Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded

Volume One

465 pages

July, 2016

ISBN: 9781479882342

$40

Cloth

Add to Cart Available: 6/10/2016

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Subjects:

Arabic Literature

Part of the Library of Arabic Literature series

Authors

All books by Yusuf al-Shirbini

Humphrey Davies is an award-winning translator of some twenty works of modern Arabic literature, among them Alaa Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building, four novels by Elias Khoury, including Gate of the Sun, and Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq’s Leg over Leg. He has also made a critical edition, translation, and lexicon of the Ottoman-period Hazz al-quhuf bi-sharh qasid Abi Shaduf (Brains Confounded by the Ode of Abu Shaduf Expounded) by Yusuf al-Shirbini and compiled with a colleague an anthology entitled Al-‘ammiyyah al-misriyyah al-maktubah: mukhtarat min 1400 ila 2009 (Egyptian Colloquial Writing: selections from 1400 to 2009). He read Arabic at the University of Cambridge, received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley, and, previous to undertaking his first translation in 2003, worked for social development and research organizations in Egypt, Tunisia, Palestine, and Sudan. He is affiliated with the American University in Cairo, where he lives.

All books by Humphrey Davies

Unique in pre-20th-century Arabic literature for taking the countryside as its central theme, Yusuf al-Shirbini’s Brains Confounded combines a mordant satire on seventeenth-century Egyptian rural society with a hilarious parody of the verse-and-commentary genre so beloved by scholars of his day.
 
In Volume One, Al-Shirbini describes the three rural “types”—peasant cultivator, village man-of-religion and rural dervish—offering numerous anecdotes testifying to the ignorance, dirtiness, illiteracy, lack of proper religious understanding, and criminality of each. He follows it in Volume Two with a 47-line poem supposedly written by a peasant named Abu Shaduf, who charts the rise and fall of his fortunes and bewails, above all, the lack of access to delicious foods to which his poverty has condemned him. Wielding the scholarly tools of elite literature, al-Shirbini responds to the poem with derision and ridicule, dotting his satire of the ignorant rustic with numerous digressions into love, food, and flatulence.
 
Witty, bawdy, and vicious, Brains Confounded belongs to an unrecognized genre from an understudied period in Egypt’s Ottoman history, and is a work of outstanding importance for the study of pre-modern colloquial Egyptian Arabic, pitting the “coarse” rural masses against the “refined” and urbane in a contest for cultural and religious primacy, with a heavy emphasis on the writing of verse as a yardstick of social acceptability.