I did my undergraduate work at Princeton in what was then called the Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures; then went to Harvard, studied Arabic and ancient Semitic languages, and wrote a dissertation in comparative Semitic linguistics. Since 1967 I have been teaching at Princeton.
Most of my publications have had to do with pre-modern Arabic poetry and prose. Some of the studies of poetry have dealt with the transformations in the poetic presentation of the world brought about by the end of paganism in Arabia and the development of early Islamic civilization. In other studies I have tried to uncover some of the implicit conventions of this poetic tradition that was so rich and self-assured, and so different in its structural assumptions from what the modern reader (in the Arab world or in the West) is accustomed to.
For a long time my studies on prose were directed at narrative in the 1001 Nights. Recently I have become very interested in two areas of research in medieval Islamic literature: the use of folkloric elements in "highbrow" entertainment literature, and the artistic shaping of historical narrative.
Besides the Department's third year Arabic course, I teach graduate courses whose content varies according to the students' needs. Some serve to introduce the student to various aspects of medieval Arabic writing (e.g. historical); some are intended as fairly advanced surveys (e.g., of the genres of pre-modern poetry) or research seminars in poetry or belles-lettres.
I have supervised dissertations on such subjects as medieval criticism, textual variation in poetry, and the relations among genres in classical Arabic prose.
“Rising to greet you: Some comedies of manners.” Middle Eastern Literatures 11 (2008), pp. 205–210.
“Prudence, virtue, and self-respect in Ibn al-Muqaffa‘.” In Reflections on Reflections: Near Eastern Writers Reading Literature. Ed. A. Neuwirth and A. Islebe. Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2006, pp. 161–179.
“Shameful and injurious: An idea of Ibn al-Muqaffa’s in Kalila wa-Dimna and al-Adab al-kabir.” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 32 (2006), pp. 189–212.
“La maison de l’amour incestueux.” In Les Mille et une nuits en partage. Ed. Aboubakr Chraibi. Paris: Sindbad, 2005, pp. 199–215.
"Tinkering with the text: Two variously related stories in the Faraj Ba'd al-Shidda." In Story-telling in the Framework of Non-fictional Arabic literature. Ed. S. Leder. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1998, pp. 61–78.
The Composition of Mutanabbi's Panegyrics to Sayf al-Dawla. Leiden: Brill, 1992.
"Folklore in Tanukhi: The Collector of Ramlah." Studia Islamica 71 (1990), pp. 65–75.
"Love poetry," "Ascetic poetry," and "Al-Mutanabbi." In Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, vol. 2, Abbasid Belles-Lettres. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
"Reading a Hebrew Lyric with a Hispano-Arabic Background." Edebiyat N.S. 3 (1989).
"The Magician and the Whore: Readings of Qamar al-Zaman." In The 1001 Nights: Critical Essays and Annotated Bibliography. Ed. Kay Hardy Campbell et al. Cambridge, MA: Dar Mahjar, 1985, pp. 25–40.
"Notes on Two Love Stories from The Thousand and One Nights." Studia Islamica 43 (1976), pp. 65–80.
On the Art of Medieval Arabic Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974.