The Alhambra (3)

As an antidote to the pleasures of visiting the Alhambra, I have been reading Robert Irwin’s short book on the subject which takes a faintly vindictive pleasure in puncturing any of the illusions which one might have of what life might have been like in the courtyards and gardens, suggesting that the great muqarnas ceilings are relatively tacky examples of the plasterers’ art, not nearly as grand as the earlier palaces of the Umayyad caliphs of Cordoba, let alone those further east in Damascus and Baghdad;  that the regime of the Nasrid sultans of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, from the rule of Mohammad I to Ismail II, was fragile, murderous and punctuated by assassination;  and that the great gardens of the Generalife ‘reflect the horticultural tastes of Spain in the 1920s, rather than medieval realities’.   I would have preferred the delusion.

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7 thoughts on “The Alhambra (3)

  1. Edward Chaney says:

    …but surely that preference is almost the (at least my) definition of ‘bien pensant’? Shouldn’t even cultural historians speak the truth (as it used to be known) and nothing but (even if ‘puncturing’), if only to set a good example to our ever-more deluded politicians (led largely by their military/media/financial/foreign policy advisers) who are busy running/ruining our world. The most recent example is surely America’s illegal military strike which, literally overnight, threatens our first glimpses of peace in Syria (owed almost entirely to Russia since we and our Sunni allies have otherwise only encouraged civil war). And the truth doesn’t always replace positive with negative: viz the same Robert Irwin’s critiquing of Edward Said’s ahistorically negative view of ‘Orientalism’ (thanks largely to him now a pejorative). If only our politicians (and military/media/foreign offices) shared the early orientalists’ Lust for Knowing (to cite Irwin’s 2006 title)… At least Putin is still well-informed.

  2. Edward Chaney says:

    Apologies, Robert’s full title is (i wish you had italics): For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies.

  3. edward chaney says:

    Something odd is happening to the sequence of comments (in this and previous contributions) making me perhaps seem (even?) more vinegarish than intended? In this case though, the above immediately submitted apologies were for my inaccurate rendition of Robert’s title rather than, at first glance facetiously but in fact prior, for problematizing your stated preference for delusion… I was actually hoping to broaden the debate beyond even Robert’s remit to the true extent and duration of Islam’s cultural contribution… Inasmuch as the Cordoban Averroes (or Ibn Rushd)was an Aristotelian rationalist, for example, he was eventually persecuted by fellow Muslims, and ended up having greater long-term influence on European Christians…

    • No, not vinegar-ish. I just realised that I had commented on Irwin’s book without being aware of his previous interest in Sufism and Aleister Crowley and having only looked for some explanation for the extreme elaboration of the Alhambra’s language of ornament, which I didn’t find in his book. Charles

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