University of Washington


Tracks of Sufi Thought in The Book of Good Love, by the Archpriest of Hita

Rita Wirkala

Chairperson of the Supervisory Committee:
Associate Professor Suzanne Petersen

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          In the present study I have proposed to compare primordial aspects of The Book of Good Love with other, also essential, examples of the literature produced by Islamic mysticism, specifically Sufi thought, in order to offer another reading that may well elucidate some of the most intractable problems presented by this disconcerting book.
          The two fundamental points on which my thesis is based are the double similarity between the Book and Sufi literature with respect to, on one hand, the theme of constant searching and repeated failure and, on the other hand, the use of certain narrative techniques such as constructive ambiguity, surprise and humor, which have as their aim the expansion of consciousness on the part of the seeker after knowledge.
          In the first place, I make a brief summary of the presence of Sufi schools on the peninsula among Arabs and Hebrews, and of other cultural aspects that may have been a source of inspiration for the author of the book.
          The rest of my study is dedicated to the comparison of the Book with various medieval texts influenced by the so-called "perennial philosophy". The first group of texts, which I use to compare Sufi techniques to those of Juan Ruiz, is composed of texts, the characterists of which are, as in the Book, the plurality of meanings and intentional ambiguity. Examples of these are the Khalila and Dimna, the Arabic Maqãmat, the poems of Rumi and other Sufi texts. The second type of material, which lends itself to the comparative study of the theme of love and the search, is centered on the feminine figure of amorous lyric prior to and during the time of the Archpriest of Hite, of udhri origin, courtly and mystic.
          Toward the end I analyze the philosophy of the Archpriest in relation to the predestination-free will dilemma, which coincides with the posture of the schools of interior knowledge that flourished within Islam, the premises of which are intimately linked with the theme of the search for knowledge.
           The reading of the Book from this perspective has led me to the conclusion that the adventures of its protagonist and his repeated failures are an allegorical representation of the constant love and restlessness that the seeker after knowledge experiences during his journey. On the other hand, the particular didacticism of Juan Ruiz, based on the plurality of meanings and destined to question mechanical modes of thought in order to attain such superior knowledge, does not encounter any parallel in western texts, but only does so in the copious literature of oriental mysticism. By exploring the intimate connection between these two aspects, theme and technique, I think I have been able to indicate a direction for resolving the greatest enigmas that the Book has presented since its earliest criticism.

Updated 1/15/03 Contact: Rita Wirkala
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