The approach of this study is contrasted with earlier scholarship which has tended to assume that al Jāḥiẓ’s epistolary frames of his essays and monographs are either acknowledgments of real patrons or mere convention, as in many literary prefaces found in the Arabic and neighbouring traditions. Even in those cases where the addressees do appear to be real correspondents or patrons, al-Jāḥiẓ could exploit the varying types of relationships he enjoyed with these persons to craft introductions appropriate to his purposes with regard to the readership of each text. With their divergent structures and tones, the epistolary frames in al-Jāḥiẓ exhibit a more elaborate literary technique than the conventionalized prefaces we find in Greek, Syriac and later Arabic writings, in which the addressee tends merely to ask the very questions the writer intends to answer. The dynamics of the author’s voice in relation to the ‘addressee’ and the ‘reader’ are related to narrative theory as well as to Bakhtin’s concept of ‘double-voiced discourse and discussed in the light of two key passages from al-Jāḥiẓ’s own writings.
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