The War-Metaphor in Arabic Poetry: A Study of Innovation, Tradition, and Literary Practices

My doctoral project is a study of the war-metaphor in classical Arabic poetry. By bringing war and metaphor together, I aim at shedding new light on instrumental concepts and notions in Arabic poetry and poetics, such as conventionality, innovation, the relationship between poet and critic and poet and literary tradition, as well as on other indigenous critical notions (badīʿ, tawlīd, muḥdath, among others). The study is, therefore, not one of the concept or idea of war, on which the investigation of metaphor might provide illuminating insights. Rather the war-metaphor is employed here as a leading case-study of metaphor and inserted in the discussion on poetics, aesthetics, and literary practices in classical Arabic poetry.

Two moments of the history of Arabic poetry are going to be emphasized—here called the muḥdath and the “pre-muḥdath”. The former moment refers generally to the early ʿAbbāsid poets known as the muḥdathūn (i.e. the new ones) and whose poetry and poetical practices were considered to represent a palpably novel stance to that of their predecessors (Umayyad, early Islamic, and pre-Islamic poets)—whom I shall call the “pre-muḥdath”. These two moments are however not exclusively employed as timeframe concepts, but rather as a delineation of a set of stylistic and critical characteristics, which might or might not correspond to historical stages.

The study draws on a variety of theories of metaphor, trying not to limit itself to a single approach or school. It benefits mainly from the theoretical endeavors in the field of metaphor from the 1970s onwards. The cognitive theory (Lakoff, Mac Cormac) is instrumental in exploring the various patterns of the war-metaphor and in examining notions of conventionality and tradition. The study of metaphor as a rhetorical process (Paul Ricœur, Wayne C. Booth) helps us relate it to rhetoric, context, and discourse, while the semantic approach (Jakobson, Le Guern) provides the ground for examining the functioning of metaphor within a semantic isotopy (be it an expression, a sentence or a text). A reference to the different theories and stances in the Arabic critical tradition will be provided as well.