Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2015

Syed Akbar Hyder

Associate Professor of Asian Studies, University of Texas at Austin

Escaping the Prison of Prose: Aesthetics of Mourning and the Story of Hind

In this presentation, I hope to engage issues of technology, gender and violence by speaking about one distinct text of Urdu—its genealogy, its attributes, its production, and its reception. I am drawn to the text not because it offers original insights into what constitutes violence or into a seamless relationship between violence and any particular gender, but because of its struggle to engage the very idea of “violence” by raising three inter-related issues: how do we locate violence? how do we relay it?  how do we redress it? One challenge in answering these questions turns on the central concern of language—language as constituted by history, metaphor, and translation. The text also suggests ways in which poetry may counter prose so as to mount a challenge to our understanding of violence as phenomena located outside of ourselves. The aesthetics that inform this work, especially the poetry that graces it, make it evident that mourning counts when telling stories of violence, not simply as cathartic but also as a means to build alternative solidarities across suffering. Mourning also emerges from the text and its context as a defiant gesture.

Syed Akbar Hyder is the director of Urdu Studies and associate professor of Asian studies and Islamic studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He earned his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University. His primary research interests lie in South Asian aesthetics, particularly those related to Urdu literature and mystical Muslim traditions. His first book, Reliving Karbala: Martyrdom in South Asian Memory, underscores the complexity that religious symbols carry in varying contexts. Hyder reveals multiple and often conflicting interpretations of the Karbala story, and investigates the varying ways in which the story is used for personal and communal identity in South Asia. He also works closely with K-12 educators working on incorporating the studies of the humanities into the curriculum of their schools.

Professor Hyder is presently working on a monograph, tentatively titled, "Lives of Passion and Paradox: Josh Malihabadi and His Peers." A significant part of this study is dedicated to the literary and cultural debates about what constitutes beauty in the overlapping autobiographical and lyrical traditions of Persian and Urdu. Even though this study centers on the life and legacy of Josh Malihabadi, often hailed in South Asia as the “poet of revolution and youth,” it takes into account the lives and works of Yaganah Changezi, Abulkalam Azad, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sadat Hasan Manto, and Qurratulain Hyder.