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CEUS Colloquium Paul Losensky "Coherence and Cohesion in Two Ghazals by Sā’eb Tabrizi"

On February 2nd, 2015, Dr. Paul Losensky gave a presentation for the Central Eurasian Colloquium entitled “Coherence and Cohesion in Two Ghazals by Sā’eb Tabrizi.” The talk centered on the debate between two groups of scholars of ghazals, a form of poetry popular throughout the Islamic word that uses rhyming couplets and a repeating rhyme. The two groups, whom Losensky dubbed “atomizers” and “unifiers,” disagree about the unit of meaning for the ghazal. Unifiers view each ghazal as a single distinct expression, pointing to the frequent repetition of phrases at fixed places in the poem. Atomizers hold that each individual line contains its own meaning, divorced from the context of the rest of the ghazal.

Finding that both lines of thinking necessarily ignore ghazals that do not fit in their understanding of the form, Losenksy proposed a different reading. Rather than defining the text as “atomic” or “unified,” he suggested analyzing it in terms of two relations: cohesion and coherence. He defined cohesion as rhyme, meter, and markers of the position in the poem, while coherence is the meaning that is perceived by the reader, the basic unit of which is the verse. The formal cohesion between verses allows for the potential of coherence between verses, Losensky suggested. However, finding coherence even within a single verse requires active thought and interpretation. Losensky argued that this tension between coherence and cohesion is part of what has allowed the ghazal to survive for centuries as a form of expression.