Poetry in the Persianate genre of shahrāshob (lit. "tumult in the city") is generally hailed in historical work on eighteenth-century South Asia as socially conscious poetry. This article makes several interventions: It demonstrates that the Urdu shahrāshob was first meaningfully codified as a genre in the 1870s by Indian critics who were influenced by Western conceptions of poetic truth. They wrongly presumed that Urdu poetry had tried to define itself as realist against the Persian poetry it was gradually replacing. This idea has obscured a much more important continuity: Against a background of political difficulty and changing patterns of literary patronage in Delhi, there was a translatio studii from Persian to Urdu poetry that maintained the aesthetic tradition of representing the city as an idealized space. Representations of the city in eighteenth- century Urdu poetry were not a new, imperfect realism but rather a continuation of the moral vision of Islamicate poetry that was only definitively overturned by the colonial encounter in the following century. More broadly, this article questions the utility of the concept of "decadence" for literary interpretation.


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pp. 187-211
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