Mahler (2022 Congress)

Adam Mahler
(Harvard University)

“Tracing Shem Tov:  Los proverbios moreles and the Poetics of the Ajamiado Text”

Abstract of Paper
57th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Online, 2022)

Session on
“Alter(n)ative Alphabets in the Iberian Middle Ages”

Co-sponsored by
the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
and the Ibero-Medieval Association of North America (IMANA)

Organized by Donald W. Wood

2022 International Congress on Medieval Studies Program



In his probing study of Shem Tov Ben Isaac Ardutiel‘s Los proverbios morales (“PM”), the University of Oregon scholar David Wacks reads the Jewish writer’s “carta de las tijeras” — a series of quatrains from the PM detailing the poet’s attempt to dupe his correspondent by excising the content of his letter — as a vindication of Hebrew script during a period of Romance vernacularization that displaced Jews brought up in Ibero-Semitic letters.  From this reading we may begin to sketch a poetics of removal/excision, centered on Jacques Derrida’s notion of la trace (the graphic vestige of absence), that has profound implications for both the PM as a whole and the broader legacy of Romance poetry written in Hebrew script. Reanalyzing selected quatrains from Shem Tov’s poem in view of the hybrid manuscript tradition of Los proverbios Morales (which encompasses both Latin and Hebrew-character transcriptions, as well as inquisitorial registers of the poetic text), this paper reckons with the ethical and ideological valences – as well as the singular poetic possibilities — of the aljamiado text.