Friday, January 06, 2006

Averroes and the Theater

The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges portrayed the scholar in 'Averroës' Search' (The Aleph, 1949) at work in his library, trying solve the enigma of the words "tragedy" and "comedy". Eventually he writes that tragedy means "panegyric," and that comedy means "satire." Too loyal to Islam, he cannot break circle of his own culture. One of Borges's sources was the French critic and historian Ernest Rénan (1823-1892), who argued in his study Averroès et l'averroïsme (1852) that Averroes' paraphrase of the Poetics of Aristotle evinces ignorance of Greek Literature. "Averroës's blunders in matters of Greek literature cannot but make one smile. He imagines that tragedy is nothing more than the art of encomium, comedy the art of censure; he then claims to find tragedies and comedies in the Arabic panegyrics and satires, and even in the Koran!" Borges's story is a postmodern fiction-about-fiction. At the end Averroes vanishes, to give room to the voice of the author, who explains that he tried to narrate the process of failure, but on the last page he felt that "Averroës, trying to imagine what a play is without ever having suspected what a theater is, was no more absurd than I, trying to imagine Averröes yet with no more material than a few snatches from Renan, Lane, and Asín Palacios."
via Pegasos

I shall leave unsaid whether this lack of theater, if there was indeed such a lack, says anything deeper about Islamic culture.

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