Nader el-Bizri (American University of Beirut)
September, 13 to September 14, 2014
This lecture examines the modern academic methods in historiography, philology, codicology, lexicography, and their associated biographical-bibliographical instruments, which are used in studying pre-modern traditions in science and philosophy as they were textually transmitted through the Arabic language in the classical cultures of Islam. This line of inquiry probes the methodological directives that orient the investigation of the histories of ontology and epistemology from perspectives that focus on archival documentation, antiquarianism, literalism in translation, and the presupposition of objectivity in the proclaimed controlled contextualization of research. These dominant directives in methodology are dialectically contrastable with hermeneutic and epistemic orientations that involve critical interpretation and analytic speculation about the conceptual entailments and relevance of pre-modern sciences and philosophical legacies in contemporary theoretical debates about the history, philosophy and sociology of scientific knowledge. The presupposed objectivism in the established conventions of textual analytics is at times confronted with a postmodernist bent on relativism, or even on the solipsistic idiosyncrasies of subjectivism. However, a consideration of subjectivity/inter-subjectivity in phenomenological inquiry carries the potentials of surpassing such binary oppositions by pointing at the translatability of lived experiences across cultures and historical epochs. A focus on the situational character of the production of knowledge, its adaptive transmission, communication, and canonization can overcome the epistemic obstacles of incommensurability and generate a sense of rootedness in the continuity of the rationalities of tradition, albeit from within the unfolding of the abstract universalized principles of modernity. Such line of analysis takes into account the broader societal aspects of culture in receiving a textual intellectual heritage by way of connecting it with tradition, and by also doing so from within modernity and the unfurling of the essence of its assimilating technological machinations and the emergence of its novel appropriative concepts and relatable transformative globalized domains of praxis, which become gradually mediated, domesticated, and localized. Textual examples in support of this investigation will be centred on probing some aspects of contested spheres in the academic interpretation of the metaphysics of Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and the epistemic analysis of the science of optics of Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham). This serves our inquiry by positing a concrete textual base as an epistemic locus for reflecting on the dialectics of traditionalism and modernism in addressing the question of renewal in knowledge with what underpins it in terms of symbolic orders and concretized experiences.
Discussant: Dhruv Raina (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
The public lecture is part of the Summer Academy “Language, Science and Aesthetics – Articulations of Subjectivity and Objectivity in the Modern Middle East, North Africa, South and Southeast Asia”, which takes place from 11 - 19 September 2014 in Beirut.
It is jointly organized by Orient-Institut Beirut (OIB) and Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin.