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Title: Starting out in New Worlds. Under Whose Empire? : High Tradition and Subaltern Tradition in Ottoman Syria, 16th and 19th/20th Centuries
Authors: Bray, Julia
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: Padova, Studio Editoriale Gordini
Abstract: This paper addresses the question of the imbalance of evidence in different periods within the same cultural area, and the problem of achieving epistemological even-handedness in the face of imbalance. It compares two cases of real and metaphorical departure from Bilād al-Šām in the context of major imperial reconfigurations, the " new worlds" of my title. In restrospect, both travellers see their departures as false departures; but the materials for identifying their feelings, connecting them to specific historical situations, and evaluating their significance, are qualitatively different. Born after the Ottoman conquest, Darwīš Muḥammad al- Ṭāluwī recorded his travels in an anthology of poetic epistles, Sāniḥāt dumā l-qaṣr, which also advertises his allegiance to Arabic high culture, an "empire" of the mind. Are its literary conventions an indication of what he really felt? Are his expressions of discontent a sign of modernity? And if so, is this an instance of friction between local culture and the new imperial order? Jean Said Makdisi's Teta, Mother and Me is premised on friction between cultural identities and imposed civil identities. Born under the British Mandate in Palestine, Makdisi recognised the unwritten tradition of Arab feminine ethics in which her grandmother, an Ottoman subject by birth, had been brought up, only after she herself had identified with an international English literary culture. She analyses the subaltern tradition and her own subjectivity in order to understand the cultural problems posed by modernity and displacement. Comparison suggests that in Makdisi's trajectory as in al- Ṭāluwī's, the real significance lies in the false departures ignored by normative historical narratives.
Appears in Collections:Annali di Ca' Foscari. Serie orientale

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