Eurocentric literary history has no clue that the essay and digression, for whose invention Montaigne and Lawrence Sterne are celebrated, were already practiced audaciously by Rumi in his Masnavi [information on various abridged English versions – many dating back to the late 19th C – can be found here and online extracts here]: a mycelium- and mangrove-network of interwoven, laterally free-associating narrative threads… Rumi parables, rather than limping along like those of other metaphor creators, take off by tacking donkey tails to angel wings, and don’t dodge a crash: “A donkey, even if you fit it out with a hundred angel wings, will only ever fly back to its stable.” Which explains sufficiently why the reptilian brain will again and again outwit the cerebral cortex and it it not only today’s Sunnis, Shiites, Shahs and Imams who look totally unsublime, dogmatic, medieval, and archaic in comparison to Rumi… Even Maulana Eckhart looks narrow, dry, and conceptually confined next to Rumi, Angelus Silesius a bit chaste, naive, monochrome, x Nobel prize -winners and -minds deeply untalented, 365 catholic saints hopelessly unoriginal and 21 Christian heretics painfully orthodox. Here one of Rumi’s 1001 messages-in-a-bottle: “Your mind is small and you can lose even that little. A head without mind turns into a tail.”… Sufi-softie Rumi also polemics against the macho-society: “If this is supposed to constitute sexual intercourse, then the donkeys are winners; our spousal gang only relieves nature’s needs deep in our vulvas.”
This last quote is verse 3393 of volume 5 of the Masvani – rarely, if ever, found in our blighted, prude Victorian translations. Today, at a moment when Islamic intolerance and totalitarianism and its mirror image, Christian fundamentalist fascism, are locked in lethal combat, we are more than ever in need of an accurate, complete and unexpurgated translation of the works of Rumi.