From Morning Hunt to Beloved Gazelle

15 December 2021 - 16 December 2021

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Sidgwick Site

Literary and Visual Representations of Animals from Central Asia to the Maghreb

 

Convenors

Christine van-Ruymbeke
Christiane Esche-Ramshorn
Charis Olszok
 

Speakers

James Montgomery (University of Cambridge)
Sarra Tlili (University of Florida)

 

Animals occupy a prominent place across the literatures and arts of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persianate and Turkish lands. From the pre-Islamic Arabic qaṣīda to the Persian Shahnameh to modern novels, illustrated manuscripts, films and contemporary art, nonhuman animals dramatise explorations of power, ethics, spirituality and, perhaps above all, what it means to be human. Within the vastly varied geographies encapsulated within these regions, they animate desert survival, the imagined idyll of court life and the rapidly changing face of urban existence. They are depicted in their raw physicality, exemplified in the unsparing detail of camel descriptions, from the pre-Islamic muʿallaqa of Ṭarafa to the modern Libyan novel, al-Tibr (1989; Gold Dust, 2008), by Ibrāhīm al-Kūnī (b. 1948). They are portrayed as fully speaking and plotting characters in the tales of Kalīla wa-Dimna, later premodern works inspired by them, and as symbols in the contemporary political novel. They embody spiritual yearning, whether in the form of the classical ghazal or modern poetry and film. Visual representations of animals vary from stylized calligraphic poems, illustrated literary scenes, margins filled with imaginary dragons or zoologically perfect gazelles. Animals, as these few examples suggest, stand at the heart of the regions’ literatures and art, inviting reflections on their symbolic import, but also what these works say about animals themselves, the ecologies which they inhabit, and the impact of humans upon them.

To date, however, this rich presence has received little focused and sustained scholarly attention within Middle Eastern studies, while, in other disciplines, the field of Animal Studies has been rapidly growing. This conference therefore seeks to open this conversation, through rethinking the literatures and art of the Middle East and North Africa through the presence of non-human animals, and through addressing and challenging the primarily Eurocentric foundations of Animal Studies, forging an alternative genealogy of human thinking on animals beyond the Western Cartesian tradition. We invite papers that consider how animals shape the structure, imagery, and language of literary and artistic creativity. Through tracing the migration of animals across aesthetic forms, we seek to gain fresh perspectives on the entanglement of species, on literary, cultural, and creative boundaries, and the development of genres, as well as their rooting in the material world. Above all, we hope to establish connections across geographies and timeframes, establishing comparative perspectives rooted in the rich presence of literary and artistic animals.

 
Supported by:

CRASSH 20th Anniversary Logo   

 


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Conference assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk

Call for Papers: From Morning Hunt to Beloved Gazelle

This conference seeks to rethink the literatures and arts of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Persianate and Turkish lands through the presence of non-human animals situated within their ‘worlds’, whether these be pastoral gardens, constructions of the wild, or the interstices of human habitations. 

We invite papers that consider what these imagined animal worlds say about human animals, and how they shape the structure, imagery, and language of literary and artistic creativity. 

Through tracing the migration of animals across aesthetic forms, we seek to gain fresh perspectives on the entanglement of species, on literary, cultural, and creative boundaries, and the development of genres, as well as their rooting in the material world. 

Contributions are invited that address literature, art, and film from the early Medieval period to the present, and that establish connections across eras, geographies, and languages. We hope in the process to address the primarily Eurocentric foundations of Critical Animal Studies, and to provide an impetus for further study of the rich presence of animals in Middle Eastern literatures, art, and film. 

Proposals for individual contributions and panels are invited, particularly, but not exclusively, papers (max. 20 minutes, exclusive of Q&A) that address the following:

  • Comparative perspectives on animal tropes, motifs and genres
  • Animal intertextuality between and within classical, popular, and modern traditions
  • The influence of religious/spiritual beliefs on the representation of animals
  • Animals and environment as agentive presences within literature and art
  • Animals in allegorical narratives
  • Texts written through and about animal worlds
  • Human and animal interactions; human interference in animal worlds
  • The use and transformation of zoological reality into artistic vocabulary
  • Fantastical creatures 
  • Investigations and deconstructions of the human-nonhuman boundary
  • Cross-regional and generic perspectives on specific species

 

Please submit abstracts of between 300 and 500 words to Charis Olszok (co383@cam.ac.uk) by Friday 30 April 2021. Decisions will be sent out by 31 May 2021. We hope to hold the conference in person, at Cambridge (the conference language will be English). In addition, we intend to publish select conference papers in a peer-reviewed journal by Spring 2023. 

For more on the conference, we welcome you to watch these short clips from the conference convenors: