Iranian Literature: Comparative Aspects

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.


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In this paper, I examine two poems by Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967) and Rumi (1207-1273), both entitled Tavallodi Digar, “Rebirth,” which detail the experiences and emotional turmoil of the two poets through mystic love journeys. The poems share many similarities in terms of style, language and emotional expressions ;however, Farrokhzad expresses her love journey perceived through an earthly love rather than the mystical and. I offer an analysis of the two poems that illustrates their parallel style and structure and suggests that Farrokhzad’s insight about the journey to self-discovery was greatly inspired by the classical poet Rumi.

The Mystic poet’s journey consists of three stages: the first stage is the demand for love, which is unrequited. The second stage is the laborious process of reaching the beloved, in which the mystic shows the extent of his tolerance for suffering, his capacity for self-denial, and his devotion to God. The third and final stage is unification with God and victory over the human condition. Seeking Love is the main theme in Rumi’s Ghazals (Sonnets); he begins the first few hundred of his Ghazals by describing his longing for the beloved and continues this theme until he reaches divine union. This unification with the beloved drastically changes his poetic tone and theme from longing to celebration. He celebrates his love and he claims that since he was ready to detach himself from the earthly life, he has achieved absolute victory in his personal battle. Rumi’s Tavallodi Dobare, describes his journey through the three stages and summarizes his deeds which culminate in a declaration of victory.
Farrokhzad, on the other hand, begins her poem with the first stage of the journey, but she never reaches the final stage and remains unable to declare victory. She leaves her version of Rebirth in the stage of longing and remains within it until the end of her poetic life. Whether she was able to reach the goal with which she challenged herself, or if she ever found the answer to her quest remains undetermined. Even though she did not reach the final stage of the mystic poet’s journey, I maintain that Rumi’s work significantly influenced her life and poetry; Rumi’s influence, I argue, directs her mystical and emotional crises, as described in her Rebirth and in the later phases of her career

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The impact of Iranian Sufi literature is evident not only in the works of several contemporary Iranian writers; its influence is clear even in some foreigners' works.

One of the main authors who clearly reproduce elements of premodern Iranian literature is Atigh Rahimi, a French-Afghan writer who was the winner of the Goncourt Award in 2008 for his novel The Patience Stone. In it he has used several works of Sufi authors such as Khaje Abdollah Ansari, Sanaie, Attar, Jalaleddin and Mohammad Rumi and has invented a new method in prose, ultimately making Persian Sufi literature the basis of his work.

This presentation will examine and critique various influences of the Persian mystical legacy on the works of Atigh Rahimi’. In addition, It will highlight the impact of these works on French literature, since several of his works have been published in the French language.

In addition to Atigh Rahimi’s book and to classical Sufi literary works from Iran, this presentation draws also on several interviews, conducted by the author, with Atigh Rahimi and with Nahal Tajadod-- a Persian-French writer and researcher of the mystical literature of Iran. The presentation will provide also an overview of different critical points of view, published in French papers.

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While Iran and Japan seem remote and disconnected in terms of geography, language, and culture, closer examination of the works of authors in these two countries brings to light some striking similarities, particularly with respect to their responses to modernization. Examination of Iranian and Japanese authors and the works they produced during the early days of industrialization, economic modernization, and substantial exposure to foreign cultures with their divergent literary concepts and ideals presents an opportunity to explore both similarities and differences in their responses to these powerful forces.

During the late 19th century and early 20th century, both countries were experiencing dramatic changes brought about by increased interaction with the West. This interaction was the result of greater interest from Western countries, particularly regarding economic issues, and greater interest in Western cultures and practices on the part of the peoples of Iran and Japan. Literary figures, including Sadeq Hedayat and Hushang Golshiri in Iran and Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Jun’ichiro Tanizaki in Japan, were presented with a juxtaposition of Western literary techniques appropriated from abroad on the one hand, and traditional esthetics and content from their own culture on the other. In response, these authors produced works that were simultaneously distinct from prior Iranian or Japanese works yet still distinctly Iranian or Japanese in character and essence.

This paper will explore the ways in which these authors accomplished their feat of amalgamation, identifying significant similarities between authors in these two disparate countries and also pointing out substantial contrasts between their writings. These similarities and differences will be examined with reference to the political, social, and economic history of each country, and particularly with respect to cultural and literary responses to external influences.

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In his book, The Theater of Revolt (1962), Robert Brustein distinguishes modern playwrights such as Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, and Brecht from their predecessors by emphasizing their essentially romantic attitude of revolt. Brustein develops the idea that modern playwright is a rebel, one who dreams and is more concerned with the impossible than the possible. This paper discusses the representation of “social revolt” and the conflict between illusion and reality in the works of Henrik Ibsen and the twentieth-century Iranian playwright, Gholamhossein Sa’edi. For both authors the basic problem is the same: freedom versus necessity. Focusing on Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (1882) and Sa’edi’s The Cattle Fatteners (1969), this presentation analyzes the struggle of the individual against the conventions and morals of society. Through an analysis of their different contexts and literary practices, this study explores the portrayal of the idealists who strive to bring truth/“light” to society and their eventual external defeat. Although the two playwrights address common obstacles and limitations across decades, Ibsen’s play is less tragic as it implies the survival of the protagonist’s inner hopes while Sa’edi’s work, with its depiction of political oppression and its tragic hero, paints a darker picture of the pre-revolutionary Iran.