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The Caprice of Writing: A Ghalibian Poetics of the Ghazal


· Paresh Chandra Princeton University (Princeton, United States of America)


07/26 | 17:50-18:10 UTC+2/CEST


In this essay, I read the first ghazal of Mirzā Ghālib’s Urdu Divan as a statement and as an example of Ghālib’s poetics of the ghazal. I attempt to understand the phrase “the caprice of writing” (shoḳhī-e taḥrīr) which occurs in the very first distich (matlā) of this ghazal as a term of art designating a specific understanding of poetic-imaginative freedom. The ghazal writer who understands the nature of this freedom cannot but face up to the thought of the non-necessity of poiesis. Its figures (paikar) complain of their non-necessity, of the fact that they are born in caprice. If a commonplace of the ghazal is that the beloved’s discourse is defined by coquetry (shoḳhī), i.e., capricious self-disclosure that refer only ambiguously to the “reality” of the beloved, then the ghazal (at least Ghālib’s Urdu ghazal) is a form in which the lover’s discourse recognizes its own caprice (shoḳhī). It recognizes, in other words, that though it claims the necessity of desire’s expression (jażbah-e be-iḳhtiyār-e shauq) as its raison d’être, in fact, in it the caprice of thinking (shoḳhī-e andeshā) transforms desire into an occasion for its own actualization as the caprice of writing (shoḳhī-e taḥrīr).