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Lecture | Leiden Lectures on Arabic Language & Culture

What (and Where) on Earth is Waqwaq?

Date
Tuesday 24 May 2022
Time
Explanation
Free tickets available, seats are limited
Address
National Museum of Antiquities
Rapenburg 28
2311 EW Leiden
Room
Temple Hall

For well over a century, Indian Ocean Arabists (de Goeje, Ferrand, Tibbetts, Freeman-Grenville), using primarily linguistic (and biological) arguments, have posited that Waqwāq (also Wāqwāq, Wāq al-Wāq) is one place or another, one life-form or another. It is now Madagascar, now Sumatra; now a milkweed, now a pandanus; now a bird, now a woman-fruit. It is now a tree, now an island… I myself have not been immune to this need to identify, categorize, classify, locate, and domesticate Waqwāq. (The impulse is a dangerous one: it arises out of a notion implicit in the colonial and philological enterprise that to be able to name something, to know how it got its name, and to put it on one’s map, is the better to be able to control it.) More recent scholars (Malti-Douglas, Viré, Tolmacheva, Allibert, Toorawa) have been less constrained by potential philological and interpretive tyrannies and Waqwāq has accordingly benefited from re-sitings and re-readings. In this lecture, I ask: What and where are the roots of Waqwāq? What routes has it taken and how? Together we will travel from the Abbasid court to China, from India to the Philippines, from Japan to the Mascarenes, from Istanbul to the New World, and even to Hell (and back).

About Shawkat Toorawa

Shawkat M. Toorawa (PhD Pennsylvania 1998) is Professor of Arabic, Professor of Comparative Literature, and Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at Yale University. He has previously taught at Duke University, the University of Mauritius, and Cornell University. He has also worked in a family import/export company in Malaysia. He is also a Director of the School of Abbasid Studies; a series editor of Resources in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Lockwood Press; and since 2010 has been an executive editor of the Library of Arabic Literature, an initiative to edit and translate significant works of the premodern Arabic literary heritage.

His research and teaching interests include classical and medieval Arabic literature, especially the literary and writerly culture of Abbasid Baghdad; the Qur’an, in particular its soundscape; the Indian Ocean; translation; modern poetry; and science fiction.

His books include Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition, co-authored with the academic alliance RRAALL; the monograph, Ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur and Arabic Writerly Culture: A ninth-century bookman in Baghdad; the edited collection, The Western Indian Ocean: Essays on Islands and Islanders; and Ibn al-Sa‘i’s Consorts of the Caliphs: Women and the Court of Baghdad, an edition and collaborative translation with the editors of the Library of Arabic Literature. His most recent publication is a co-edited special issue of The Muslim World on Anglophone Muslim Women Writing. He is completing a volume of Qur’an translations, editing a collection on the Qur’an’s literary dimensions, and preparing a new edition and translation of the ‘Ajā’ib al-Hind.

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