Beatrice Bottomley

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Beatrice Bottomley
PhD Candidate
Warburg Institute
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Publication Details

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01-Dec-2022 Ars combinatoria: Deciphering the Earthly and Divine in the Mediaeval World and Beyond.


Co-authored with Arianna Dalla Costa, in Media Technologies and the Digital Humanities in Mediaeval and Early Modern Studies, edited by Katharine Scherff and Lane Sobehrad, Taylor and Francis, forthcoming December 2022.

31-Oct-2022 Sorcery or Science? Contesting Knowledge and Practice in West African Sufi Texts by Ariela Marcus-Sells.


For the Journal of Islamic Studies, Oxford University Press, forthcoming October 2022. 

31-Mar-2022 Translation Movement and Acculturation in the Mediaeval Islamic World by Labeeb Bsoul.


For The Oxford Critical Comparative and Translation Review, March 2021.  


Research Projects & Supervisions
PhD Topic:

Being Things with Words: Ibn 'Arabi's Theory and Practice of Language.

Beatrice Bottomley's research examines the theory of language developed by Ibn 'Arabi (1165 AD, Murcia - 1240 AD, Damascus) in his magnum opus al-Futuhat al-makkiyya, ‘The Meccan Openings’. By examining this theory within the wider contexts of the history of philosophy and science, her project explores how Ibn 'Arabi's cosmological approach to language offered the metaphysical framework for practical techniques developed by key intellectual figures working within the political elites of the early modern Ottoman, Timurid, and Mughal empires. In this way, Beatrice's research not only extends scholarship of premodern theories of language beyond the spheres of logic and grammar, but also presents a site for reflection on the operative function of language in the world around us, thus offering potential insights into the purpose and limits of language in our contemporary digital age.  

Professor Charles Burnett
Research interests:
Culture, History, Literatures in a modern language, Manuscript studies, Philosophy

Europe, Middle East
Relevant Events

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24-Mar-2022 Agitated Air: Poems After Ibn Arabi.

An online reading and conversation with poets & translators Yasmine Seale, Robin Moger, and Professor Marina Warner. Organised by Beatrice Bottomley (Warburg Institute PhD) and supported by the University of London John Coffin Memorial Trust.

Born in Murcia in 1165, Ibn Arabi was a prolific philosopher and poet. He travelled extensively before settling in Damascus, where he died in 1240. Tarjumãn Al-ashwãq, or ‘The Interpreter of Desires’, is a cycle of sixty-one Arabic poems. They speak of loss and bewilderment, a spiritual and sensual yearning for the divine, and a hunger for communion in which near and far collapse. Agitated Air: Poems after Ibn Arabi (published by Tenement Press, February 2022) is a correspondence in poems between Istanbul and Cape Town, following the wake of The Interpreter of Desires. Collaborating at a distance, Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger work in close counterpoint, making separate translations of each poem, exchanging them, then writing new poems in response to what they receive. The process continues until they are exhausted, and then a new chain begins.

Marina Warner writes of the collection ‘Antiphonal, intimate and virtuoso, these variations respond to the sense that the interpretation of desires can be endless. [...] This is translation as intrepid and inspired re-visioning, a form of poetry of its own, as forged by Edward FitzGerald, Ezra Pound and Anne Carson.’ In this online reading, Yasmine Seale and Robin Moger give voice to these poems, bringing to life the imagery and sounds that punctuated their exchange. The reading is followed by a discussion between the poet-translators and Marina Warner.

Yasmine Seale is a writer and translator. Her essays, poetry, and translations from Arabic and French have appeared widely—in Harper’s, Poetry Review, Wasafiri, Apollo and elsewhere. Current projects include a new translation of The Thousand and One Nights (W. W. Norton) and a translation of the poems of Al-Khansa (NYU Press). After five years in Istanbul, she lives in Paris.

Robin Moger is a translator of Arabic to English recently moved from Cape Town to Barcelona. His translations of prose and poetry have appeared in Blackbox Manifold, The White Review, Asymptote, and others. He has translated several novels and prose works, most recently Haytham El Wardany’s The Book Of Sleep (Seagull) and Slipping by Mohamed Kheir (Two Lines Press).

Professor Marina Warner is a writer of fiction, criticism and history; her works include novels and short stories, as well as studies of art, myths, symbols, and fairy tales. She is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a Distinguished Fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford.

04-Feb-2022 Circling Around the Truth: Rotating Symbols in the Mechanisation of Thought and Reality.

How do pre-modern theories of language and signs interact with early modern theories of semiotics and cryptography, which would later be foundational in the development of computer science? What reflections do these theories offer on writing, or more broadly language, as technology? This workshop examines these questions through the development of a technique – the combination of symbols through rotation – and its manifestation in three objects: the za’ijra, Llull’s ars, and Alberti’s cipher disk.

In his 1476 treatise De componendis cyfris, Leon Battista Alberti described a cipher disk, which was made up of two concentric disks attached by a common pin. The disks could be rotated in relation to one another in order create a system of polyalphabetic substitution that could be used to encode messages according a unpredictable law of correspondence. Alberti’s cipher disk revolutionised cryptography. Kahn (1997) traces the inspiration for the cipher disk back to Ramon Llull’s ars combinatoria, which he described in his Ars Magna, published in 1305. The ars combinatoria took the form of a paper machine operated by rotating three concentrically arranged circles to create combinations of a symbolic alphabet. Llull claimed that these combinations would show all possible solutions to questions concerning any discipline - from astrology, to law or medicine. Llull’s ars combinatoria not only served as a source of inspiration for Leibniz’s 1666 Dissertation on the Combinatorial Art, but also piqued the interest of Pico della Mirandola, Giordano Bruno, Agrippa von Nettesheim and John Dee. It has been suggested that Llull derived his disks from the Kabbalistic tradition, and in particular from the disks of alphabets used in the Sèfer Jetzirà. However, Link (2010) also suggests that Llull’s ars combinatoria was in fact inspired by the za’ijra. Ibn Khaldun (d.1406) describes the za’ijra as a diagrammatical representation of the universe used as a divinatory device. Consisting of a series of concentric circles, often enclosed in a square and divided by twelve rays, the za’irjah enabled the diviner to derive answers to questions in rhymed verse.

At the basis of these three objects - the za’ijra, Llull's ars and Alberti’s cipher disk- is the production of combinations of symbols through rotation. By briefly outlining and demonstrating these three objects, and the contexts of their production and usage, we hope to open up discussion to the ‘mechanisation’ of thought and reality through systems of symbols, the potential benefits and pitfalls of attempting to trace transmission and reception, and the surprising interactions between the more ‘logical’ and the ‘esoteric’.

11-Nov-2020 Conversation with Federico Campagna.

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