بلاغة المقموعين / The Rhetoric of the Oppressed


Gaber Asfour



Find in your Library


All Authors

عصفور, جابر; Asfour, Gaber

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

Publication Date





[The article distinguishes between two tendencies in medieval Arabic rhetoric, that of institutionalized rhetoric which was based on the theorization of rhetoricians officially recognized and patronized by the State and Establishment versus the rhetoric of the marginalized, oppressed and oppositional groups. The latter included a variety of dissenting orientations: Muʿtazilites, Shiʿites, intellectual rebels, philosophers and mystics. Institutionalized rhetoric insisted on the importance of eloquence, clarity and propriety. The rhetoric of the oppressed, on the other hand, resorted to modes of indirectness and codes of veiling to express and disseminate their points of view. Thus, techniques such as insinuation, allegorization, allusion, ambiguity and double entendre were used to conceal what could not be said openly. The article investigates this "underground rhetoric" by collecting and analyzing relevant observations and practices as they emerged in particular socio-economic contexts, and within the dialectic of Islamic power politics and medieval multiculturalism. The study presents a sociology of rhetoric by tracing the manifestations and critical reflections on the equivocal mode of expression in medieval works. It starts with statements made by the orthodox Caliph ʿAlī Ibn Abī Tālib and goes on to include seminal treatises on rhetoric and the encyclopedic epistles of the Brethren of Purity. The study surveys the relationship of oppression and repression to the rhetoric of silence and ellipsis, and the correspondence of dissimulation (taqiyya) to symbolization. Finally, the politics of medieval rhetoric is demonstrated through close reading and comparative juxtapositions of fictional works with allegorical thrust, such as those of Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, al-Maʿarī, Ibn Ṭufayl and The Thousand and One Nights. The study shows how these works embody counter views to the hegemonic ones, and communicate the claims of those who are oppressed either because of their political and religious persuasions or because of their class and gender. The study, furthermore, underlines the specifically Arabic techniques and strategies used in this subaltern rhetoric, including al-muʿārada (oppositional intertextuality), ilghāz (riddling), taʿmiyya (obscurantism) and munāqaḍa (paradox); all contribute to readers' searching response and a reception aesthetics based not on cathartic relief, but on destablizing doubts, subversive interrogations and cryptic complicity.]

First Page


Last Page


This document is currently not available here.