Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$}}

Before the Naked Ape: al-Tawhidi Performs the Animal Self in a Sphere of Political Participation

Monday, December 9, 2013
5:00 AM
Thayer Building Room 2022

In the "Tenth Night" of his _al-Imta' wal-Mu'anasa_, al-Tawhidi (10th cent. CE) regales his audience with stories and lore about the life and nature of animals, including the human being. On the surface, these narratives appear to convey banal factoids about the animal kingdom, but a closer look at metaphor and comparability reveals an equalizing inter-connectivity between animals, and particularly between humans and other vertebrates. His vision is a far cry from the human's nature as "steward," "master of the animals," or as "tabula rasa." Rather, the overall effect dramatizes the "animality"within the human and the "humanity" within other animals. This paper will explore the political implications of envisioning and performing the human as a hungry, hairy, toothy being, who needs, feeds, and breeds like any other animal, while hunting and hunted, in a cosmos of web-like relations. I will argue that by performing the animality of the human, al-Tawhidi discredits outdated hierarchical theories of human nature, which privilege some over others in relationships of superiority, patronage, or stewardship. Simultaneously, he metaphorically posits a more egalitarian subversive theory of human nature that substantiates the voices and passions of a new money sub-nobility (ahsab) of the tenth century.

Samer M. Ali, Associate Professor, Arabic and Islamic Studies, Univ of Texas at Austin