Inimitability versus translatability: The structure of literary meaning in arabo-persian poetics

Rebecca Gould*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Building on the multivalent meanings of the Arabo-Persian tarjama ('to interpret', 'to translate', 'to narrate in writing'), this essay examines the doctrine of Qur'anic inimitability (icjaz) across Arabic and Persian literary cultures as a way of exploring the contemporary relevance of Islamic rhetoric. Treating the relation between Arabic and Persian as a case study for a theory of translation specific to Islamic literary culture, it argues that the translation of Arabic rhetorical theory (cilm al-balagha) into Persian marks a turning point in the history of Islamic rhetoric. While examining the implications of Qur'anic hermeneutics for translation theory, it considers how the inimitability concept impacts on translatability. cAbd al-Qahir al-Jurjani's reflections on naz?m (structure) enrich and refine Walter Benjamin's argument for translatability as a condition of literary language. Viewing Islamic literary aesthetics from the perspective of Benjaminian thinking about language can infuse contemporary translation theory with a richer sense of the translatability of literary texts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-104
Number of pages24
JournalThe Translator
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Arabic
  • Benjamin
  • Nazm
  • Persian
  • Poetry
  • Structure
  • Translatability


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