Book Launch for Dr. Domenico Ingenito's "Beholding Beauty: Saʿdi of Shiraz and the Aesthetics of Desire in Medieval Persian Poetry" hosted by CNES
The Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) recently hosted Dr. Domenico Ingenito to discuss his new book on the lyric poetry of Saʿdi of Shiraz who was one of the most important poets of the Persian tradition in the thirteenth century. In the 1250s, Saʿdi wrote some of his most important works including a number of ghazals, or lyric poems, which have played a significant role in the Persian literary tradition. Dr. Ingenito, in his new book Beholding Beauty: Saʿdi of Shiraz and the Aesthetics of Desire in Medieval Persian Poetry, uncovers some of the most unique aspects of this poetic tradition including its essentially contemplative nature. In place of the heteronormative morality (or its equally problematic opposite: Saʿdi’s poetry as purely erotic in nature) and the courtly tradition often associated with this poetry, Dr. Ingenito frames Saʿdi’s poetry within its historical tradition and thereby highlights the circumstantial norms and values of early modern Persian culture. In addition to these interventions, Dr. Ingenito provides new insights into the biography of Saʿdi by re-assessing Ilkhanid documents from the thirteenth century. As such, this new book is a welcome and generative intervention in the field of Persian literary history and a through introduction to the significance of Saʿdi’s ghazals.
At the heart of Dr. Ingenito’s framing of this poetic tradition is the claim that “performance and performativity” are the “main axes motivating the composition and circulation of Saʿdi’s poetry for courtly, aesthetic, and spiritual ends.” It is this intervention that allows Dr. Ingenito to challenge the two dominant paradigms used by literary scholars to discuss the ghazal tradition. On the one hand, scholars have utilized linguistic analysis to understand the themes of these poems while, on the other hand, they have relied on conventional forms of that poetic tradition to explain the specific poetry of Saʿdi and others. Dr. Paul Losensky (Indiana University), who participated in this panel to discuss Dr. Ingenito’s book, framed the ingenuity of the book as being rooted in historical analysis. This model allows Dr. Ingenito to approach Saʿdi’s poetry in a way that takes seriously its “historic embededness” and the specificity of Saʿdi’s Sufi mysticism. Likewise, Dr. Jane Mikkelson (University of Virginia) suggested that professor Ingenito’s theoretical and historical framing of Saʿdi help his readers to make greater sense of the intellectual and moral worlds with which this poetry interacted. She highlighted the scientific, literary, and cosmological environment that gave specific meaning to the lyric poetry discussed in Dr. Ingenito’s book. CNES continues to provide a space for UCLA faculty to introduce and discuss their research to a popular audience; thankfully Dr. Domenico Ingenito has helped to maintain our institutional tradition.