Review of Shawkat M. Toorawa, Ibn Abī Tāhir Tayfūr and Arabic Writerly Culture: A Ninth-Century Bookman in Baghdad

Riedel, Dagmar A.

This study constructs the life of Ibn Abi Tahir (819-93) through his writings. Shawkat Toorawa has sifted through a prodigious amount of medieval Arabic literature (see the bibliography, pp. 180-92), but he must nonetheless speculate considerably because few of this author's works have survived. Toorawa suggests that the number of lost works attributed to Ibn Abi Tahir indicates the degree to which books dominated intellectual life in ninth-century Baghdad: a writer could make a living by catering to a middle-class market for education and literature. Toorawa argues that Ibn Abi Tahir's independence from patronage was possible only because "the transition from a predominantly oral and aural literary culture to an increasingly textual, book-based writerly one" (p. 1) had been largely completed. He identifies as his aim "to suggest ways in which Ibn Abi Tahir is illustrative of that shift" (p. 2), stressing that his study is not intended as an in-depth exploration of how the new book culture impacted Arab-Islamic civilization. Toorawa's lively style is engaging, and his decision to construct a bookman's life through a focus on book culture is an important contribution to Arabic studies.

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Center for Iranian Studies
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August 28, 2012