Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2: Wax on - Wax off

Last week I discussed the similarities between the techniques used by Mr. Miyagi to teach Daniel-san how to be a student and Rumi’s own techniques for training the reader how to be open to the Masnavi’s teachings. I made the claim that similar to Mr. Miyagi’s unusual training of Daniel-san, Rumi uses difficult teaching techniques in the Masnavi in order to (1) test whether his readers have “the right stuff” for spiritual learning, and (2) force his readers to leave behind any preconceived notions they might have, so that they will be open to Rumi’s teachings. This week and next week I will begin to support this claim by highlighting Rumi’s discussion of the reader’s role in his proem (poetic introduction) to the Masnavi (commonly referred to as “The Song of the Reed”). This week’s post, however, will mostly be a boring "wax on - wax off" laying out of the basic approach and ground rules I will be using in my analyses in this blog.

So here are the following important points about the approach I will be taking for interpreting the Masnavi:

(1) Throughout my posts I will always assume that you have already read the particular section of the Masnavi that is under discussion. For next week therefore, if you haven’t already read “The Song of the Reed” then please do so. Here is a link to some English translations of the proem: http://www.dar-al-masnavi.org/reedsong.html (I prefer #4 by Nicholson). You can also find a version in the original Persian at: http://ganjoor.net/moulavi/masnavi/daftar1/sh1/ . Please read “The Song of the Reed” at least once all the way through before continuing on to the next post.

(2) Second, I will try to avoid using overly technical terms throughout this blog but sometimes in order to explain a particular idea I will be forced to use some specialized vocabulary. In all such cases I will place specialized terms in italics the first time they are used and will explain their meanings in (parentheses).

(3) When referring to specific line numbers from the Masnavi in my posts I will also place them in parentheses, so that, for example, line one will be (1).

(4) I am taking a reader response approach to interpreting the Masnavi. What does that mean? Simply that instead of being concerned with the philosophical, mystical, or psychological meanings that the historical Rumi intended for the Masnavi, I am looking at the text of the Masnavi itself in order to see what happens to readers as they read it. All the claims I make, therefore, will be supported by evidence from the text of the Masnavi, even if they might appear to contradict what is believed to be known about the historical Rumi. This will help us avoid any debate or discussion about what Rumi “really” meant and allow us to focus on what he actually said.

(4) Since however, one can never separate the meaning of a piece of literature from the form it takes, my conclusions about how the Masnavi works as a text will necessarily lead to conclusions about what it means as a mystical teaching, and even as a mystical experience.  Except on rare occasions, however, I will mostly leave such conclusions for the reader to tease out for themselves.

In terms of “The Song of the Reed”:

(1) As with the Masnavi in general, there has been a lot of discussion about the mystical, spiritual, psychological, and/or allegorical meanings of "The Song of the Reed", but less attention has been paid to what it says about its own readers.  

(2) A careful look at "The Song of the Reed" however shows that it makes some very important statements about such readers.  

(3) In next week's post therefore I will focus on and analyze these statements in order to tease out the role that "The Song of the Reed" envisions for the Masnavi's readers.


(1) If you haven’t done so already, please read “The Song of the Reed”.

(2) Once you have read it through entirely, please read it again and try to focus on what it says about its readers and listeners. Try to find any lines that discuss, highlight, or illuminate such a relationship and jot them down.

Okay! Now that we have all of the boring “wax on – wax off” stuff out of the way, next week we can jump right into the exciting stuff of figuring out what exactly “The Song of the Reed” tells us about ourselves, the Masnavi’s readers!

Happy reading!

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