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Palgrave Macmillan

The Poetics of the Obscene in Premodern Arabic Poetry

Ibn al-Hajjaj and Sukhf

ISBN 9781137301536
Publication Date February 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Series Literatures and Cultures of the Islamic World

The pre-modern Arab poet Ibn al-Hajjaj (941-1001) left an indelible mark on the trajectory of pre-modern Arabic poetry and culture by pioneering and popularizing a new mode of poetry, sukhf - obscene and scatological parody. His outrageously obscene poetry was admired by his contemporaries, as well by poets and critics of later periods. The modern period, however, has not been nearly as kind to Ibn al-Hajjaj. Sinan Antoon argues that the reasons for this oversight are ideological, for the most part, and have to do with modern misconceptions of what constitutes "good poetry." The Poetics of the Obscene in Pre-Modern Arabic Poetry is the first study of this fascinating poet and the genre he popularized, placing it within Arab cultural genealogy. Antoon reinscribes Ibn al-Hajjaj into the literary history from which he has been exiled and offers fascinating close readings of the poems in their social and cultural context.

Sinan Antoon is Associate Professor in the Gallatin School at New York University, USA. His translation of Mahmoud Darwish's last prose book In the Presence of Absence (2011) won the American Literary Translators' Award. He is a member of the Editorial Review Board of the Arab Studies Journal and co-founder and co-editor of Jadaliyya.

1. Ibn al-˘ajjj and Sukhf: Genealogies
2. Parodying the Tradition
3. Sukhf in Madı˛
4. Sukhf as sukhf: Abü Nuws, Mujün and Ibn al-˘ajjj
5. Sukhf, Scatology and Society


"Exciting and vital to the unearthing of new trajectories for the Arabic literary tradition . . . [Antoon's book] is a timely and uplifting work, which must be taken seriously and built upon." - Journal of the Society for Contemporary Thought and the Islamicate World
'Sinan Antoon is among the few scholars who in recent years have embarked on the unprejudiced study of what in Arabic is called mujūn or sukhf. It is not surprising that until recently in the West, and still in most Islamic countries, the study of obscenity and scatology was hampered by moral and religious scruples, aided by aesthetic prejudice. This makes the present study all the more welcome and important. Scholarly and thorough, it is also readable (if one can stomach the poems with their unstoppable outpouring of filth), written in an accessible style, neither marred by the excessive use of jargon nor suffering from being clothed in a straightjacket of Theory. The numerous translations of poems are reliable and accompanied by the Arabic text in transliteration.' - Geert Jan van Gelder, Laudian Professor of Arabic, University of Oxford, UK
"This groundbreaking study opens up for the first time an important and fascinating, but heretofore studiously avoided, aspect of classical Arabic literature." - Everett K. Rowson, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University, USA
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