European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean: Toward a New Philology and a Counter-Orientalism

European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean: Toward a New Philology and a Counter-Orientalism

European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean: Toward a New Philology and a Counter-Orientalism

European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean: Toward a New Philology and a Counter-Orientalism


Over the past decade, scholars have vigorously reconsidered the history of Orientalism, and though Edward Said's hugely influential work remains a touchstone of the discussion, Karla Mallette notes, it can no longer be taken as the final word on Western perceptions of the Islamic East. The French and British Orientalisms that Said studied in particular were shaped by the French and British colonial projects in Muslim regions; nations that did not have such investments in the Middle East generated significantly different perceptions of Islamic and Arabic culture.

European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean examines Orientalist philological scholarship of southern Europe produced between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. In Italy, Spain, and Malta, Mallette argues, a regional history of Arab occupation during the Middle Ages gave scholars a focus different from that of their northern European colleagues; in studying the Arab world, they were not so much looking on a distant and radically different history as seeking to reconstruct the past of their own nations. She demonstrates that in specific instances, Orientalists wrote their nations' Arab history as the origin of modern national identity, depicting Islamic thought not as exterior to European modernity but rather as formative of and central to it.

Joining comparative insights to the analytic strategies and historical genius of philology, Mallette ranges from the complex manuscript history of the Thousand and One Nights to the invention of the Maltese language and Spanish scholarship on Dante and Islam. Throughout, she reveals the profound influences Arab and Islamic traditions have had on the development of modern European culture. European Modernity and the Arab Mediterranean is an engaging study that sheds new light on the history of Orientalism, the future of philology, and the postcolonial Middle Ages.


Il giudizio sopra facilità o difficoltà di una lezione sarà tanto più
sicura, quanto meglio il giudice conoscerà le consuetudini di linguag
gio e di pensiero delle età che l’hanno trasmessa, che può averla coni
ata. Il miglior critico di un testo greco di tradizione bizantina sarà
quello che, oltre a essere un perfetto grecista, sia anche perfetto bizan
tinista. Il miglior editore di un autore latino trasmesso in codici
medievali o postmedievali sarà colui che, quanto il suo autore e la
sua lingua e I suoi tempi e la lingua dei suoi tempi, altrettanto bene
conosca il Medioevo o l’umanesimo. Un critico siffatto è un ideale
che nessuno può incarnare in sè perfettamente, ma al quale ognuno
ha il dovere di cercare di avvicinarsi.

—Giorgio Pasquali, Storia della tradizione e critica del testo

[A judgment concerning the facility or difficulty of a reading will be
that much surer if the one judging knows the habits of language and
of thought of the age that has transmitted the reading, and that may
have created it. the best critic of a Greek text transmitted through
the Byzantine tradition will be the one who, besides being a perfect
Greek scholar, is also a perfect Byzantinist. the best editor of a Latin
author transmitted in medieval or postmedieval codices will be the
one who, along with his author and his author’s language and times
and the language of his own times, will know just as well the Middle
Ages and humanism. Such a critic is an ideal that no one can incar-

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