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CSI'S Monday Majlis: Alexandra Hoffmann

What makes a man a man? Neẓāmi’s Majnun in a network of masculinities

The CSI Monday Majlis is a Monday evening, online event, where invited speakers present on aspects of their current research

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Alexandra Hoffmann
What makes a man a man? Neẓāmi’s Majnun in a network of masculinities

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Neẓāmi’s Majnun has been read as either a failed courtly lover or an archetypical Sufi hero. Both interpretations remain unsatisfying to a certain degree. Instead, I suggest that in Neẓāmi’s Layli o Majnun (1188 CE) the voices, identities, and value systems of other male characters create a polyphonic whole that situates Majnun in a seemingly uneasy place within a framework of more normative masculinities. However, a close reading of the poem shows that these tensions often resolve in Majnun’s favor. Majnun’s father, for example, is presented as too pre-occupied with reputation and succession; his rival, Ebn Salām, as rich, but helpless; and Salām Baghdādi the ẓarif as too weak for the authentic life of a true lover. Majnun himself, on the other hand, embodies an ascetic model of masculinity that is based on the alternative authority that he wields as king of the animals, yet it is also tied to his status as a liminal figure, characterized by transcendental corporeality. I argue that although his masculinity is presented as non-normative, it is nevertheless constructed with a similar vocabulary of fighting and the endurance of suffering found in Persianate epics.
Alexandra Hoffmann, born and raised in Switzerland, obtained an MA in Islamic Studies under the skeptical eyes of her family. Now that she is a PhD candidate in Persian Language & Literature at the University of Chicago, they think that maybe she’ll become something someday, though she herself is not so sure.