The World of Persian Literary Humanism

The World of Persian Literary Humanism

Hamid Dabashi
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 346
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  • Book Info
    The World of Persian Literary Humanism
    Book Description:

    Humanism has mostly considered the question “What does it mean to be human?” from a Western perspective. Dabashi asks it anew from a non-European perspective, in a groundbreaking study of 1,400 years of Persian literary humanism. He presents the unfolding of this vast tradition as the creative and subversive subconscious of Islamic civilization.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06759-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction The Making of a Literary Humanism
    (pp. 1-41)

    Once upon a time, so says the sagacious and always jovial poet Sheykh Mosleh al-Din Sa’di (ca. 1209–1291) in his Golestan (composed in 1258), there was a king who one day in a rage ordered the execution of a foreign slave in his custody. The condemned man began cursing the king in his native tongue, for he was now convinced he would be killed, and so he let go his fears and told the monarch what he thought of him. The king did not understand the language in which the condemned man spoke, so he turned to his courtiers...

  5. 1 The Dawn of an Iranian World in an Islamic Universe The Rise of Persian Language and Literature (632–750)
    (pp. 42-69)

    The traumatic birth of Persian language and literature in the violent aftermath of the Muslim conquest of Iran was predicated on the aggressive transmutation of the more sedentary social and economic conditions of the Sassanid empire into the far more aggressive supremacy of the nascent Islamic triumphalism that was soon consolidated in the Umayyad caliphate (661–750) and then the Abbasid empire (750–1258). The Sassanid empire (224–651), extending from central Asia to the Mediterranean, was vastly urbanized and sedentary; the Islamic triumphalism that invaded and conquered it was lightweight, agile, and initially divided along patrimonial communalism. The Sassanid...

  6. 2 The Persian Presence in the Early Islamic Empires Resisting Arabic Literary Imperialism (750–1258)
    (pp. 70-97)

    In the famous Shah Tahmasp, or Houghton, illustrated Shahnameh (ca.1522), there is a scene in which we see a young lad encountering three court poets of Ghazna. Here we see the three prominent court poets—Onsori (d. 1040), Farrokhi (d. 1037), and Asjadi (d. 1040)—sitting and having a picnic. Upon their august and dignified gathering stumbles a not-so-refined-looking fellow who asks politely to be allowed to sit down and join their gathering. These are world-renowned and exceedingly refined court poets and they obviously do not wish to sit in the same gathering with the young intruder. But being poets...

  7. 3 The Prose and Poetry of the World The Rise of Literary Humanism in the Seljuqid Empire (1038–1194)
    (pp. 98-130)

    “Some for the pleasures here below,” says Omar Khayyam (1048–1131) in a famous quatrain,

    Others yearn for The Prophet’s Paradise to come;

    Ah, take the cash and let the credit go,

    Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum.

    The certain fragility of the world of here and now has never been so palpably preferred over the dead certainties of the world of there and then, of the world to come. The habitual Orientalist reading of “The pleasures here below,” predicated on an escape from disciplined Victorian austerity, amounts to a hedonism that is a limited and limiting reading...

  8. 4 The Triumph of the Word The Perils and Promises of the Mongol Empire (1256–1353)
    (pp. 131-164)

    The Mongols descended upon the world like a sudden thunder, a storm, a tsunami—and took the sedentary, sedate, civilized, and corrupted empires of the Seljuqids and the Abbasids, and beyond them the known and the unknowing world, by their throats. The Mongols hit like a vengeance—and in the fertile soil of blood and booty they shed and plundered and the ruins and fears they left behind, grew flowers—colorful, aromatic, deeply rooted, robust, and plentiful—of life and love and liberty and revolt and a renewed pact with humanity all before they had descended from their horses. Amadand...

  9. 5 The Lure and Lyrics of a Literature The Center and Periphery of the Timurid Empire (1370–1506)
    (pp. 165-190)

    Nizam al-Din Amir Alishir Nava’i (1441–1501) was a very learned man, a deeply cultivated man, a man of letters, and a man of unsurpassed caring intellect, a powerful patron for artists, the literati, and the scientists of his time. Amir Alishir Nava’i had a generous and gracious company. He was a humanist par excellence—poet, painter, prose stylist, vastly learned in his contemporary intellectual traditions, and a statesman of exceptional courage, tenacity, and imagination. Imagine his contemporary Lorenzo de’ Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449–1492), if you must, turning the Florentine republic into the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance,...

  10. 6 The Contours of a Literary Cosmopolitanism Treading over Multiple Empires (1501–1732)
    (pp. 191-223)

    The legacy of Persian literary humanism was delivered from the Timurids to no less than four imperial projects in the sixteenth century: the Safavids (1501–1722), the Mughals (1526–1858), the Ottomans (1281–1924), and the Russians (1721–1917)—and it was in the context of yet another, a fifth imperial venture, the Europe an imperialism in general that descended upon them all, that Persian Adab would find a renewed historical relevance for itself. Treading over four empires and facing a fifth was the fate and unfolding path of Persian literary humanism between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries. Historically,...

  11. 7 The Dawn of New Empires Literary Humanism in Search of Itself (1736–1924)
    (pp. 224-262)

    In the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, Persian literary humanism perforce exited its habitual home at royal courts and found its bearing in the context of a new imperial setting—something that it had always done, from its very conception during the Saffarid and Samanid periods in the eighth and ninth centuries down to its spread over four adjacent empires in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The only significant and traumatizing difference this time around, which turned out to be the liberating ordeal of Persian literary humanism, was the fact that Persian literati were now facing an aterritorial empire that...

  12. 8 The Final Frontiers New Persian Literary Humanism (1906 to the Present)
    (pp. 263-300)

    The cosmopolitan worldliness of Persian literary humanism commenced in a confrontation with the alienating imperium of Arab domination soon after the Muslim conquest of the Sassanid empire. Phase after phase this worldliness has planted itself in the context of multiple and successive global empires. The retrieving of these successive global worldings of Persian literary humanism from the sixteenth century forward narratively confronts its systematic de-worlding by both European Orientalism and its twin peak of colonially manufactured ethnic nationalism. Our understanding of Persian literary humanism has as a result been subjected to systematic appropriation and dispossession with every learned word that...

  13. Conclusion Literary Humanism as an Alternative Theory to Modernity
    (pp. 301-328)

    Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Osman al-Jollabi al-Hujwiri al-Ghaznavi (ca. 990–1077) was a prominent Sufi master who was responsible for spreading both Persian literary prose and, through it, Sufism in south Asia. He was born in Ghazni in contemporary Afghanistan during the Ghaznavid empire and died and is buried in Lahore, in contemporary Pakistan, where to this day his mausoleum is a major site of pious pilgrims from the farthest corners of the Muslim world. Al-Hujwiri’s principal work, Kashf al-Mahjub (Unveiling the Veiled) is considered among the first and finest Sufi treatises written in Persian. Early in this text when...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 329-358)
  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 359-360)
  16. Index
    (pp. 361-372)