Half-drawn arrows of meaning : a phenomenological approach to ambiguity and semantics in the Urdu Ghazal

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2011-05

Authors

Kirk, Gwendolyn Sarah

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Abstract

In this paper I explore the role of ambiguity in the creation of meaning in the Urdu ghazal. Ghazal, the predominant genre of Urdu poetry, consists of a series of thematically unrelated yet metrically and prosodically related couplets, each densely packed with multiple and complex meanings. Ambiguity, both lexical and grammatical, is a key technique in the poetics of this genre. Here I not only analyze the different ways ambiguity manifests itself but also the way it has historically been and continues to be mobilized by poets and practitioners of the genre to further imbue each couplet with culture-specific, socially relevant meanings. Breaking with previous approaches to Urdu poetry and poetics, I examine ambiguity in the ghazal with reference to theoretical traditions in linguistic anthropology of ethnopoetics, performance and verbal art, and ethnographic examination of poetic praxis. Finally, addressing various phenomenologies of language, I propose a phenomenological turn in the study of this poetry in order to better theorize processes of meaning creation on both an individual and wider ethnographic level.

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