115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Jāmi's Poetics of Vision and Poetry of the Eye in Salāmān va Absāl

Parwana Fayyaz, University of Cambridge

Jāmi uses Islamic Neoplatonic notions of sight and vision to draw distinctions between physical desire and mystical union in his poem, Salāmān va Absāl. He establishes a poetics of vision through Venus with her celestial beauty that brings perfection and a poetry of the eye to portray the physical body (Absāl) as lustful and condemnable.


             My doctoral dissertation on Jāmi’s poem, Salāmān va Absāl aims to examine Jāmi’s engagement with the idea of desire explained through the functions of sight and vision with the portrayal of the two female characters, Absāl and Venus, in relation to Salāmān, the male character. My hypothesis is that Jāmi implies the theory of emanation within Neoplatonic doctrine to synthesize the idea of sight and vision on the pivot of intelligence. The two main ideas I discuss regarding the poem in my dissertation are: the poetics of visionand the poetry of the eye. Jāmi’s two female characters, Absāl and Venus, represent the two distinct desire motifs (through love and beauty)—one to inspire physical sight and the other the vision of a mystical union, respectively.

             Absāl symbolizes the body as transient in nature. Venus is transcendent in character, and Salāmān is ‘the Rational Soul’ who is interpreted within Neoplatonic thought as the one who receives emanation from ‘the Active Intellect,’ his father, the King. Through such symbols, Jāmi reveals his philosophical explanations about the soul (Salāmān) encountering two distinct sights—the seen (Absāl) and the unseen (Venus). The encounter with Absāl is, what I call, the poetry of the eye, while the encounter with Venus is the poetics of vision. Nonetheless, since attaining the vision (mystical union) is the dianoia, the ‘thematic emphasis,’ as Northrop Frye puts it, of the poem, Jāmi uses similar visual motifs and imagery to interlace vision alongside the encounter of sight or the eye throughout the poem. This entails the discussion on the motifs of love, beauty, and desire as explained in similar intensity toward sight and vision, while the judgement of the sight can only be done through the intellect. In other words, Salāmān is the intellect to recognize his ability to be enlightened by such sights.

            As for Absāl, sight and the eye plays a significant force to keep Salāmān bounded to her love.

For she knew through the way of sight,

love leaves marks in the heart of the lover. L.603

Jāmi explains the act of seeing to cause the love of sight. And thus the act of seeing becomes an essential factor to discuss Salāmān and Absāl’s further encounters in the physical realm that causes imprisonment, passiveness, and struggle. Moreover, Jāmi enumeration of Absāl’s engagement with sight and refinement of her beauty are all in active words as falling or applying that have a connotation of tangibility as opposed to emanation.

          Venus’ manifestation is introduced as an emanation of Divine, which has an enchanting effect on Salāmān. Salāmān witnesses Venus’ existence through a speech about her perfection that the Sage delivers (l. 1013). This is where the vision of the unseen and desire for celestial beauty makes the mystical union possible. The emergence of Venus (perhaps as light) illuminates Salāmān to attain perfection. Her existence is admirable. In contrast, Absāl is the body and the seen, which causes enthrallment, that is condemned by the Sage, the King, and Jāmi.