SUMMARY:This panel explores a variety of medieval Arabic and Persian texts through the conceptual lenses of gender and embodiment. Each paper introduces a fresh approach, whether to genres centrally concerned with gender and embodiment, such as legal and medical texts, or to genres frequently read in disembodied ways, such as Sufi poetry. Among the questions we ask are: What methods or reading practices can be used to understand the ways gender and embodiment operate in texts? How might we better attend to the embodied and gendered experiences of people objectified by or excluded from elite discourses of law and medicine? To what extent does (mis)translation obscure or distort the literary significance and signification of bodies? With its attention to language and translation across genres, the panel takes up long-standing questions in the field about whether and how gender and sexuality are useful categories of analysis outside of the modern West.
The panel’s first paper, “Knowing Oneself Complexly: The Struggle for Khuntha Self-Determination,” brings medieval Arabic writings produced by jurists discussing the khuntha under the light of innovative scholarship on embodiment and subjectivity, and argues for the use of methodological strategies capable of showing how marginalized bodies exercised their subjectivity and agency. “In Sore Need of Healing: Medicine and Masculinity in the Medieval Indian Ocean,” the panel’s second paper, analyzes the way piety and masculinity animates the journeys of two unexpected healers, a Shafi’i jurist in Yemen and an administrator-turned-physician in Gujarat, India. The third paper, “(Dis)embodying Sufi Poetry: Theories of Poetic Imagery and the Mistranslation of the Imaginal Body,” makes the case that the discussion of embodiment in the Islamicate world must extend beyond the external form(s) of the corporeal body to include other embodied phenomena—such as affect and language—through an analysis of ‘Abd al-Rahman Jami’s “embodied poetics” and the many (mis)translations of a famous ghazal of Jalal al-Din Rumi. The fourth and final paper, “Neither Disguise nor Drag: Cross-Dressing and Embodiment in Middle Arabic Literature,” argues for a more expansive understanding of the boundaries of the body in interpreting episodes of cross-dressing in Middle Arabic literature.
From Persian poetry to Arabic fiqh, from the imagined worlds of the 1001 Nights to the interconnected spaces of the Indian Ocean, this panel presents novel perspectives on gender and embodiment in medieval Islamicate texts.
SPONSOR:Middle East Medievalists (MEM)
DISCIPLINES:Hist; Lit; Hist; Lit; Hist; Lit; Hist; Lit