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A New Register of the Arabs: Poetry as Ur-Science and Diwan in Ahmad Zaki Abushady’s al-Shafaq al-Baki (1926)
Though widely acknowledged as the pioneering founder of the literary collective Jamaʿiyyat Apollo and its signal publication Apollo from 1932-1934, the incredibly prolific Egyptian Ahmad Zaki Abushady remains understudied. A bacteriologist trained in Egypt and the United Kingdom, Abushady was also a passionate scientist and apiarist; a devotee of the collectivist movement, he spearheaded publications for several agricultural and scientific associations in 1930s Egypt and served as the chair of Bacteriology at Alexandria University from 1941 until his departure for the U.S. in 1946. Abushady’s 1926 collection al-Shafaq al-Baki (Tearful Twilight) marks a crucial transition point in the history of modern Arabic poetry—a moment at which the public, collective, performative function of poetry was waning and its role as a private, published, written book-object or series of book-objects was on the rise. Still, Tearful Twilight has received little more than a brief gloss in articles and book chapters by major scholars of Abushady’s work and Arabic poetry more generally (Robin Ostle, M.M. Badawi, Shmuel Moreh). Swelling to over thirteen hundred pages, crammed not only with poems, but also with photographs, art prints, ekphrastic works, translations, and critical essays by Abushady and supporters of his literary mission, Tearful Twilight marks the end of an era in which, as the poet writes, “science, wisdom, and literature were separated from each other,” and heralds the beginning of a new era, in which “poetry… has become both the vast register that gathers all of these and the creed that declares their unity.” This paper examines how Abushady strives, throughout Tearful Twilight, to craft “unity” from pursuits as diverse as apiary science, bacteriology, Egyptian nationalism, and romantic love poetry. Through close readings of several poems, I argue that Abushady aimed to transform the landscape of Arabic poetry, “modernizing” it through a healthy injection of translated English works and critical concepts, on the one hand, and reviving its traditional function as the ur-diwan of the Arabs, on the other. Although this mission largely failed, its ambitious scope remains a crucial and neglected chapter in the history of Arabic modernism.
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