New Approaches to Persian Literature

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


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Iranian-Armenians are among minority populations of Iran whose contributions to the economic, political, socio-cultural and intellectual developments of Iran, as well as their tremendous suffering as invisible minorities, has yet to be explored. Looking at Iranian-Armenian novelist, Zoya Pirzad’s “The Day before Easter,” I will explore the hybrid Iranian-Armenian identity of her characters. I will examine the complex and rigid definition of Iranian-Armenian identity in modern Iran and the ways that Armenian minorities of Iran consider themselves both as part of the Iranian nation and apart from it. I will also touch upon the anxieties inherent in the encounter between the Armenians and Muslims of Iran, much like the encounter of the self and the other, and the ways in which such demarcations are maintained particularly within inter-religious marriages between Armenians and Muslims. I will examine Pirzad’s characters as liminal figures that defy categorization. I will draw upon the socio-cultural taboos such as inter-religious marriages, and will discuss the characters struggle to simultaneously uphold the dominant socio-cultural values and transgress them. I will explore how Pirzad’s characters, both Armenians and Muslims, depict the marginalization of those who transgress and are forced to adopt a low social profile. I will highlight the characters desire to break away with traditions and norms while acknowledging the high price they need to pay. Ultimately, I would like to look at Pirzad’s own hybrid identity and explore the ways that she negotiates this identity through her work. I will use historical, literary, cultural, and theoretical methodologies to depict that while these liminal figures live on the margins of the society, they occupy a significant space in the social imagination of the dominant culture.

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The roman noir started in America in the 1930s and in France in the 1940s as a version of the crime novel with a twist, since the protagonist is not a detective or a police officer but a victim or a perpetrator of the crime. In addition, the ending more often than not does not re-establish social order. As it developed as a genre, the roman noir came to be characterized by a pessimistic view of the world and an emphasis on politics. The roman noir is indeed interested in the reasons for crime and in questioning society about its responsibility in their production.

The genre is thought to be a Western one, with well-known writers and numerous audiences in North America and Europe. However Iranian literature also innovates with romans noirs, which are essential to understand the genre in a world literature context. Sometimes written by Iranian migrant writers in Western languages, sometimes written in Persian, these romans noirs renew the genre and its politics. As they circulate in a globalized world, they come to not only question their country’s society but the world order in the making of crimes.

This paper will focus on the politics of the Iranian roman noir. It will compare three novels by Iranian writers (Aida Moradi Ahani, Salar Abdoh and Naïri Nahapétian), one written in Persian, one in English and the other in French. Grounded in a historical understanding of the genre, it will situate the Iranian roman noir in a larger movement of peripheral literatures redefining the genre thanks to their questioning of world politics.

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The literary-critical approach to Omar Khayyam (d. 1131) has gone through several cycles. His introduction to the English-speaking audience by Edward Fitzgerald created a legend around him and established him in the academic canon of medieval Persian literature. In the early twentieth century, however, historical-critical methodology was brought to bear and it was discovered that early biographical dictionaries and mentions of Khayyam by his contemporaries and for 300 years after his death made little mention of his poetry. Fitzgerald’s main manuscript source was from 1460, and is still the earliest exemplar. The Rubaiyat or quatrains attributed to Khayyam are probably not actually by the astronomer of Nishapur. Rather, his legend became a convenient hook upon which to hang irreverent, skeptical or libertine quatrains, likely contributed by a whole host of authors over time. Indeed, the quatrains attributed to Khayyam grew mightily through history, so that the Cambridge scholar E. H. Whinfield gathered up over 500 in the late 19th century, from six major manuscripts and printed sources (from Iran and India), for his critical edition and translation. The cult of authorship that drove twentieth-century conceptions of the “canon,” however, was never appropriate to the study of medieval literature, in which unattributed borrowing and difficult-to-disprove attributions are common. Michel Foucault critiqued the notion of authoriality in toto, showing it a modern conception and one fairly easily deconstructed. This study approaches the oeuvre of quatrains attributed to Khayyam as a trove of material for a kind of secular mentalité, sedimented over centuries. Literary studies of The Thousand and One Nights have explored the conceit of the frame story, wherein tales were grouped around the dilemma of Scheherazade, and i will argue that Omar Khayyam as irreverent rogue is a similar frame story. I ask what function the ascription of authoriality to them played, in giving them authority and popularity for millions of reciters and singers through the ages, such that the people continued to deploy them even in period of Muslim puritanism.