The Return of the Masters: Connections, Contestations & Redrawing of Persian Literary History

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington D.C. Joan Weeks:>>Well good afternoon
ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of all my colleagues and
in particular, Dr. Mary Jane Deep, Chief of the African and
Middle East division, I’d like to extend a very
warm welcome to everyone. I’m Joan Weeks, head of the Near
East Section which is sponsor of today’s program along
with the Roshan Institute for Persian studies. We’re very pleased to continue
the Persian book lecture series. This year with the 2016 focus on
literature and the performing arts. Before we start today’s program
and introduce our speaker. I’d like to give you brief overview
of the division and its resources in the hopes you’ll come
back and use our collections and this beautiful reading
room for your research. This is a custodial division which
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this program is being videotaped and if you ask questions, you implicitly giving
permission to be on film. So without much more ado, I’d
like to invite Ahmet Karamustafa to the podium to talk a few
minutes about the program. Ahmet Karamustafa:>>Thank you. Good afternoon all. It’s a great pleasure to
be here to speak on behalf of the Roshan Institute for Persian
Studies, I’m Ahmet Karamustafa, Professor of History at the
University of Maryland, College Park and as you’ve gathered,
I’m also affiliated with the Roshan Institute. And my better half, Director of the
Roshan Institute, Fatemeh Keshavarz who is also my spouse cannot be
here today because she’s traveling, so you get to put up with me. I just am here to say that I
am delighted to have been able to actually strike
up this partnership with this great institution,
the Library of Congress and especially the African
and Middle East Division. And we hope very much
that they will be able to actually continue
this indefinitely as far as we’re able to. And here again to enjoy the
rest of our series that some of us have had the
privilege of coming frequently and we’re looking forward
to talk by Kevin Schwartz who has also been affiliated
with UMD in the past and has actually been a
fellow at the institute and organized a great conference
for us, so we’re looking for to continuing the
relationship ever so many ways. Thanks a lot. Hirad Dinavari:>>Greetings everyone. It’s wonderful to see you. Thanks for coming on
another busy weekday, especially during your lunch
break, so this means a lot. I want to take a second and introduce our wonderful
speaker, Dr. Kevin Schwartz. Kevin Schwartz is a Kluge fellow
at the Library of Congress working on a project devoted to mapping
the transregional production and circulation of
commemorative texts of Persian poets in
the 19th Century. Prior to arriving to the Library of Congress he was a distinguished
professor, Middle East chair at the United States Naval Academy
where he taught classes on history, politics of the Middle
East and Iran. And a social science research
council post doctorate fellow for transregional research
and visiting scholar at the Roshan Institute for
Persian Studies at the University of Maryland, our wonderful partners. His research has appeared or it
is forthcoming in publications such as the Journal of Persian Aid
Studies and Indian economic social and history review, frequent
common tincture on Iranian politics and US policy in the Middle East. His writings have appeared in
such publications as Al Jazeera, the Baltimore Sun, Jadaliyya
and Words Without Borders. He received his PhD in Middle
Eastern studies in 2014 from the University of
California, Berkeley. His dissertation which forms the
basis of this talk today focuses on the literary culture and debates
across Iran, Central and South Asia, in the 18th and 19th Century
and their implications for Persian literary
history writing. It was awarded the Rahim M.
Irvani Dissertation Award for best dissertation on Persian
literature and its cognate fields by the International Society of Iranian studies awarded this
past August in Vienna, Austria. On a personal note, Kevin has
been here for the past seven, eight, maybe longer years. He’s been coming for years and using
our materials here in the African and Middle Eastern division. Both are rare Persian materials,
contemporary Persian materials, literature and the
Asian division as well. He has unearth so many wonderful
Persian materials from Indian and the sub-continent that
are in the Asian division and the microfilm,
microfiche format. So I’m really delighted that he’s
a Kluge here for eleven months. We will benefit from his work at the
library and it will help us better and better understand our
own collections in many ways. Kevin it’s a delight to
have you, [inaudible]. [ Applause ] Kevin Schwartz:>>Great, well thank
you so much Hirad for that very kind introduction. Thank you, Professor Karamustafa
and the Roshan Institute, to Mary Jane Deep as well and just
to return the compliment to Hirad. I am just thrilled to be here
and so honored having spent, I don’t want to say eight
years, but long enough at the desk here listening
to some talks and working on my dissertation. So it’s nice to be, an
honor to be on this side of the podium, so thank you. My talk today is based on
my dissertation research and it’s called, “Return of the
Masters, Connections, Contestations and the Redrawing of
Persian Literary History”. And I’m going to give a
kind of world wind tour into Persian literary culture in
the 18th and 19th Century and try to tell you how I think about
Persian literary history and some of the gaps in its writing and as
well as some of the stakes involved. Now if I could do just
one thing today, that would be to really
impart upon you a basic idea. And that is that Persian
literary history as written, particularly when it
comes to the 18th and 19th Century is insufficient. It’s insufficient because in
the 18th and 19th Century, Persian literary writing is
unable to account for trends and multiple literary phenomena
occurring outside of Iran. So Persia was this great,
prevalent, prodigious social, linguistic cultural idiom that
connected Sufis travelers, [inaudible] and Sultans from
Anatolia to Western China. And we hear about this
in the development of Persian literary history
but suddenly in the 18th and 19th Century, we lose these
kinds of trends regional scope and suddenly the story of
Persian literary history becomes Iran’s story. And to put it more bluntly,
Persian literary history at this period is Iranian
literary history. So Persian literary history
has been infused with some kind of national sentimentality
stemming from Iran. And I think actually we
can pinpoint the idea, the point at which this idea of Iranian nationalists
sentimentality interjected or intervened in the writing
of Persian literary history and that’s an idea that’s called
Bazgasht-i Adabi or Literary Return. And I’ll talk about in more detail
in a moment, but I just wanted to kind of mention this because it’s
a framework I’m working with today and also kind of working against. And this idea is that in
the 18th and 19th Century, Iranian poets rescued Persian
poetry from despair by returning to the styles of the Masters. So they returned to the styles
of the classical Masters that were prevalent to the
9th and the 15th Century. They returned to their
glorious and simple prose. And they did so by moving away
from this stagnant literary style that we’re told was
occurring and being written and produced throughout Central
and South Asia and elsewhere but crucially not in Iran. So there it is, Iranian poets
in the 18th and 19th Century, they somehow divide
themselves, they reconnect with the Masters while
others elsewhere do not. They remain kind of stagnating in
this decadent literary culture. Now there’s some major impacts of
this idea, there’s a lot of kind of historiographical
debris in its wake. One thing I already alluded to
was the conflation of Iranian and Persian literary history. I mean suddenly the
story in the 18th and 19th Century is not this kind
of cosmopolitan macro level view of Persian literary history. But it’s focusing slowly or
exclusively rather on Iran. The second thing that happens is that there’s a greater proprietary
right over the Masters in Iran. So these great Masters like Rumi,
Hafiz, Ferdowsi who were productive in the 9th to 15th Century are
the ones in which Iranian poets and only Iranian poets
are reconnecting with. And so if we’re told that
Iranian poets are reconnecting with are re-finding these
Masters while others are not, well that asserts a kind of more proprietary right
by Iran at this time. The second, the third
thing rather it does it that it erases other facets
of Persian literary culture. I mean again, we’re told by this
narrative that the important element of Persian literary history in
the 18th and 19th Century is that these few Iranian
poets connected with the Masters while the rest of
the world kind of remains decadent in their negative literary ways. And so again, that
erases a lot of kind of multiple literary phenomena
occurring at the time. And towards the end of my
talk, I’ll point other things that are happening around
this time outside of Iran which I think are a
integral part of this story. So I’m going to break my
talk into three parts. First I’ll at how this narrative
of return Bazgasht became to be fashion, what it entails,
what are the stakes involved. Second, I’m going to look
at the poets themselves. Who were these Bazgasht poet’s? Because there were poets
that actually existed in 18th and 19th Century Isfahan,
Tehran and greater Iran who sought return the
styles of the Masters. But as you will see
they didn’t exactly do so in the way they were told. And finally, I’ll look at some
kind of other literary phenomena or literary communities
occurring outside of Iran. Again, just to give you an idea
of what’s happening outside of this kind of tantalizing,
dominant narrative that we’ll turn to right now. So first, what is this
idea of Bazgasht? How did it come to be? Well the classification of
Persian literary history and its development,
particularly now we’re talking about poetry can be traced back
to this man, Muhammad Taqi Bahar who died in 1951, a great poet
and literary historian of Iran. And what he does is he
divides the development of Persian literary
culture, particularly poetry into four schools or styles each with its own literary
characteristics and roughly corresponding to
different periods in history. So you have the Khurasani
School, the Iraqi School, the Indian style and
Literary Return. Now which period is given a name? It maintains a core set of stylistic
attributes and is affiliated with a different temple or period. And even Bahar recognizes
that there’s some slippage between these terms, but as far
as talking about the core elements of development over a period of
time he does a fairly good job in distinguishing between say
the Khurasani School which tends to be located at the core of the
praise of a patron, deals very kind of naturalistically, talks about the
hunt and feasting and merrymaking. And praise the patrons
of beneficence and glory versus the Iraqi School which
tends to be the poetry associated with Hafiz and Rumi and
is more inward looking, more mystical which Bahar and
others would say kind of stems from destructive practices
of the monguls leading into a more introspective
type of poetry production. The Indian style which we’ll talk
about in just a moment is known for its intellectualism, its
mannerism, its abstract acrobatics, it’s complicated metaphors. And then finally, Literary Return
is already mentioned is referencing this group of Iranian poets and is
exclusively Iranian poets who sought to return to the simple
ways of the Masters. So we sought the return back to
poetry Ferdowsi, Sadi and Hafiz, those poets of the
Khurasani and Iraqi school. So what if I was interested when
I first kind of looked at this and settled my dissertation
topic was there’s a clear kind of delineation between
the first three categories and the last category. So the first three categories,
they speak to the geographic, expansiveness of the
Persianate world. They speak to trends happening
in South Asia and Iran and Central Asia and elsewhere. But when we get to
the fourth category, there’s a delimiting
quality around geography. The fourth category
refers to Iran alone. So you see there’s
a kind of whittling down of Persian literary
history reaching its apex, not elsewhere in the
Persianate world, not across the Persianate world, but solely in 18th
and 19th Century Iran. So I found this kind
of very fascinating and what was the reason behind it and really testing
whether it was true or not. So as I noted there you have
the first three categories that referred the Persianate world
while the fourth category refers to Iran alone, just that small group
of poets who decided to return back to the simple styles of the Masters. Well of course, if the returning
back to the simple styles of the Masters, the question is what
are they returning from and Bahar and others are very clear on this. What necessitated such a
return was the Indian style. According to Bahar and
others, it was this abstract and complicated style and this
argued that the Indian style which prevailed across Central and South Asia was causing
the downfall of Persian. And what they needed
was a simpler style, so poets in Iran rectified
this course. But crucially by returning
to the Masters in Iran, other poets did not,
they remained mired in this stagnant literary culture. And just as an aside here, this idea of the Indian style is now
very much being interrogated, undermined and overturned. Because you can see
it’s quite a kind of inappropriate style associated
with this kind of geoethnic moniker of Indian with the stagnation and
decline of Persian literary history. So people have offered up
other names for this kind of prevalent style, tazah-gui and
others, Safavid Isfahani poetry. But for now I’m just
referring it to this kind of historiographical
category that Bahar does. And for Bahar, he was very clear. This was his overly complicated
style that really was causing a kind of negative and detrimental impact on the development
of Persian poetry. And he notes in here, here’s a bit
by him, translated by [inaudible]. The Indian style possessed
novelty but had very many failings. It was affirm and spineless. Its ideas were feeble. It’s imagery odd. The poems were crowded with
ideas but unattractive, they were wanting in eloquence. So it’s quite clear about what the
mandate of the Indian style was. Unless you think I’m just I’m just
unfairly kind of pillaring, Bahar, it’s important to note
that this impression of the Indian style was
kind of mimic and replicated by quite a few scholars until
fairly recently so we can look at fabulous scholars like Jiri Becka
and Annemarie Schimmel who adhere to more or less the same
argument that Bahar does in regards to Indian style. Becka saying, the Indian
style led to quote attempts to originality supported on two
narrow a foundation to the grotesque to a lack of good taste and unity. And the great Annemarie Schimmel
and Islamic literatures of India, Persian literature in India ended
in the autumnal hopelessness of bizarre expression, so not
too positive and appraisal by other of those scholars. What’s really interesting
is that this kind of juxtaposition the position
between literary return and Indian style or simple poetry and complicated poetry can actually
be found in earlier writings. You can actually go back to writings
of the 19th Century in Tazkirahs, these great commemorative texts that include biographical
information and aversive poets. And you can find this same kind
of juxtaposition, this same kind of tension between a
simple style on the one hand and a complicated style
on the other hand. And here is a Riza Quli Khan, a
great statesman, diplomat, traveler and scholar of the quote of
[inaudible] and he’s writing in the kind of greatest [inaudible]
Tazkirah in 1850, Majma’ al-fusaha and here you can see that
he has the distaste for kind of one complicated style which
would come to carry all the weight of the Indian style that Bahar would
place upon it and the championing of a group of poets who
rescued poetry in Iran. So again, Hidayat here, he doesn’t
have the terminology that Bahar kind of co-defies later on, but he’s
making the same kind of observations in regards to poetic practice. And here he says during the
Turkmanian Safavid period reproachable methods
became manifest. The well considered manner
of writing a splendid ode and eloquent method of composing
writings on admonition, advice, governance, pious devotions
and epics which were the custom of our proceeding writers
were entirely supplanted. Reversifiers became
inclined toward the outlining of riddles the conjuring
up misnomers and now here’s the Indian style
poets, they established a style of confused speech, idle prattle
and vain oratory after a manner of sickly dispositions
and indirect style. The ascendants starved this
people, poets fortune was the cause of the setting star of excellence,
wisdom, eloquence, rhetoric, philosophy and knowledge. And now finally we get to these
revivers of the glory days of Persian poetry, the return
poets but several people settled on the restoration of
the old Masters method. They became aware of the
tastelessness of the modern style and their contemptable fashion. They struggle to the upmost limit
and down the road of earnest strive and forbade other people from their
approachable style of the moderns. They became inclined with the
pleasant style of the old masters so it says, Hidayat and [inaudible]. You can really hear the
echoes of Bahar who’s writing in the next century as far as kind
of codifying this narrative Iran on one hand and everyone else on the
other or a simple style with poetry and everyone else on the other. And thank you for going through
that whole quote with me, but I really do think it’s important
to kind of return these sources. Because I think if you
return to these sources, even going further back than
Majma’ al-fusaha in 1860, you begin to hear a different
story, you begin to get the traces of a different kind of narrative
that I help explains what’s going on with these return
poets, what was happening to Persian poetic culture in Iran. And there are I think
elements of this story that have been edited out. So let’s kind of see if we can
recover them and this is part 2 and this is looking at the
Bazgasht poets themselves. And they noted, they were a group
of poets who existed in Isfahan and later in Tehran who sought to
survive the styles of the Masters. So what were they doing? Was it that these poets
were really motivated by rescuing Persian
poetry from despair? Were they keeping tabs on how
Persian poetry was being denigrated in decline across the globe? And the answer is clearly no and I think I wouldn’t be
here if the answer was yes. But what we notice with these
poets is they were more in tuned to their social conditions. So poets of the late 18th and
early 19th Century Isfahan, really were seeking to
constitute poetic networks and reestablished the social value of poetry following the
downfall of the Safavids. And why is this important
distinction? Why is it important that
we go back to sources and see how these poets understand
their local social conditions? Because I think it helps
dislodge some of this kind of nationalistic parameters
and sentiments of this grandiose narrative
of Persian literary history. We’re no longer setup with Indian
versus Iranian on the one hand with some kind of nationalist
competition coursing through how Persian
literary history was written. Instead we can go back to
sources and actually kind of reconstruct what poets
were finding at the time. And again if you go back to
the Tazkirahs and the poets of these times, the actual Bazgasht
poets, we find that their narrative, their attitudes for trying to
reestablish the role of poets in their own society, was something
that was kind of edited out and alighted in the narrative
of later authors such as Hedayat and Bahar was still kind of
conscious of creating this dichotomy of between a simple and complicated
style and India and Iran. So, why was it important
for these Bazgasht poets to reestablish the role of the poet? Well first you have to know
something about what was happening in Safavid times and
in Safavid times, poetic culture was situated
in the coffee house. It served as the epicenter of
productivity, not only in Isfahan but also in [inaudible]
and elsewhere in Iran. You can have informal
literary societies. You could have educational networks
and literary networks forming there. The coffee house was the epicenter
where people cited their poetry, had it critiqued, etcetera. In addition to which Safavid
times you had the institution of the court. Now it wasn’t as grandiose in
promoting or giving patronage to poetry as there, as the moguls
did, for example in South Asia, but nonetheless it provided
an avenue for people to receive patronage,
people to produce poetry. But what happens with the sacking
of Isfahan 1722 and the downfall of the Safavids is there’s
this great dislocation. And so there’s no longer an
avenue to produce poetry, neither at the coffee
house not at the court. And just to give a sense of what
was happening to Isfahan in 1722. Here’s a quote from Michael
Axworthy who notes by mid-century, most of the built up
area of Isfahan, the former capital was
deserted, inhabited only by owls and wild animals. In the last years of the Safavids
it had been a thriving city of 550,000 people, one of the
largest cities in the world, a similar size to London
at the time or bigger. By the end of the Siege of 1722,
only 100,000 people were left and although many citizens
returned thereafter, the number failure again during
the Afghan occupation and later so, by 1736, there were
only 50,000 people left. So in such as a disastrous situation
and following the destruction of Isfahan at the hands of
invaders, it’s very kind of easy to see it would be a poetic
climate that was dislocated. No longer in a coffee
house to produce poetry, no longer in the court
to provide patronage and the sources bear this out. So in [inaudible] in poetry
social conditions and its impact on what matter first and foremost. So if you look at a tazkirah from
Arabic that was in the last quarter of the 18th Century and often
look back to as the first text that was kind of championing
this proto-nationalist movement of return poets. We see that it was
very much in tuned to the social conditions around him. And he writes, for many years on the
count of the revolution at the time, I’d onced the customs of poetic
compositions are nullified in poets from anguish are changed and the
resolve of poets is corrupted. The scattering of easy circumstances
and the state of confusion are such that no one is in the state of reading poetry and
composing poetry.” Notice in that quote, there is
no mention of the Indian style, there is no mention of a
denigrated style that’s kind of taking the Persianate world by
storm, that’s causing its decay. But instead he’s very much in tuned to the social conditions
of his time. And this attitude indeed
is confirmed in the poetry of these
Bazgasht poets. And here is a selection
of three poets, Azar, Sabahi and Hatif meeting
in a rose garden. And they’re again discussing in a
social situation, the institution of the poet and Persian
poetry in Iran at the time. And again, no real mention
of style but more focused on what opportunities a poet has. And there’s tons of
examples in this, both in praised poems
and in elegies as well. And so Sabahi says, don’t you see
how the sacred Homa in this land and country is worth less
than the hour of misfortune. There’s no buyer of
gems in this domain. The seller makes no profit
from selling the goods. After this, may you tune
us, suffer senseless pain. Don’t deliver a spine, a
thine speech for anyone. What’s the use to put
yourself through such trouble, just to put a few lines into verse. When you begin to recite
it, they will signal with their fingers
with the lips to stop. And if you prepare something from
pen and paper, they’ll value it as nothing just like this book. So in the absence of a market of
poetry and the absence of avenues of patronage and the overall
destruction in the market of speech, I think these poets did
a very interesting thing which their poetry bears out. They turn to one another,
in praise of one another. And so of course, the panegyric ode
is reminiscent of Kharasani School, it usually happens the court, it’s
usually at the praise of the glory and beneficence of a Sultan. But in this case in the absence
of that figure of patronage, with no ability to achieve
patronage, these poets decided to reconstitute the
role of the poet. They started to reconstitute
their networks but they need to do so by praising one another. And so they solidify their networks
and roles as poets by doing so and they did so by relying
on the form and style of those earlier poets that praised
patrons in the form of the ode. And so going back to their poetry,
one finds profound examples of this. Poets would exchange or recite poems
to one another, praising each other as the master of the age. Not only with direct reference
to Masters themselves, but did so in some cases to
direct imitation of their poems. And here we see a back and forth ode of [inaudible] between
Sabahi and Azar. Not only as a reference
of master like Anvari one of these great classical poets but
also is written in the same style as one of his [inaudible]. Sabahi says, O ye before him
the teacher of knowledge kneels in deference to learning. Before you the nod of the Pleiades
and to its need arrangement. Before you’re grander, the
Red Sea spill abundant water. The sun which is the source of life
performs ablution of your door. And as [inaudible] responds, your poetry is the knob
opening the Pleiades. Your prose is the river
stealing the Red Sea. It appears that Anvari
wrote this [inaudible] but I see him planting barely
while yours is like rain. In your company, poetry from others
means no more than dry ablution by the banks of the tigress. So what is the main point here? The main point is that this return
wasn’t an example of a group of poets seeking to combat
a particularly problematic and stagnant style of poetry,
increasingly to be associated with places outside of Iran. But instead it was a group
of poets responding to social and political dislocation on a
local level in Isfahan and trying to rectify the rule of
poet, in poetry in general. To do so, they offered one
another patronage and did so by reaching back into their
literary cultural memories and drawn the model
most apt for the task. The great Khurasani poets of
old adept of praised palms. And again I think to just return
to this point it’s so important, because we don’t have
any of the geoethnic or georacial competition horsing
through this poetry like we do later on with [inaudible] and
certainly with Bahar. There’s something else going on. It’s a more kind of inward looking
movement that’s really interested in reconstituting poetic networks
and the role of the poet in Iran at the time following this great
dislocation after destruction of Isfahan at the hands
of the invaders. Now while the Isfahani poets
were reestablishing themselves, where they were going back to
the styles of the Masters trying to reestablish the role of the poet. Other things were happening in
the Persianate world as well, things that were not told about through the tantalizing
Iranian centric framework of Bahar and others. And now I’m going to turn to
that and look at both a case in South Asia and a case in
Afghanistan just very briefly. And this isn’t the whole story,
but it just goes to show you that there are other
voices out there, there are other things happening
outside of Iran in regards to Persian poetic culture. It’s to this decadent
stagnant literary environment, but in fact quite the contrary and I think they actually
have some correlations with what’s happening in Iran. So first I’m going to look at the
Carnatic state which is a state that emerged following the breakup of the [inaudible] empire
in the 18th Century. And I’m not going to get into
all the reasons why it emerged, emerged in the same way. A lot of successor’s
states did whole interplay between various elites, the local
and imperial level competing over resources and revenues. But more important it’s to
understand the general situation of Persian poetic culture and literary culture
in Iran at the time. And to understand what
those locations were in regards to Persia at the time. Because Persian at the time
was really under strain and that’s just the context
I think like it did with Iran for what’s going to happen
in south Asia what I’m going to discuss in a minute. So first of all what are the
strains on Persian during this time in the 18th and 19th Century? Well first the break
of the mobile empire. So all these individuals
were situated in Delhi who averse administrative
technologies and accounting in scholarship and poetry that
was all based on Persia now need to find employment elsewhere. And that they were able to
do at some successor states. They could go to [inaudible],
they could go to Hyderbad and we’ll see they could
go to Arcot as well. But they were forced
to kind of leave and seek out other opportunities. This kind of put a strain on
their employment opportunities. Secondly and most importantly
perhaps, the British intervention
educational activities puts on strain on Persian. So for example, Persian
instructors were, they continued to be hired both in Calcutta and
in colleges across United Kingdom. One could look at the great
colonial entity at the college of fort William in Calcutta. And that was a place where
Persian was still being taught but by the 1800s something was
changing, vernacular languages, Hindustani and Urdu were beginning
to replace Persian at this level. And it was really a serious
intervention by the British. Persia still remained relevant. It was still taught, just like
it was still relevant for some of these successor states court. But Urdu was more than keeping
pace in terms of class offerings, translations and enrollment. And just as a quick parenthetical
clause, this is not to say that Persian evaporated at
all or in one fell swoop. I mean it continues well into the
20th Century in India to say nothing of the traces it leaves
in Urdu of poetic culture but something was really changing
and something was underway. And the British had a large part to
do with kind of this displacement of strain on Persian and their
attitudes towards Persian is perhaps both best encapsulated and Thomas
Macauley’s famous minute in 1835 where he says quote, a single shelf of a good European library was
worth the whole native literature in India and Arabia, yeah. And I think by that he means
basically Persian and Arabic. So it was time for English and
vernacular languages like Urdu to replace the supremacy of Persian. And finally, really on aside a level
you have the rise of [inaudible] which was slowly coming
to call itself Urdu. One sees the increased
acceptability of Urdu to serve as a viable literary and
cultural medium of expression. Both in informal poetic gatherings and also some of the
successor states. Patrons were beginning to fund poets who were composing
in Rekhta or in Urdu. So again, this doesn’t mean
Persian necessarily disappeared but it was a long [inaudible]
of decline at this time. So which to me makes this notion
that there was this small court in South India even more
exciting and even more kind of counterintuitive and
that’s the example I want to turn to you right now. And this is a Carnatic state,
this is a successor state that lasted from about 1698 to 1855. There you can send the map
and the South of India. So we’re not talking about the great
Islamics of learning in North India like [inaudible] Delhi or Agra but
in fact, in the south of India. And it was a really
predominant place for Persian poetic
activity and productivity. And we can look at the
reasons why that was and I’ve listed a couple here. Well first it was a
matter of politics. So after 1801, this small state was under the [inaudible]
of the British. That meant the British controlled
political and military affairs that allowed people like
the [inaudible] of Arcot or the Carnatic state to focus on more nonpolitical
matters and that they did. They created printing presses. They created libraries for the
collections of Islamic literatures and Persian, Arabic and Urdu. Another reason why Persian I
think was able to thrive is because the court was located
right next to [inaudible] which is now present day
[inaudible] three seats of the East Indian presidency
in India at the time, part of that colonial enterprise and
they were still utilizing Persian. They utilizing for
administrative purposes. They were utilizing it
in order to interface with local courts and elites. And so people could come down to
Arcot or Mardras and they could work for the British or they could come
and produce poetry for the Nawab. And finally, the reason Persian
poetry and poetic culture thrived in this sort of small
sort of outpost in South India was the personality of this individual Muhammad
Ghaws Kahn, pen name A’zam who was really invested
in Persian poetry. He produced Persian poetry
in Urdu at an early age and he established his great poetic
society, an exclusive poetic society where people in Persian could recite
their verse and correct it as well. So again, I just want to kind of
harp on this point that contrary to what this kind of
grandiose narrative is saying, that nothing is happening in
Persian culture outside of Iran. And contrary to the fact that
most of the great Islamic centers of learning are in North India. You have the court of the
last [inaudible] of Arcot who becomes invested in
promoting Persian poetry and Persian literary culture. And not only that but you find out
through a close reading of sources that they’re actually dealing
with the same kind of issues that the poets in Isfahan
are dealing with as well. And I’m not going to get into
all of the twists and turns of these debates but what you find
out is that there’s a huge kind of outpouring of Tazkirah
production. You see that chart
I guess on your left and that’s really what attracted
me to this topic to begin with that they were the most kind of
prolific Tazkirahs produced in all of the Persianate world
at this time. And not only do you have
examples of poetic verse and their biographical
information, but you start finding out about their lives and
what they were debating and what was vexing them. And you combine that
or you find out through that there were rival of networks. There were actually some poets
who were promoting a simple style of poetry and some poets promoting
a complicated style of poetry and you find out that in
fact during this time, during this dislocating time
for Persian literary culture, they were actually interested
in some of the same issues that vexing the poets in Isfahan. Issues such as who had the right
to speak for Persian poetry. Was it Indians or was it
Urduranians who had a more kind of native fluency in the language? What’s complicated or a
simple style of poetry. And so in some ways
raising these issues kind of juxtaposing a complicated
and simple style of poetry or even juxtaposing Indians on
the one hand and Urduranians on the other it kind of anticipate
some of the geoethnic fault lines that Bahar is going to talk about
you know, 100 years into the future. But what’s interesting about
this is these are Indians having these debates. So even if we work within the
categories that Bahar’s laid out, even if we inscribed just some of
the characteristics of the simple versus complicated poetry,
we can find Indian voices that were invested in
these debates that are kind of attaching themselves
to this framework. And I think by starting to
look at some of these elements, these other kind of multiple sights of Persian literary
production we could really begin to write a more inclusive and integrative Persian
literary history. So the last example I’ll
give you and I wanted to make just brief
mention of Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan in
particular and Central Asia in general I think
often kind of falls through the cracks and the gaps. And time kind of prevents me
of getting a full appraisal of how I think 19th Century
Afghanistan or trends and Persian literary culture
there are connected to this story but I do want to mention it. And first let’s talk about
dislocations, I mean if that’s one of the connective threads of this
talk, that there were dislocations in Isfahan or dislocations
in India and South India. There were also dislocations
in Afghanistan and the main dislocation
there was a political one. It was the first Ango
Afghan from 1839 to 1842. When the British came in
they invaded Afghanistan. They removed the ruler
or the [inaudible] and they established a protector. As we well know from depictions
of this event in history and other books, the British had
to withdraw quite ignominiously and they were pushed out
by an Afghan resistance which is a great sense of pride for the national narrative
in Afghanistan. What I think is less known, that for
Afghans, this event was commemorated and memorialized in jangnamahs. That is battle poems that to pick
the events, occupation and retreat of the British in the
style of Ferdowsi, in the style of perhaps the
most iconic and famous work of Persian poetry, the
Shahanamah, the work of one of this grandiose Masters that
we’re told was only the domain of Iranian poets in the
19th Century to return to. And what’s so fascinating is that you have multiple
texts being produced around this time all focusing
on this one singular event. Now of course people throughout
Islamic history imitating Ferdowsi and Shahanameh, but I don’t think on this scale Iran won
one particular event. And certainly, not
in the 19th Century. And you could see,
these are the covers from these various battle poems
recounting the first Anglo Afghan war and there were
other -ones as well. And these were both in the Library
of Congress collection here. You have [inaudible]
by Muhammed [inaudible] and you also have the cover of
the [inaudible] written by Akbar and Kashmiri and they were both put out by the Afghan historical
society in the 1950s. As an element or indication
of the way in which these texts have been
promoted by the Afghan nation just as an aside, if you
look at the poetry of the Taliban today you’ll also
find that there are references to Akbar as well as being this
great kind of nationalist hero. My point here is not to talk about
nationalism is in fact to talk about what kind of
prevalent these texts were. And not just these two texts but
other texts, an imitation of one of the great masters, Ferdowsi
were circulating around this time, in not only Afghanistan but
also in South India as well. And I think it’s really, really
important to recognize that. At the production of these texts and their circulation extends some
[inaudible] Kabul to South India. They were based in oral tales
and different passerby travelers who witnessed key events. They circulated in manuscript
form, they were printed in places like [inaudible] Agra and
benefited from the patronage of both local rulers and
the British themselves. In other words, these texts
again drawn on the style of the masters created
a type of market that privilege and
valued this style. Which in of itself
would be interesting if we just had these texts that
were kind of percolating around. But even more so at the
story Persian literature, literary history tells us precisely
that this shouldn’t be happening. That we should only be having an
engagement with the Masters in Iran and this is again, I think
an element like the court of [inaudible] that
has kind of been edited out of Persian literary history. And I think it’s kind of you know, due time to incorporate
these and other voices. So I’ll just say in
conclusion in the 18th Century and 19th Century was a time of
kind of serious, kind of social and political, linguistic
dislocation for Persian and a lot of different places and
I’ll be pointing to those. And a lot of the longstanding norms
that created kind of connectivity between various elites and
poets are being strained. But if we kind of maintain
adherence to this framework that is nationalists in scope
and erases a multiplicity of literary phenomena
occurring outside of Iran, I think that’s really going to militate again writing
a more integrative and inclusive literary history. So the hope is that, I
mean these are a couple of examples we can begin to
integrate into our understanding of Persian literary history
and kind of move it away from an Iranian story and make
it more of a global story. So, thank you very
much for your time. [ Applause ] [ Silence ]>>Folks thank you for coming. We have time for about
a few questions. Feel free to ask. Dr. [inaudible] go ahead. [ Inaudible ]>>Yeah, I mean this is a really
interesting question and I just kind of went over it quite quickly. Of course the origins of Urdu
whether it could be established in the Delhi literary salons or in the [inaudible]
is very controversial. I mean particularly for a kind
of Urdu literatures and speakers. Yeah, I mean something
is definitely happening. I mean there’s a groundswell of
people who has become interested in this language both as a
societal level and sort of a kind of court level in the 19th Century. And again as I mentioned the British
really have a part to play in this. You know, I think there is some kind
of healthy competition between them. You can even see when if you look
at the production of Tazkirahs over time these great kind of
codifiers of poetic culture. I mean the first Tazkirahs of
Urdu poets are written in Persian. And really it’s not until the 1840s
that you begin to see Tazkirahs in Urdu about Urdu poets. So you know, I don’t know what that
means as far as the unit workings of their competition, again I
think Urdu becomes a more kind of acceptable literary medium,
cultural medium for the you know, North Indian Muslim
gentry and elites. But I think people are
still trying to figure out exactly what the
relationship is. Someone like [inaudible] says, well
into the 20th Century you can walk into an Urdu literary salon
and you can speak Persian and no one would bat an eye. They were quite acceptable of that. But again I think people are
kind of working on this issue and really going back to
Tazkirahs and some of the debates between [inaudible] and the
[inaudible] and you’re right I mean that story is one that is
repeated over and over again. But it’s kind of unclear to what
extent perhaps that was true and how it defined
debates at that time. I haven’t looked into the
question, Urdu question you know, my understanding was you
know, that kind of happened until the early 20th century. I’m not sure when the first
written Pashtu text emerged. I think some time in the
mid to late 19th Century. So I don’t know, but I’d be
surprised if it has the same level of competition that
Urdu and Persian do just because poetic culture is
built up on so many sites, with so many people in
a place like South Asia. Yeah. [ Inaudible ]>>No, no, that’s absolutely right. No, no, no, I mean thanks for clarifying I should’ve
mentioned that yes. I mean one of the interests of
this topic is that for better or worse this is actually the
time when the Persian world begins to fray and break apart and so
it’s kind of interesting to figure out how that happens,
how people understand it. And so what I pointed to with all
these cases, in particular with Iran and south India case is that it was
about trying to get a sense of self, amidst this change of
culture with the stakes to the game were changing. I mean you’re right there’s
stories to be told and people like telling these stories
[inaudible] and elsewhere. It’s really a fascinating
period for that reason. And you’re right I probably
shouldn’t be too hard on Bahar. I shouldn’t say that necessarily that he consciously
edited things out. I mean he had a project to undertake and he didn’t probably
have the materials, certainly he didn’t have
the materials that we did in all the catalogs
that we went through. And he’s certainly a foil
for me and for other people. But no, I mean he really sets
the parameters of this debate. He does and I’m still working
within you know, his categories. I still go back and look
to the Bazgasht poets and perhaps I shouldn’t even go
back and look for Bazgasht poets. I shouldn’t be you
know, limiting my scope. But yeah you know he did some
great things but you know, he just had a couple of errors,
a couple of errors that tended to what I think Iranian nationalism and we’ll just slightly
correct them and move on. Yeah thanks. [ Inaudible ]>>Yeah, I mean this issue of
accessibility text circulation, of text [inaudible] is the kind of
project I’m working on right now. And I think if you look at
these commemorative texts, that charred poetic activity,
see which ones circulated more than others, see which ones
were privileged over time, I think we’ll have a better
insight into kind of this question to people actually saw themselves
and what their kind of preview was of the world and that’s the kind of
thing I’m very much interested in. You know, what was the preview
geographic or temporal of you know, 19th Century South Asia versus
kind of 19th Century Iran. And so it’s kind of
a large undertaking. And I should say this Tazkirahs
genre is absolutely prolific. It’s totally unyielding. I mean I’m trying to
map them right now. There could be 400, 500 that could
recount the lives of you know, sometimes up to 1000 poets. So it’s a long work ahead and
people are kind of you know, making end roads in different ways. But yeah, to your point in the
relationship between the poets and the texts, that is a big
one and look for example, these poets in South India,
they knew who Azar was. I mean they knew who the
poets in Isfahan were. They didn’t have a sense of them
being the revivers of Persian poetry at the time, but they
knew who they were based on the circulation of the text. I mean Azar’s [inaudible] which is
kind of held off as this first text that [inaudible] Persian
poetry and promotes this kind of protonational story I mean was
lithographed in Bombay at the time. And I only know that because
I’ve looked at you know, these two places in conversation. But there’s a whole
world out there to kind of start drawing connections to.>>I have a little follow
up question very quickly. This will be the last
question if that’s okay. You can ask questions afterwards. Just in terms of Central Asia
and Turkistan I’m just curious if you were to take these tribes, especially when Turkistan then was
being divided and given these sort of identities to come later on. How does that play
itself out in that area? A and B, if you could
give a little overview of the Tazkirah project
you’re working on now, so the people know what
to look forward to.>>Okay so, no great so the first
question yeah I mean Central Asia actually has a story
to tell as well. And later in the 19th Century
you have a group of [inaudible] that were advocating for
[inaudible] reform that were moving against what they saw
as the decadent kind of static Islamic culture
of the time. And they were very much invested
in creating a simpler prose and a simple style of verse which
I think has its kind of resonances in places like well Iran but also
Afghanistan later in the century. So yeah, they were Jadids,
people that [inaudible], people like [inaudible] who very
much recognized that or thought that the complicated Persian prose
and verse was ill equipped to deal with the modern kind of
issues they want to deal with. So yeah, that is happening
as well and again, I mean I think there is
something happening with Persia and the way people are kind
of transforming both in poetic and in prose form to make it more
durable for the modern world. And you see that with the
poetry of Muhammed Taqi Bahar, Bahar you see it with
tarz-i in Afghanistan, you see it with the
Jadids in Central Asia. Yeah, the Tazkirah project, I
kind of mentioned it briefly. What I’m trying to do is just kind of take a macroscopic look
at Tazkirahs production. So just kind of actually plot on a map were certain Tazkirahs were
being produced during what time. And I think if we see that
we can start to see the kind of connectivity of
the Persianate world. And not only that, to see which kind of Tazkirahs circulated
most prominently. So a lot of kind of
intertextual connections, bibliographic citations
within these texts. They were always adamant
to kind of prefer to previous Tazkirahs
authors whether that means they really saw the
Tazkirahs or they were just kind of padding their bibliographies like
I do or many of us do I don’t know. But it is indicative I think
of some kind of you know, integrated transregional
Cosmopolis of the times. So yeah, that’s kind of the project. It’s still working itself out and
the last element is to see kind of which poets to be remembered
at a particular moment in time. And when that changes over
time and what that says about how people saw the
Persianate world at the time.>>Thanks.>>Thank you everyone for coming.>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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