ﺍﻟﺘﻔﺴﻴﺮ ﺍﻟﻘﺮﺁﻧﻲ : توالد النصوص وإشباع الدلالة / Texts' Generation and the Saturation of Meaning
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Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics
[If we look at culture as the collective memory that saves all the texts produced by a society, we should think of it not as a static order, but rather as a dynamic mechanism that affects the interaction of the collective memory's contents. One of the major mechanisms of this interaction is intertextuality as a means of text generation: one text is apt to generate an infinite number of texts that are variations on it. The nature of the variations differs, and their relation to the matrix-text, varies from being a distant echo, hardly audible; to a verbatim repetition of the matrix: or a counter text. The most prominent matrix-text, the Quran, is the source of a great number of texts within Islamic culture. This paper explores the relation between this matrix-text and some of its closest emanations, namely the works of the Muslim exegetes. This relation is scrutinized through a close reading of a sample of the matrix-text and its epiphanies in the exegesis of the Muslim scholars. It studies the ways in which two of the most outstanding interpreters of the Quran, al-Tabari and al-Zamakhshari, have dealt with a specific type of discourse: narrative. Narrative in the Quran, centering mainly on the lives of the Prophets, is elliptic, characterized by its great conciseness and brevity, while on the other hand, the same story recurrently appears in various suras. Al-Tabari and al-Zamakhshari represent two opposite approaches to the interpretation of the Quran. The former, addressing the wide audience of believers, tends to fill in all the "gaps" left out in the matrix-text, presenting all the different interpretations, exhausting all possible meanings of the text; while the latter, who is turned towards an elite of learned and specialized listeners, keeps to the letter of the text, and leaves the unsaid unsaid. One could say that al-Tabari is oriented towards the listener and tries to clarify the text as much as possible, while al-Zamakhshari focuses on the speaker, and tries to understand the gist and dense complexity of the morale and thrust of the message. Turning to a specific example of the Quranic narrative, the writer of the article studies the story of Job in the Quran and the way in which each scholar "rewrote" it in his exegesis. Al-Tabari in his attempt to satisfy the curiosity of the listener, saturates the meaning of the story, unveils all ambiguities, turns to the Old Testament and re-transcribes the Book of Job, but in the process al-Tabari "Islamicizes" Job, presenting a patient sufferer who does not question the equity or justice of God, who knows that he is being tested to prove true faith in his creator. The great revolt of Job and his stature facing God in the storm, in the Old Testament is absent from al-Tabari's text. The study of intertextuality is broadened then, as the Job of al-Tabari is compared not only to the Job of the Quran, but also to the Old Testament Job. Beside Islamization, al-Tabari "purged" his text from any "subversive" elements that can be read as anti-establishment; a move that emanates neither from the Quran, nor from Islamic values, but rather conforms to the prevailing Abbasid-establishment, to which he belonged. When we turn to al-Zamakhshari we find a text shaped on the "model" of the matrix, that is succinct, brief and concise. The rhetoric of the matrix-text is his major concern. He seeks to uncover the true intention of the speaker through the mode of the discourse, rather than its content. It seems, as the writer of the article concludes, that some interpretations that seek to exhaust the meanings of a text, dotting every unsaid "I" and crossing every assumed "T", tend to suffocate the text, closing its openness and eliminating its poignant potential for future experiences that may allow different interpretations and understanding of the original text.]
(1988). ﺍﻟﺘﻔﺴﻴﺮ ﺍﻟﻘﺮﺁﻧﻲ : توالد النصوص وإشباع الدلالة / Texts' Generation and the Saturation of Meaning. Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 30–81.
"ﺍﻟﺘﻔﺴﻴﺮ ﺍﻟﻘﺮﺁﻧﻲ : توالد النصوص وإشباع الدلالة / Texts' Generation and the Saturation of Meaning." Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 8, 1988, pp. 30–81.