Sunday, July 30, 2017

Smashing the Idols of the Ignorance of Literalism

When did we become literalists? When did we forget that language as a human phenomenon of communication within certain rules of play, argumentation and performance is inextricably polysemous and polyvalent? How can we forget the myriad ways in which we make the world that we inhabit? I think one of the challenges posed is that of literature, the inability to appreciate the different ways in which we narrate ourselves, situate ourselves, locate and make us belong in the different communities with which we associate. Logic is one mode but has its limitations because its strength lies in its precision. Poetry takes us beyond and allows us the imagination necessary not only to see ourselves in others but also see that there is more to reality that meets the eye.

Logic can point towards the metaphysical and the divine but it cannot convince necessarily or grasp the ineffable. Poetry can unveil the deus absconditus, the very hiddenness of the divine and find how that reality is manifest, in the person of her friends, most notably the Imams. They are the deus revelatus understand the different modes in which human language works - reason and logic with the philosopher and theologian, poetry with the lover and the devotee. Here by literalism I do not mean the lexical meaning; as it is, meaning is very much a function of contexts, of illocutionary speech acts as well as what is uttered. I am using literalism as opposed to the ways in which languages figures and configures meanings. Sometimes uses of ambiguity can be far more eloquent.

So here are presented four exhibits countering literalism which are so pertinent and timely for contemporary Muslim thought.

The first is this classic qawwali by the late, lamented Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan:

The second is this wonderful poem by the equally lamented, Syed Ali Mohammad Rizvi, known as Sachey, may God embrace him in her mercy and unite him with his ancestors:

The third is the beautiful laṭmīya by Bāsim Karbalāʾī:

And lastly, and here I could have picked many examples, but I will go with the story of Joseph in the Qurʾan:

PS: I'd like to add this. Many a Qajar era philosopher attributed to the poem to Rūmī. Here in the inimitable voice of Abida Parveen:

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