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"The 'Discovery of Writing': Tracing the Literary and Epistemic Revolution in the Qur'an"

Monday, October 22, 2012
12:00 AM
2022 Thayer, 202 South Thayer

Angelika Neuwirth, Professor, Arabic Studies Department, Freie Universität Berlin

If the Qur’an is justly acclaimed as ‘the first book’ in Arabic language, emerging from a milieu with little concern for writing how can we explain this suddenly occurring change in paradigm? Although recent archaeological expeditions have brought to light innumerable rock inscriptions dispersed over wide regions of the Arabian Peninsula, there are hardly any written units attested that would deserve the qualification of a significant “text”. In contrast to the situation in the neighboring cultures, the practice of writing in Arabia was obviously not employed to create an archive of collective memory. On the contrary, ancient Arabic poetry attests that the phenomenon of writing rather aroused ambivalent feelings and even seems to have exerted a destabilizing, indeed sometimes deterrent effect. The talk will explore how the Qur’anic proclamation succeeded to change this attitude and to raise the practice of writing to a rank of highest authority thus inducing an ‘epistemic revolution’ in the Arabic language area.