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||Adonis (b. 1930) - pseudonym of 'Ali Ahmad Sa'id|
Syrian-Lebanese poet, literary critic, translator, and editor, a highly influential figure in Arabic poetry and literature today. Adonis combines in his work a deep knowledge classical Arabic poetry and revolutionary, modernist expression. Like a number of Middle Eastern writers, Adonis has explored the pain of exile – "I write in a language that exiles me," he once said. When he first started writing poems, he used to sign them Ali Ahmed Said; the local papers never printed them. About the age of fifteen, he changed his name to Adonis.
"Being a poet means that I have already written but that I have actually written nothing. Poetry is an act without a beginning or an end. It is really a promise of a beginning, a perpetual beginning." (in 'Preface', 1992)
Adonis was born 'Ali Ahmad Sa'id in Al Qassabin, near the city
Latakia, in Syria. His father was a farmer and imam; he died in 1952.
The village teacher taught Adonis to read and write, but he did not
attend school, or saw a car or listen to a radio until he turned
twelve. From his father, an influential figure in his life, he received
a traditional Islamic education. As a child, he had the opportunity to
recite from memory a poem before the Syrian president Shukri
al-Quwwatly. When the president offered to reward him, Adonis requested
education as his prize.
In 1944, Adonis entered the French Lycée at Tartus, graduating in 1950. In the same year Adonis published his first collection of verse, Dalila. Adonis studied law and philosophy at the Syrian University in Damascus, and served two years in the army. Harassed for his political views, Adonis spent part of his service in jail. After leaving his native country in 1956, Adonis settled with his wife, the literary critic Khalida Sa'id, in Lebanon, becoming a Lebanese citizen. With his friend, Yusuf Al-Khal (1917-1987), he founded the poetry magazine Shi'ir, which introduced modernistic ideas into Arabic poetry. Its first issue was banned in several Arab countries. When rumors started to spread, that Shi'r was infiltrated by Syrian nationalist elements, it was temporarily suspended. The group around the magazine dissolved. Adonis broke his ties with Al-Khal, who started the review with another editorial board.
Aghani Mihyar al-Dimashqi (1961) was Adonis' first major work, in which references to the past become a vehicle for revolutionary notions. In 1964 Adonis edited an important anthology of Arabic poetry, Diwan ash-shiar al-arabi. With a vanguard of Arab writers, he started in 1968 to publish Mawakif (Situations), a journal which championed like Shi'ir the renovation of Arabic literary conventions, but in a more radical way.
Adonis adopted his pseudonym early in his career, crystallizing in the name the idea of spiritual renewal. Adonis, a Hellenized form of the Canaanite-Phoenician Tammuz, is in Greek mythology a handsome young man, Aphrodite's lover; his story also includes the theme of resurrection. In 'Resurrection and Ashes' Adonis wrote: "O Phoenix, when fire is born in your beloved wing / What pen do you hold? / How do you replace your lost down? / Do you erase the dry error in its book? When ashes embrace you, what world do you feel?" The first collection of Adonis' verse in English, The Blood of Adonis, appeared in 1971. The edition was reissued with three new poems under the title Transformations of the Lover (1982). A Muslim intellectual and a world writer, Adonis has build bridges between Western influences and Arabic, Greek and biblical tradition. "The west is another name for the east," he once wrote. Western materialism, which he rejects, is his target in 'A Grave for New York'. The poem was based on his visit in the city. Adonis addresses Walt Whitman, who becomes his guide as Virgil was Dante's guide through Hell: "I see letters to you flying in the air above the streets of Manhattan. Each letter is a carriage full of cats and dogs. The age of cats and dogs is the twenty-first century, and human beings will suffer extermination: This is the American Age." Decades later, in 1998 Adonis confessed, that he finds himself "closer to Nietzsche and Heidegger, to Rimbaud and Baudelaire, to Goethe and Rilke, than to many Arab writers, poets and intellectuals."
In 1970 Adonis was appointed professor of Arabic literature at the Lebanese University. Three years later Adonis earned a doctoral degree from the St Joseph University in Beirut. The subject of his thesis was "Permanence and Change in Arabic Thought and Literature." In 1975 the civil war in Lebanon broke out and in the 1980s the war escalated – the Israeli army moved on to Beirut, and the Syrians become entrenched. During this period, Adonis stayed mostly in Beirut. In 1980-81 he was a visiting lecturer at the university Censier Paris III. Adonis has also taught at, the Collège de France, Georgetown University, and the University of Geneva. After leaving the Lebanese University, Adonis moved in 1986 to Paris and and eventually took French citizenship. In 2001, Adonis was awarded the Goethe Medal of the Goethe-Gesellschaft and in 2011 he won Germany's Goethe Prize for his cosmopolitan work and contribution to international literature. Adonis' name has often been mentioned among the Nobel Prize candidates.
Although Adonis has critically examined problems of the Middle
a poet he has been more interested in experimentation, language, and
freeing poetry from the traditional formalism, than to comment
contemporary socio-political issues. According to Adonis, the Arab poet
has two sides, the I and the Other, the Western persona. In 'A Desire
Moving Through the Maps of the Material' (1986-87) he wrote: "thus I no
longer hesitate to say: / "the I and the other / are me," and time is
but a basket / to collect poetry". Exile is not only the basic
definition of the being of the Arab poet; the language itself is born
in exile. The poet lives between two exiles, the internal one and the
external one. And there are "many other forms of exile as well:
censorship, interdiction, expulsion, imprisonment and murder."
views of the stagnation of the Arab culture and literature have aroused
much controversy. He has said that religion is the cause of problems
and called a separation between religion and the state. In Violence et Islam (2015) he argued
that ISIS represents the end of Islam. His poems, which often
have a deep mystical sense of
history, has been characterized by his critics as abstract. Adonis has
answered: "nothing clarifies me like this obscurity / Or perhaps it
was: nothing obscures me like this clarity)".
After the bombardment of
Kana during the war in Lebanon in 2006,
Adonis said in a interview that "Israel only sees the Arab world with
eyes of glowing, angry metal, the metal of tanks, bullets or bombers."
Like President Bashar al-Assad, Adonis belongs to Syria's minority
Alawite sect. He
wrote an open letter in the year of the Arab Spring, 2011, to al-Assad,
in which he condemned the brutality of the Syrian regime, saying that
there can never be enough
prison space for an entire nation. In disussing the efforts to destroy
the ISIS he has asked, "How can forty countries ally against ISIS for
two years and not be able to do a thing?" (The New York Review of Books, April 16, 2016)
For further reading: Silencing the Sea: Secular Rhythms in Palestinian Poetry by Khaled Furani (2012); 'Adonis, the Syrian Crisis, and the Question of Pluralism in the Levant' by Franck Salameh, in Bustan: The Middle East Book Review, Volume 3, Issue 1 (2012); Conversations With My Father, Adonis by Ninar Esber (2008); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 1, ed. Steven R. Serafin (1999); Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology, ed. Salma Khadra Jayyusi (1987); World Authors 1975-1980, ed. Vineta Colby (1985); Critical Introduction to Modern Arabic Poetry by M.A. Badawi (1975)