Tammām and Mutanabbī with Greek poets such as Homer and Virgil and describe the influence of medieval Arab poems on Ottoman Turkish writers as akin to the influence of classical Greek and Latin works on French writers. Through such a comparison, early modern Arab authors generated a cultural kinship between Arab and Western civilizations, while affirming a sense of superiority over the Turkish culture. At the same time, this comparison allowed early modern Turkish authors to project medieval Arabic works as texts of a classical tradition whose influence they have to overcome to create the nationalist Turkish literature. My work thus calls for a reframing of the current disciplinary divisions between the classical and the modern in the study of Middle Eastern literatures. It also demonstrates that moments of contact between Arab and Turkish cultural spheres—translations, intertextualities, and the study of each other’s language, history, and literature—in the late Ottoman Empire were not mere points of intersection between two discrete movements, nahḍa (Arab modernity) and tanzimat (Turkish modernity), but instead were constitutive of them.