Maurice Pomerantz

Program Head of Literature and Creative Writing; Associate Professor of Literature Affiliation: NYU Abu Dhabi
Education: BA, PhD University of Chicago

Research Areas: Arabic literature

Maurice Pomerantz is a scholar of Arabic literature of the pre-modern period. His interests include Arabic belles-lettres poetry and prose. His first book is entitled, Licit Magic: The Life and Letters of al-Ṣāḥib b. ʿAbbād. Leiden: Brill, 2016. Licit Magic is the first study of letters of the tenth-century vizier and littérateur al-Ṣāḥib b. ʿAbbād and their political, social and cultural dimensions. Exploring both the aesthetic and pragmatic sides of the vizier’s letters, the book portrays the vital role that literary eloquence played in early Muslim statecraft.

Pomerantz’s current book project which he began as Mellon Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton in 2015-2016, expands his initial focus on Arabic literary culture. Entitled, Rogue Fictions: the Lives of the Maqama, the book traces the history and circulation of the picaresque tales known as maqāmāt. Invented in eastern Iran in the tenth century, these short Arabic stories describe a fictional trickster’s travels across cities of the Muslim world and beyond. Each tale follows a similar pattern in which a narrator recounts his entrance into a new city where he goes to a particular space (a market, a mosque, a hospital). There, he encounters an eloquent stranger in disguise who uses deceptive language and cunning to persuade others to offer the trickster money. The narrative reaches a climax when the narrator and/or audience recognize the individual as the notorious rogue and the two depart only to meet one another again in a different locale. The genre celebrates the boundless creativity of the author’s inventions, as each maqāma invites readers to use their own reason, knowledge, and experience to uncover the rogue’s latest plot. Rogue Fictions traces the circulation of maqāma by considering key moments in the history of the genre as it travels and transforms. Extending the methods of New Comparatist literary scholars such as Franco Moretti, Rogue Fictions charts the history of Arabic literature by situating formal changes to the maqāma within transformations in economy and society.

Rogue Fictions has grown out of more specialized work on the texts and manuscripts of maqāma collections. Since 2011, Pomerantz has been engaged in a joint project with Bilal Orfali (American University of Beirut) in editing and translating the foundational work of the genre: the Maqāmāt of Badīʿ al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī (d. 398/1008). He also contributes numerous articles on a variety of topics to leading journals in the fields of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, such as Arabicathe Journal of the American Oriental Society, and the Journal of Abbasid Studies. Pomerantz also serves as an Associate Editor of the Library of Arabic Literature.

Courses Taught