Conspicuous in the recent scholarly rehabilitation of the literatures of Mughal India is the legacy of the Indo-Persian Sufi poet, ⊂Abdul Qādir “Bīdel”. Discredited for his stylistic complexities in Iran by the Neo-Classicism of the late 18th century, in Soviet Central Asia by early 20th century “progressive” poetics and increasingly unread in South Asia with the fading there of Persian itself, Bīdel’s prodigious oeuvre has, through critiques of nationalist literary historiographies, attained a new legibility. However, interpretations of his works that engage them in their formal specificity and thus renegotiate his canonicity remain a desideratum. Our panel adumbrates three distinct responses to this need.
The first presentation, titled ‘The Fifth Element? Pervasive Bleakness in Bīdel’s Ghazals’, asks why Bīdel’s ghazal poetics of failure contrasts with the vector of spiritual progress in his works in other genres, discerning the specificity of Bīdel’s interventions in a history of the ghazal.
The second--‘“The Foundation of the Universe Rests on Sound:” The Problem of Speech and Silence in Bīdel’s Muḥīṭ-i A`ẓam’ --studies the earliest of Bīdel’s masnavis, showing how he deployed the convention of meditations on the art of speech/poetry to address, by way of a unique, poetic approach to Ibn ‘Arabi’s ontology, the dilemma of the ontological necessity of speech versus the epistemological problem of the ineffability of Reality.
The third-- ‘Bīdel’s Portrait’ --reads an ekphrastic episode from the last part of Bīdel’s autobiography, 'Chahār ‘Onṣor' (The Four Elements), as an autobiographical interpretation, playing on understandings of visuality in Persian literature and painting, of Ibn ‘Arabi’s theory of the imagination. Among the questions that will be pursued are: what understandings of self and self-transformation did Bīdel renew by this interpretation? How is this episode a compression of concerns that pervade all of 'Chahār ‘Onṣor'? What kind of reader and reading practices did this autobiography assume? And, finally, does an understanding, turning on this episode, of Bīdel’s iconoclastic self-transformation prepare us to better understand his works in other genres?