A PARADOX DEMYSTIFIED.

Marshall Hodgson changed the way I view the world more than any other historian I have read. Before I read his monumental The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, my head was filled with all sorts of musty ideas and prejudices inherited from the Victorian era and before, passed down through generation after generation of unthinking repetition; it was as though he pried open a window in my skull and let the breeze of his insights blow all that crap out and provide me with a fresh start. The amazing thing is that although a first version was published a half-century ago and the book in its current state almost thirty years ago, it has made so little impact on the world at large; widely respected scholars like Bernard Lewis, not to mention the media and the public at large, continue to repeat the same claptrap about unchanging, universal Islam and brave but primitive desert Arabs and, well, you know the story. That Wikipedia article on Hodgson has a decent summary of his achievement:

In The Venture of Islam Hodgson reimagined the terminology and focus of Islamic history and religion: He critiqued terms like tradition for ḥadith and Islamic Law for sharīʿah. The focus on the Arab world that had characterized the Euro-American study of Islam was also rethought by Hodgson who argued that it was the Persianate world (his coinage) that was the locus of the most influential Muslim thought and practice from the Middle Period onwards. Most importantly he distinguished between Islamic (properly religious) and Islamicate phenomena, which were the products of regions in which Muslims were culturally dominant, but were not, properly speaking religious. Thus wine poetry was certainly Islamicate, but not Islamic.
Hodgson’s writings were a precursor to the modern world history approach. His initial motivation in writing a world history was his desire to place Islamic history in a wider context and his dissatisfaction with the prevailing Eurocentrism of his day. Hodgson painted a global picture of world history, in which the ‘Rise of Europe’ was the end-product of millennia-long evolutionary developments in Eurasian society; modernity could conceivably have originated somewhere else.

When I say I read the book, however, I should qualify. I bought and read Volume 1 and Volume 2 twenty years ago, but for some reason I didn’t pick up the third volume—perhaps the store was out of stock—and by the time I finished the first two and wanted more, the third was either unavailable or outrageously expensive. At any rate, my excellent sister-in-law got me a copy for my birthday, and I’m now reading it with great pleasure. I’ll reproduce here one linguistic nugget from the first chapter, “The Safavî Empire”:

Writers used to cite it as a paradox that Ismâ’îl, ruler of ‘Persia’, wrote his verse in Turkic, while his rival, Selîm, ruler of ‘Turkey’, wrote his verse in Persian. The paradox springs only from a misuse of the term ‘Persia’ for the Safavî empire, which included Persians, Turks, and Arabs equally, and the term ‘Turkey’ for the Ottoman empire, an even more unfortunate misnomer. In itself there is nothing paradoxical in the leader of a tribal grouping writing in the popular tongue, Turkic, while the head of an established state writes in the cultivated tongue, Persian.

I have myself taken pleasure in disseminating that paradox, and will doubtless continue to do so because it’s such fun, but his brisk demolition of it is typical of his clear-headed approach to things.


A couple of tidbits related to things Islamicate:
1) Peter Brown, in his NYRB review of Masterpieces from the Department of Islamic Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Treasures of Islamic Manuscript Painting from the Morgan, refers to “the great poet Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī of Konya” and then consistently as “Rūmī,” complete with macrons. This is idiotic. While I approve in general of reproducing foreign diacritics, which should be a simple matter in this age of computer typesetting, there are no macrons in his name as written in the languages relevant to his milieu, which is جلال‌الدین محمد بلخى. In English, he is known as Rumi, or in fuller form as (e.g.) Jalaluddin Rumi, and adding diacritics that will benefit no one is simple ostentation. Hodgson refers to him as Jalâluddîn Rûmî, but that’s because he indicates all long vowels with diacritics throughout, as is appropriate in a scholarly publication. If Brown wanted to go that route for whatever reason, he would have had to refer to Nizāmī rather than Nizami, Sūfī rather than Sufi, etc. But again, what’s the point in an NYRB review?
2) Looking up something else in Vasmer, I ran across the entry магомет (the Russian equivalent of Mahomet):

“ругательство” (Чехов). Вероятно, заимств. с Запада, причем западноевроп. слова восходят к араб. Мuḥammad “Магомет” [...]. Отсюда прилаг. магомета́нский, др.-русск. Бохмитъ (Лаврентьевск. летоп.); народн. Мухое́д, мухоеда́ньская ве́ра – от му́ха и есть; см. Савинов, РФВ 21, 45.

I like very much both the Old Russian form Бохмитъ [Bokhmit] (clearly influenced by Бог [Bog] ‘God’) and the popular variant Мухоед [Mukhoed] (looks like ‘fly-eater’).

Comments

  1. David Marjanović says:
    In itself there is nothing paradoxical in the leader of a tribal grouping writing in the popular tongue, Turkic, while the head of an established state writes in the cultivated tongue, Persian.

    Nerd that I am, I immediately remember that Persian was in the other position 2000 years earlier, and the cultivated tongue was Elamite.

    Мухоед [Mukhoed] (looks like ‘fly-eater’).
    BCSM Мухамед/Muhamed, looks like “fly” + “honey”. Of course, a Serbian ultranationalist has actually proposed this as the etymology, in all seriousness, in the context of claiming that all other languages are devolved from Serbian and that the Serbs are the oldest people in the world.

  2. John Emerson says:

    Writers used to cite it as a paradox that Ismâ’îl, ruler of ‘Persia’, wrote his verse in Turkic, while his rival, Selîm, ruler of ‘Turkey’, wrote his verse in Persian.
    At one point Ottoman troops which were mostly Balkan Christians fought Persian troops which were mostly Turks. Besides the fact that both empires were very multicultural, there is also a tendency in such empires not to draw the administration, the police, or the military from the majority population.

  3. John Emerson says:

    Baphomet was a medieval European version of “Muhammad” and eventually became the name of a demon.

  4. A note on Volume 3: Hodgson died suddenly before he could write the third volume, so what you are reading is a compilation of Hodgson’s notes put together by his fellow faculty members at the University of Chicago.
    Given the circumstances of its writing, the third volume is generally considered the weakest of the three — for instance when I was at Chicago only the first two volumes were used in the Islamic History sequence.
    Volume 2 was also, if I recall correctly, published after his death, but it was in a much more complete form when he died.

  5. Well, rats. Thanks for the warning—I’ll try not to be too disappointed.

  6. what you are reading is a compilation of Hodgson’s notes put together by his fellow faculty members at the University of Chicago … Well, rats. Thanks for the warning—I’ll try not to be too disappointed.
    I can imagine what you feel. One of the most influential – and astounding, as I find while now reading it (in a German translation, unfortunately) – works of sociology is Mead’s Mind, Self and Society. This turns out not to have been written by Mead, but cobbled together posthumously from notes taken by students who attended his University of Chicago lectures. He never published a book.
    Well, most of what Aristotle wrote that was intended for the reading public has been lost. What remains are lecture notes and exercises. There are 55 medieval versions of the Symposium and parts of it, raising the academically lucrative question of an Urtext.
    By the by: the very existence of texts requires you to say sayonara to the idea of authoritative texts. As a copy-editor, you have created new text versions every time you finish a job. There is habit of talking about “different editions” of a book – but you could just as well talk about different books with the same title (Pierre Menard).
    A few years ago, reading Blumenberg, I wondered why he had so many footnotes pointing out differences between various editions of whatever book he was dealing with. I thought: “my God, he must have a lot of time on his hands to spend on such details”. I am now reading the second edition of Durkheim’s De la division du travail social, the most common one apparently, in any case the one that was in print when I ordered it from puf. The text-historical introduction makes it clear why different editions are different books.
    I think it should be clear by now that the what of a text is parasitical on the how, in terms of what can be scientifically ascertained. This is no news – the context-cutters have a lot to answer for, since Terentianus was more precise than he is usually quoted as being: pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli.
    If I may be bold: here is an opportunity to avoid disappointment by moving the goalposts. Just add a pair of quotes – not by Hodgson but “by” him – and the rainclouds disappear.

  7. In the context of text reception: I just ran across the Samuel Johnson Soundbite Page: Apocrypha.

  8. Our writings are as so many dishes, our readers guests, our books like beauty, that which one admires another rejects; so are we approved as mens fancies are inclined.

  9. Then why are there not more dishy writers ?

  10. Isn’t higher praise that your students feel compelled to publish your lecture notes and miscellaneous writings after you are dead, than that they are compelled to help you publish them in your lifetime?

  11. On etymology, Hodgson’s first book, one of the earliest studies in English of the Alamut Nizaris, mentioned briefly here before, devotes some pages to why Ismaili assassins were called after hashish. Even today, the OED only repeats “Ismāʿīli sectarians, who used to intoxicate themselves with hashish or hemp, when preparing to dispatch some king or public man,” not even repeating de Sacy‘s theory from Marco Polo. Wikipedia‘s hodge-podge of sources acknowledge that pot-head probably wasn’t meant to be positive, but then veer off in favor of unrelated theories.

  12. MMcM: Indeed, with Aristotle as the shining example: a writer who has influenced the next two thousand years of thought, though we have not a single word of his.
    I remember being crushed when I found out that Hannah Arendt’s book on judgement would never appear.

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