The Poetics of Aging: Spain and Sicily at the Twilight of Muslim Sovereignty

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The Poetics of Aging: Spain and Sicily at the Twilight of Muslim Sovereignty

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Title: The Poetics of Aging: Spain and Sicily at the Twilight of Muslim Sovereignty
Author: Carpentieri, Nicola
Citation: Carpentieri, Nicola. 2012. The Poetics of Aging: Spain and Sicily at the Twilight of Muslim Sovereignty. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Aging as a physical, aesthetic and intellectual process gained, after muhdath poetry, a position of prominence in Classical Arabic poetry and poetics. Despite its relevance to the development of subgenres such as that of shayb (white hair) and zuhd (ascetic poetry), Arabic verse on aging received little attention by major contemporary critics. This study focuses on the verses on aging penned by the Andalusian poet Abu Ishaq al-Ilbiri and the Sicilian 'Abd al-Jabbar Ibn Hamdis in the XI and XII centuries, arguing for the creative processes through which these two poets reworked the motif of old age, together with other poetic subgenres, fashioning a 'poetics of aging.' By means of such a poetics, al-Ilbiri and Ibn Hamdis voiced their apprehension for the end of their lives, and at once, for the end of Islam's political supremacy in their homelands. Both al-Ilbiri and Ibn Hamdis, as they aged, became more and more preoccupied with the political decline of Islam in Muslim Spain and Sicily. They addressed the prominent political figures of their times, inciting them to a restore Maghribi Islam to its former glory. At the same time, they devoted a significant part of their overall production to subgenres such as the elegiac and the ascetic, in which they reflected upon their physical decay and advocated a withdrawal from worldly pursuits. My study questions this apparent contrast. It is my contention that al-Ilbiri's and Ibn Hamdis's poetics of aging does not imply of personal withdrawal from public life. Such a poetics should instead be read as part and parcel with their public verses of tahrid (public instigation). In what follows I illustrate how al-Ilbiri and Ibn Hamdis combined verses on physical decline, elegies and ascetic verses, in order to convey their late-life reflections as two first-hand witnesses to the end of Islam's social and political cohesion in the Muslim West. Emerging from these verses is a fascinating combination of a political documentation for later Maghribi Muslim history and a quasi-autobiographical voicing of the anxieties these poets experienced living at both the temporal and spatial margins.
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