Friday, December 07, 2012

On the Urgent Vitality of Books

"Vous les méprisez les livres [. . .]; mais songez que tout l'univers connu n'est gouverné que par des livres,
You despise books, but remember that all the known world, excepting only savage nations, is governed by books, writes Voltaire, speaking of the Veda, Koran, and Confucius's proverbs. I like this idea of books ruling the world: constitutions and declarations of independence, university textbooks, a driver's instruction manual, municipal bylaws, and even the phone book. It's certainly easier to argue their effects than to quantify what effect J.K. Rowling or Mo Yan have had on the world.


Si vous avez un procès, votre bien, votre honneur, votre vie même dépend de l'interprétation d'un livre que vous ne lisez jamais. [. . .]  mais il en est des livres comme des hommes, le très-petit nombre joue un grand rôle, le reste est confondu dans la foule.

In a lawsuit or criminal process, your property, your honor, perhaps your life, depends on the interpretation of a book which you never read. It is, however, with books as with men, a very small number play a great part, the rest are confounded with the multitude.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

To the Now-Arrived, Cold Wintertide

A poem by Johannes Rist (with translations interlarded):

Auf die nunmehr angekommene kalte Winterszeit
Der Winter hat sich angefangen,
Der Schnee bedeckt das ganze Land,
Der Sommer ist hinweggegangen,
Der Wald hat sich in Reif verwandt.
Winter has itself begun, the snow bedecks the land entire; the summer has traversed away, the woods turned over into rime.
Die Wiesen sind von Frost versehret
Die Felder glänzen wie Metall,
Die Blumen sind in Eis verkehret,
Die Flüsse stehn wie harter Stahl.
The pastures are by frost consumed, the fields are glistening as if metal; the flow'rs into ice apostate, the rivers stand like hardy

Friday, October 19, 2012

An Enigmatic Verse on Fancy

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Poet and playwright of some note; English.

Tell me where is fancie bred,
Or in the heart, or in the head:
How begot, how nourished.
Replie, replie.

It is engendred in the eyes,
With gazing fed, and Fancie dies
In the cradle where it lies

From the Merchant of Venice.


I am very fond of the tests of characters which literary figures undergo in imaginary works like fairy tales, since they each have their own ingenious rationality. Sometimes it is a virtue to assist an elderly lady and other times an error, because one is transformed into stone by the lady (i.e. witch!) and must await the rescue of another and probably truer hero. Sometimes it is accounted a virtue to do their best to attempt an impossible endeavour — in one tale a maiden in a paper frock rather sillily goes out into the wilds of winter because her stepmother wanted her to do it — and in others the heroine can look at a pile of straw which is to be spun into gold, sit down and howl, and her fairy godmother or another benevolent entity will arrive shortly. Often the stories are divided upon whether people should deserve things — by means of virtuous positive effort or self-denial — or simply receive things if they have the gumption.


Illustration: Portrait of a lady by an unknown Italian painter (Florentine), dated 1475
in the National Gallery of Victoria, via Wikimedia Commons
The sitter is probably nobody's idea of Portia, but I find hers a very zeitgeisty portrait and her optimistic nose and strong chin seem to indicate some apportioned strength of will — and her attire seems to position her in the nobility.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

War and Peace, Piecemeal: Round Four

Fall of the Damned
Hieronymus Bosch
(ca. 1450-1516)
via Wikimedia Commons
THE LAST 'live blog' of War and Peace, translated by Rosemary Edmonds, took place quite a while ago, but we (or at least 'I') reached the 18th chapter. This was just before the death of Count Bezuhov, father of Pierre, who is the well-meaning social dromedary who unwisely dove into Russian society headfirst after he returned from his studies abroad. The death scene itself is impressive, because it is a milder version of a grand Hogarthian display of hypocrisy; its particular solemnity is ludicrous in light of its trivial, baseminded underpinnings. (It is not unlike the deathbed of Peter Featherstone in Middlemarch.) But it makes me a little uncomfortable.

The next scene is in the countryside, where Prince Bolkonsky is living out the rest of his stately aristocratic life in splendid isolation. His son Andrei (the friend of Pierre) has already escaped, and his father is very proud and fond of him; but Princess Maria, being a woman, is stuck in the position of being molded into the male heir whom her father had always fancied he would like to have. At least that's my reading of the situation. This enforced sobriety and manly strongmindedness which Maria is supposed to possess — they are not poor qualities in themselves but qualities which are best acquired or kept on one's own initiative — contrast pitifully with her self-doubt and romantic aspirations.

12:28 p.m. Maria Bolkonsky finds an ally in girlishness in her friend Julie Kuragin, who writes her the sort of youthful, gushing letter which shrivels under the scrutiny of adult persons. Among her maidenly woes is her plain face, which Tolstoy tritely redeems with a 'pair of fine eyes.' In Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the hero is compelled to change his opinion of the heroine thusly:
no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.
(Vol. I, Chapter 6, at

In War and Peace, the narrative voice says,
. . . Princess Maria sighed and glanced into the pier-glass which stood on her right. It reflected a slight, homely figure and thin features. Her eyes, always melancholy, now looked with particular hopelessness at her reflection in the mirror.
Her friend had written that she has beautiful eyes, but Maria doubts it. So the narrator steps in to explain,
the princess's eyes — large, deep and luminous (it sometimes seemed as if whole shafts of warm light radiated from them) — were so lovely that very often in spite of the plainness of her face they gave her a charm that was more attractive than beauty. But the princess never saw the beautiful expression of her own eyes — the expression they had when she was not thinking of herself.
and moralize: "Like most people's, her face assumed an affected, unnatural expression as soon as she looked in a glass."

As a former girl-teenager, these cogitations ring true to me; I was told that my eyes were pretty and I liked having long hair and doughty legs, but worried about everything else. But I outgrew it by sixteen and find it, in retrospect, horribly mopy and rather embarrassing. As for Tolstoy, he seems to be sermonizing (not unkindly) that feeling poorly about one's pulchritude is the price of vanity; but that characterization might do him an injustice.

13:45 p.m. Julie Kuragin proffers three important pieces of gossip. Firstly, Russia's war against Napoleon is underway and Nikolai Rostov (at whom she has been casting sheep's eyes, to use an amusingly terrible phrase) has enlisted. Secondly, Pierre Bezuhov is being beset by partis and their parents, who are casting sheep's eyes at his new inheritance. Thirdly, the adult relatives (e.g. Prince Vasili, one of the deathbed harpies) of Anatole Kuragin are thinking of palming him off as a husband on Marie. I don't know if this has been mentioned in the book yet, but Anatole Kuragin is — in modern parlance — The Absolute Worst, a glamorous society creep. So she is in great peril!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Aesop's Fables: Odo of Cheriton's "De Lupo, Vulpe et Asino"

Since I am not well informed, this precis on Aesop is a bit of an 'Aesop for Dummies' case:

AESOP was, according to Herodotus and by way of a certain online encyclopaedia, a slave who lived in Greece in the fifth century before Christ. It is also possible that the fables are cribbed from the lore of Mesopotamia or even more easterly lands, or that Aesop himself did not exist at all. Divers Latin translations already existed six hundred years afterwards, by Phaedrus, Ennius and Aphthonius of Antioch and others.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Open Cookbook: Jerusalem

FOR my birthday I received the new cookbook of the London-based chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi: Jerusalem. It came in the big Ebury Press edition, a picturesque clothbound tome whose dimensions do justice to the big photos within and which is altogether a finely put together experience.
Pomegranate fruit from the Greek island Simi
Karelj, 2008
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

These photos, in their scope of subject and scale, mirror the text. In the introduction and in the little prefaces to the recipes, the authors endeavour to recognize the divers communities in Jerusalem not only for their cuisines, but also as fellow citizens whose rights are sometimes in crisis. Unfortunately, the city's inhabitants and its very character is being threatened — increasingly — by a political and theocratic monopoly.

The truest test of a cookbook — aside from a quick note of its illustrations, difficulty of techniques, fairness to the Queen's English, and the kind of cuisine which it offers  — is, of course, to try the recipes. There are many recipes which look highly tempting: the hot yoghurt and barley soup, the kibbeh, the quinces with lamb stuffing and pomegranate seeds and fractured coriander leaf, the mutabbaq where soft white cheese plumply reposes underneath rectangles of resinous-coloured phyllo pastry, and so on. There are many vegetarian dishes, and in its detailed consciousness of health (implicit in the ingredients) and ethics (free-range chickens, sustainable fish, forest stewardship council seal, etc.) the book brings the caricatured demographic of the Guardian — where some of these recipes have been published — very much to mind. I, of course, approve; and especially in the political aspect I am glad of this thoughtfulness even if I, the consumer, do not practice it.

The "stuffed onions" which I decided to attempt are layers of the root vegetable, which are curled up around a tablespoonful of spiced rice and pine nut stuffing into an oval cigar-like form, then simmered in a pan for an hour and a half to two hours in stock.

FIRST came the shopping, which I did at a nearby Turkish gida. There were dauntingly huge onions, like grapefruits, there; I bought these but found out at home that, these being 450ish to 580ish grams, the 'large onions' mentioned in the recipe should in fact weigh half as much. The shallots were inexpensive; the pine nuts were not there and so I bought cashew nuts instead, which were fairly expensive. But, regarding the costs, I think that Tamimi's and Ottolenghi's recipes are intended to be fine cooking too, hence the relatively long ingredient lists; and the staple/inexpensive foods in an Israeli or British store or market will of course not always be the staple foods in a Turkish and German one.

Photograph: View of Jerusalem, by AlexS (2004)
Licenced under GNU Free Documentation License and CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As for the spices — cloves, cumin, allspice, dried mint, parsley, and fresh mint — they were either easy to find or we already had them at home. The benefit of purchasing the dried mint in form of a large bag of unchopped leaves, from the tea section, was that they have a brilliant, fresh scent when handled which even stands up to the onion fragrance which permeates the kitchen. The pomegranate molasses (the bottle said "grenadine molasses," which I thought was a French cognate, but which might reflect the fact that a pomegranate syrup is customarily called 'grenadine') were in the aisle with orange blossom water, chutneys, etc. I taste-tested them later since they were something new; they are like rose hips or, obviously, pomegranates in terms of taste, runnier than liquid honey, and lovely deep brown.

IT is a tribute to the recipe that despite the miscalculations and adjustments that I made, despite the employment of bouillon powder in lieu of true stock, and despite my scorching the shallots and other ingredients of the stuffing in the pan where they were frying separately, the final dish turned out to be delicious and filling. My family enthusiastically ate it up, too. However . . . there is some hazard that — while the hours of work do not put one off wanting to make the recipe again — one is rather inclined to whimper at the sight of an onion in any shape or form immediately afterwards.


Yotam Ottolenghi, Contributor page at the Manchester Guardian

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Fox and the Geese

Fox once came upon a meadow where a herd of lovely fat geese was sitting. He laughed and said, "I have come at the right time. You are sitting together so nicely that I can eat you up one after the other." The geese quacked with affright, leapt to their feet, and began to wail and plead piteously for their lives. Fox, however, refused to listen to them and said, "There will be no mercy here! You must die." At last one of them took heart and said, "If we poor geese are to lose our lives in the flower of youth, grant us one favour and allow us a prayer, so that we do not die with our sins upon us; and afterwards we will even set ourselves in a row so that you may always choose the plumpest." — "Very well," said Fox, "that is fair and it is a pious request. Pray; I will wait that long." So the first started a pretty long prayer, always "Gah, gah," and because she refused to stop, the second did not wait for her turn, but also started: "Gah, gah!" The third and fourth followed her example, and soon they were all quacking together. (And when they have prayed themselves out, this tale shall be told further; but they are still perpetually praying on.)

Original text: "Der Fuchs und die Gänse," Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
in the Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Bayreuth: Gondrom Verlag, 1982)


Friday, August 17, 2012

An Avian Abattoir in Covent Garden

With thanks to the commenter angelinterceptor of the Guardian website, from the article "Royal Ascot's dress code aims to banish the commoner within" by Sarah Ditum (June 19, 2012). A quick web search revealed that this is one of George Bernard Shaw's letters to the Times of London.


July 3, 1905


THE OPERA management of Covent Garden regulates the dress of its male patrons. When is it going to do the same to the women?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Swann in Love: Liveblog, Partie Deux

Reading Marcel Proust's Un amour de Swann, from his Remembrance of Things Past series. It is still extremely early (the first 3%) in the book.

Film Clip: Francis Planté (1839-1934): Chopin - Etude op.25 no.2 Fmin
Put up on YouTube by d60944.

11:17 a.m. To impart a proper mood to the proceedings, I have put up one of Francis Planté's recordings from YouTube, since he is mentioned in the first page of Swann in Love, is French, lived at the right time, and generated very zeitgeisty photographs.

11:34 a.m. Swann apparently pulls all his strings to wriggle into the company of women who have awoken his interest. The narrator complains that his grandparents confounded one such attempt to pull strings:
Et soit méfiance, soit par le sentiment inconsciemment diabolique qui nous pousse à n'offrir une chose qu'aux gens qui n'en ont pas envie, mes grands-parents opposaient une fin de non-recevoir absolue aux prières les plus faciles à satisfaire qu'il leur adressait, comme de le présenter à une jeune fille qui dînait tous les dimanches à la maison
Not only did they not introduce Swann to their young lady acquaintance, they also pretended that she didn't visit them so that he wouldn't continue pestering them. How horrific.

Why this type of bratty insistence on believing that the rest of the world exists to satisfy one's acquisitive whims is supposed to be charming or amusing I don't understand. A person over the age of ten who mopes over the meanspiritedness of thwarted pleasures without feeling some self-aware sense of shame for the lack of dignity at the time is also a little of an oddity. I think that the enjoyments of life are finer if they are withheld for a while, or completely — until the right moment and right motivation and the acquiescence of other interested parties delivers them, and we are certain to appreciate them according to their worth. The Epicureans believed, if I learned it correctly, in the role of moderation in heightening enjoyment. (Grumble, grumble.)

Altogether it annoys me when book protagonists take their life so seriously that the same earnestness which one character may rightfully devote to earning enough to subsist, another character absurdly devotes to being anxious as to whether his friends really admire him (a very, very special individual of sensitive soul, luminous talent, and ultrarefined, soaring aspirations) as they ought, etc. The graveyards are full of people who thought they were indispensable, and so on and so forth.

12:02 p.m. We get an insight into Swann's daily life now. He visits friends and trawls for mistresses, who can be a cook or anyone really; if his current mistress is performing at the opera he will 'hang' there; and he plays poker and goes to weekly dinners. There is a really hilariously dandyish passage here:
chaque soir, après qu'un léger crépelage ajouté à la brosse de ses cheveux roux avait tempéré de quelque douceur la vivacité de ses yeux verts, il choisissait une fleur pour sa boutonnière et partait retrouver sa maîtresse à dîner chez l'une ou l'autre des femmes de sa coterie; et alors, pensant à l'admiration et à l'amitié que les gens à la mode, pour qui il faisait la pluie et le beau temps et qu'il allait retrouver là, lui prodigueraient devant la femme qu'il aimait, il retrouvait du charme à cette vie mondaine sur laquelle il s'était blasé, ainsi dont la matière, pénétrée et colorée chaudement d'une flamme insinuée qui s'y jouait, lui semblait précieuse et belle depuis qu'il y avait incorporé un nouvel amour.
Good lord. If the alternative is having nothing to do but to admire one's self in the mirror of how one supposes other people see one's self, just. get. a. job. Besides the léger crépélage (snortle) is the kind of detail which 'can be properly interesting' only to the person who has it on his head and to his barber.

This kind of thing is why I find Oscar Wilde a little of the reverse of his own façade. Wilde, purportedly a dandy and an obsessive about superficialities and an apostate to the bourgeoisie, appears to have had far more observation, far more imagination and the ability to think outside of himself, and far more of an interest in thinking about morality than most of his most bienpensant contemporaries. His aesthetics are a very complex thing and are not that far off from reality; an Old Master expends a great deal of work to construct a painting and the moment we see it we know it's not real, but this same painting has as much or more to say than a true scene would. Swann, however, seems to be a little what Oscar Wilde was worried that he was, without facing the same constant prospect of abysses, moral and emotional etc., opening up at his feet to fatally swallow him. On the other hand, I probably admire Wilde too undilutedly to represent him very accurately.

Anyway, so M. Swann meets Odette de Crécy and, having heard of her before, is kind of prejudiced against her. This colours his perception of her charms, so that we are given a leaden portrait of her which runs very much along the unflattering lines of "My mistress's eyes are nothing like the sun" (the sonnet). But, despite his anathematic attitude toward 'settling,' for some reason he decides to 'settle' for a flirtation with her and to sort-of fall in love for the duration of said flirtation as per his usual modus operandi. Hypocrite, I say!

1:18 p.m. According to my philistine calculations, we are nearly 5% of the way through the book.

Proust helpfully informs us that men are clever enough to fall in love, as they become older and accustomed to it, through short-cuts: they can convince themselves, or stumble across a thread of feeling which they recognize from past passions, and then make a whole fabric out of it which suffices for the time. Women, on the other hand, those slow-minded creatures, go the whole hog. *Snore*

Moving on from the Pavlovian responses inherent in worldly masculinity, Odette de Crécy continues to chase down Swann and worry away at him like a golden retriever with the bone his master has thrown to him; and Swann continues to think he is God's gift to women, even as he is nattering away in his mind whenever she visits that he wishes she were a little prettier. Quel grand âme, as the French might say.

There follows a long defense of her haggish state, which is (I guess?) supposed to indicate an openminded spirit:
Il faut d'ailleurs dire que le visage d'Odette paraissait plus maigre et plus proéminent parce que le front et le haut des joues, cette surface unie et plus plane était recouverte par la masse de cheveux qu'on portait alors prolongés en "devants", soulevés en "crêpés", répandus en mèches folles le long des oreilles; et quant à son corps qui était admirablement fait, il était difficile d'en apercevoir la continuité (à cause des modes de l'époque et quoiqu'elle fût une des femmes de Paris qui s'habillaient le mieux), tant le corsage, s'avançant en saillie comme sur un ventre imaginaire et finissant brusquement en pointe pendant que par en dessous commençait à s'enfler
. . . This description goes on and on, so I've cut it short here. I can read about peplum dresses in Vogue and W and Elle and look at photos of ready-to-wear runway shows for hours, but this is incredibly tedious.

Then she leaves and Swann is mighty tickled (to borrow from the western vernacular) that she is so insecure about when she can visit him again or if he could visit her. She is worried that she ain't interlectual enough for him or his friends. She doesn't know who on earth Vermeer is, which is so adorable. Swann, who really wants to get around to writing an essay about the abovementioned painter even though he spells him Ver Meer for some reason, declines her offer to visit him by saying that he is afraid of forming new friendships.

Rather than punch the obnoxious idiot in the nose for exploiting her frailties to feed his insatiable vanity, she discovers in him a Wounded Soul. She gushes that she is desperate for new friendships and perpetrates this horrible clichéd balderdash: [Epic Nausea Alert]
Vous avez dû souffrir par une femme. Et vous croyez que les autres sont comme elle. Elle n'a pas su vous comprendre; vous êtes un être si à part. C'est cela que j'ai aimé d'abord en vous, j'ai bien senti que vous n'étiez pas comme tout le monde.
Which, to translate it into modern English and sacrifice the rules of punctuation, amounts more or less to: "A woman must have made you suffer, and you think that the others are like her. She couldn't understand you, you're a person who is so unique. That's what I liked about you first, I really felt that you weren't like everyone else."

Mon. Dieu. quel. horreur.

This is the kind of situation where I think the lady would be better served by going on an Eat, Pray, Love tour of self-gratification and 'discovery' than by lolling about at home and being around this type of 'guy.'

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Swann in Love

"This is a Shell Leines or a pearl oyster shell-shaped
madeleine, which was made by Blanca."
Photo by Miyuki Meinaka, April 2010
(via Wikimedia Commons, License CC BY-SA 3.0
Having browsed the bookshelf, or rather looked at it and taken out a random book, I have decided to live-blog my attempts to read a portion of Proust's The Remembrance of Things Past, entitled Swann in Love or Un amour de Swann. Since I've got it, I'll use it: I'm reading an original French edition from Gallimard (1977), which is presumably in our bookshelves by grace of Omama. I haven't read anything by Proust, and know little beyond the famous detail that he bit into a biscuit once and it reminded him of something; please excuse my ignorance. For the sake of context: according to a certain online encyclopaedia, The Remembrance of Things Past was written from 1908ish to 1922. [Let's not mention what happened to my last live-blog, of War and Peace.]

10:47 p.m. It irritates me as a classical music aficionado and detail-obsessive when fictional pianists play pieces (e.g. a Haydn symphony) which are not composed for the piano. While Wagner did write pieces for the piano — which I had never heard of until a few minutes ago, when I conferred with Wikipedia's 'List of compositions' by him — Proust lends the pianist a repertory of extracts from The Valkyrie and Tristan and Isolde.

Anyway, the portraiture of high society begins at once; the little tiffs over favoured musicians, doctors, etc. oneupmanship between hostesses of salons and parties, and the bothers of patronage. Oddly enough these details remind me a good deal of Maria Edgeworth.

In terms of characters we are introduced to M. Verdurin and Mme. Verdurin, the lady being 'virtuous and of a respectable bourgeois family, excessively rich and entirely obscure, with whom she had ceased, little by little and voluntarily, any relations.' In her salon she welcomes Mme. de Crécy, a lady of ill-er repute; the wife of her favourite doctor Cottard; and the aunt of her favourite pianist (he of the Wagner repertory), among the ladies. Her pianist is permitted to appear — and play if he considers that the spirit is moving him — and so is her favourite painter. They talk, play charades, indulge in ladylike valetudinarianism (Mme. Verdurin), and listen to the music.

By this point I realize that my French is not up to the standard of reading Marcel Proust, so Le Petit Robert ('petit' inasfar as a brickbat which encompasses 2949 numbered pages can be considered 'petit') in a 2003 edition and Follett Publishing Company's Classic French Dictionary (1962) have appeared on the scene.

faribole - idle story, trifle
esclaffer - [etym. used early as 1534, from Provençal esclafa (éclater), revived 19th cent.] bursting into loud laughter ("éclater de rire bruyamment")

This society sounds incredibly boring.

We have reached 'Page 9,' which is really Page 3.

11:43 p.m. The society dissolves in the course of time, as very pressing obligations take its members elsewhere. (A slow dignified exit out the door, followed by a reckless thumping run down the carpeted hallway, shoes clattering down the stairs, footman cut off mid-polite-inquiry, door slamming, pause, horse-drawn carriage or automobile tumbling away . . . one presumes.) Mme. Verdurin is shocked that her guests have lives outside her salon. She wonders why the doctor would want to bother his patients by promptly tending them upon their request.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Story of the Woman in the Abbasid Era, Part II

(Part II of my university essay, submitted on March 6, 2012, etc.)

AUS der sozioökonomischen Perspektive kann und ist diskutiert worden,* wie die großen Wandlungen von der Zeit des Propheten bis zum Verfall des Abbasidenreiches in 1258 in Art und Ausmaß der Agrikultur, der Aufstieg der Städte, die Öffnung und das Aussterben von Handelsrouten, die Vielfalt von Luxusgütern und gehobeneren Lebensweisen, und wie die Kriege, im kleinen oder im großen Schema eine unwidersetzliche, unterschwellige Wirkung auf die allgemeine Stellung der Frauen hatten.

(*Wie: Guity Nashat in ihrer Einleitung zu Women in Islam von Wiebke Walther.)


WIE die islamischen Eroberungen seit 610* die Frauen in den christlichen und jüdischen und zoroastrianischen Gemeinden betrafen — sie behielten zumeist die religiöse Freiheit; ihre Steuer lagen auch höher, aber wie hart dies ein Haushalt traf ist heute schwer zu wissen — bleibt eine Frage. Einige bekehrten sich auch zum Islam.
(* Als Muhammad der Engel Gabriel zum ersten Mal erschien. Die eigentlichen Eroberungen über die arabische Halbinsel hinaus fingen erst richtig um 632, nachdem Muhammad starb, an. Ehrlichgesagt hatte ich diese zeitlichen Verhältnisse in den Vorlesungen an der Uni nicht richtig eingeordnet, also habe ich es in einer gewissen Online-Enzyklopädie nachgelesen.)
Aber diese Entwicklungen sind schwerlich ohne einer Behandlung wie im Germinal oder Krieg und Frieden gerecht zu werden — in diesem Aufsatz wird es nicht versucht.


IN Kriegen und Krisen wurde offensichtlich die soziale Ordnung überstürzt. Zwei Anekdoten zeigen wie es zulaufen konnte:

° 1073 fanden in Ägypten schwere Überschwemmungen statt: Frauen halfen beim Ziegelbacken damit Gebäude neu eingerichtet werden konnten.*

* Von Maya Shatzmiller, Labour in the Medieval Islamic World (q.v. später)

° In den Kreuzzügen bewaffnete sich eine alte Dienerin und zog in die Schlacht, als Isma‘iliten ihr Haus bedrohten, bis die Einheimische den Feinden in den Zahlen überlegen waren.*

* Von Usamah ibn-Munqidh, zitiert in: An Arab-Syrian gentleman and warrior in the period of the Crusades.


DER Islam ist als Einfluss auf die Rechte der islamischen Frauen immer als das wesentliche Element gedeutet worden. In Wirklichkeit gab es so viele Denkensweisen, dass Verallgemeinerungen nicht hilfreich sind. Erstens waren in den ursprünglichen Texten verschiedene Ansichten vertreten, zweitens änderte sich die Interpretation selbstverständlich innerhalb des sozialen Umfeldes, und drittens unterschieden sich die Ableitungen des Sinnes dieser Texte wesentlich unter den verschiedenen islamischen Sekten.

Wie sehr die weiblichen Begleiter des Propheten als Vorbilder auf die islamische Nachwelt wirkten, ist vielleicht eine zu subjektive Frage. Auf jeden Fall waren Khadija, A'isha und Fatima herausragende Figuren.

Khadija war die erste Frau Muhammads, eine reiche Frau die sich im Handel beschäftigte, wie andere Frauen im Stamm Qurashi zu ihrer Zeit und vielleicht sogar vier Jahrhunderte zuvor.


Patricia Crone: Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam

Ich hatte einfach im Verzeichnis hinten nach "women" gesucht, und bin so auf Khadija et al. gestoßen, aber eigentlich kann man das Ganze gut lesen. Es geht um Schiffhandel und Karawane, Zimt und Weihrauch, Kardamom und Myrrhe, und Erwähnungen von begegneten Völker aus Ländern von Persien und Ostafrika bis Indien, über einen großen Zeitspann.
The sources are agreed that Judean balsam only grew in Judea, later also in Syria and Egypt, and that it only existed in a cultivated state. The cultivated plant was smaller than the Arabian and Somali trees; it needed diligent watering, and its resin was quite unlike that of Arabian and Somali bashām. It was extremely sweet in taste, whereas that of the Arabian tree is said to be acid, that of the Somali tree bitter.
Seite 64, via Google Books.


Illustration: Weihrauch- und Obstverkäufer, auf Seide, von Phạm Sỹ.
via Wikimedia Commons


A'isha, die Lieblingsfrau Muhammads, zog bekannterweise im Jahre 656 in den Krieg gegen den vierten rechtgeleiteten Kaliphen Ali, nachdem sie Moscheen betrat und dort gegen ihn eine Folgschaft sammelte. Ihre Führung der 'Kamelschlacht' ist kein unkompliziertes Thema; nach einer Sicht 'bleibt sie in der muslimischen Erinnerung für immer mit Fitna (Unordnung und Zerstörung) verbunden'. Auch war sie offen und unverzagt kritisch gegen den dritten Kaliphen Uthman. Im hadith (Sprüche von oder über Muhammad oder seine Zeitgenossen) und im sunna (im hadith überliefertes Leben und Beispiel des Propheten und seiner Folgschaft) ist sie vielleicht am Einflussreichsten geblieben, als Quelle von vielem davon, was wir noch von ihrem Mann wissen, nachdem er 632 starb.

[Disclaimer: Es ist möglich, dass ich in diesem Abschnitt ziemlich viele faktische Fehler gemacht habe.]

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Story of the Woman in the Abbasid Era, Part I

(University essay, submitted on March 6, 2012, and reproduced here with illustrations and elucidations for the curious. Please forgive my direr moments with regard to the German language.)

DIE Geschichte der Frau zur Zeit des abbasidischen Reiches die uns überliefert worden ist, ist wie viele andere Aspekte voller Lücken und auch benebelt von den Urteilen der Nachwelt.

Was feststeht ist, wie die Umgebung einer Frau auch ihr Los entschied: Reichtum und Armut, die Ortschaft auf dem Lande oder in der Stadt, die menschliche Umgebung ihrer Familie und ihrer Gesellschaft — und dadurch, in welchem politischen Winkel eines zeitweilens sehr großen Reiches sie sich befand.


"Geographie Du Moyen Age Principalement au IXe Siecle." (1837) via Wikimedia Commons
The lime green boundaries rim the Caliphate, while the sea-green is the Byzantine Empire and the rose-pink the Holy Roman Empire (it says "Empire Charlemagne," but I presume he himself had passed on by 'principally the ninth century').

Geschichtlich waren schließlich Jahrtausende Zivilisationen dem abbasidischen Reiche (c. 750 - 1258 n. Chr.*) vorausgegangen, die sich zu verschiedenen Zeiten von Andalusien und Marokko bis hin zur Mitte Russlands und ins heutige China streckte. Dörfliche, städtische, wandernde Sitten waren schon festgelegt; auch die Rechte, Berufe, und Ähnliches sind schon 1700 im Kodex von Hammurabi den Männern und den Frauen zugeteilt worden. Im Kodex stehen ebenfalls alte Lösungen zu den Fragen der Ehe und der Kindererziehung. Bei den Bedouinen gab es auch längst Lösungen — z.B. in der Zeit des Propheten ist vermutlich noch matrilineale Abstammung bekannt gewesen, die Strömung der Geschichte aber ließ diese Tradition vergehen.

* (Die Jahreszahlen in diesem Aufsatz sind v. Chr. oder n. Chr. angegeben.)


"Zwar bestanden bei den Beduinen zur Zeit der Hiğra Spuren einer älteren Sozialordnung fort; so ist es zum Beispiel wahrscheinlich, daß die Ausweitung des Patriarchats und patrilinearer Gruppen damals noch nicht ausschließlich vorherrschte, daß sie vielmehr vor noch nicht allzu langer Zeit eine ältere, matriarchal begründete Ordnung überlagert hatte."

Aus: Xavier de Planhol, Kulturgeographische Grundlagen der Islamischen Geschichte (pp. 15-16)