Table of Contents

English Verso

Iranian Masculinities

Preface: Iranian Masculinities
Mostafa Abedinifard and Sahar Allamezade-Jones

A Tree Atop the Mountain: Mobad Manikan and the Elusive Promises of Masculinity
Cameron Cross

‘Prescriptive’ Masculinity?: Deception and Restraint in the Films of Asghar Farhadi
Niki Akhavan

An Iranian Female Vampire Walks Home Alone and Disturbs Freud’s Oedipal Masculinity
Mahdi Tourage

On the Path to Manhood: Men and Masculinities in the Contemporary Kurdish Novel
Kaveh Ghobadi

Homosexuality – the emerging new battleground in Islam
Junaid Jahangir & Hussein Abdullatif

The Abject Outsider: “The Story of Two Gay Men”
Claudia Yaghoobi

Queering the Iranian Nation: Be Like Others and Resistance to Heteronormative Nationalism
Amy Tahani-Bidmeshki

Persian Reverso

Wedding Trials of Masculinity in Iranian Fairy Tales
Samin Espargham, Abolghasem Ghavam, and Samira Bameshki

Ekhrajiha1 (The Outcast 1): The Role of the ‛Lāt’ Figure in the Construction of the Islamic Republic’s ‛Ideal Man’
Papoli Yazdi

The Predicament of Complicity with Hegemonic Masculinity in Goli Taraghi’s “In Another Place”
Amirhossein Vafa

The Male Homosexuality Problematic in the Context of ContemporaryIranian Shi‘ism
Arash Naraghi


In the Mirror of Time: On Rostam and Shoghad in Firdawsi’s Shahnameh and Akhavan Salis’s “The Eight Passage”
Nasim Khaksar

Iran Days in Egypt: Mosaddeq’s Visit to Cairo in 1951
Lior Sternfeld

Table of Contents Volume 5, Number 4

English Verso

Editor-in-Chief: Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi

Special Issue Dedicated to Ahmad Ashraf for His Lifetime Contribution to Iranian Studies
Editors: Amir Ismail Ajami & Mohamad Tavakoli

Land Reform and Agrarian Transformation in Iran, 1962–78
Amir Ismail Ajami

Farmer–Herder Villages and the Revolution
Mary Martin

Individualization and the Emergence of Personalized Politics in Post-Revolutionary Iran
Azadeh Kian

Chamber of Commerce and Internal Conflicts among the Merchants of Bushehr in the Early 1950s
Soheila Torabi Farsani

Notes on the Persian Gospel Manuscript in Georgian Script
Helen Giunashvili & Tamar Abuladze

Persian Reverso

Recollections and Inquiries: From Unveiling to the Islamic Revolution
Negin Nabavi’s Interview with Ahmad Ashraf

The Challenges of Family Capitalism in the Pahlavi Era, the1940s to the 1970
Ali Asghar Saeidi

A Pioneer of Iranian Historical Sociology: Reflections on the Academic Career of Ahmad Ashraf
Dariush Rahmanian

Ahmad Ashraf and the Historical Sociology of Iranian “Underdevelopment”
Naser Sedghi

The Necessity of Utilizing Iranian Urban Historical Sociology in Contemporary Urban Development
Parviz Piran and Mohamad Reza Haeri

A Review of Ahmad Ashraf’s Perspectives on the Question of Inequality
Emad Afrough

Ahmad Ashraf’s Contribution to Social Work in Iran
Ezatollah Samaram

Peasants and the Iranian Revolution
Manijeh Dowlat, Bernard Hourcade, and Odile Puech


Was the Land Reform American? A Review of Two Documents
Ahmad Ashraf

Table of Contents Volume 5, Number 2

English Verso

Translating Rumi through the Prism of Ideology
Amir Artaban Sedaghat


Persian Reverso

Lily Ayman (Ahy), 1929-2018
Javad Abbasi

The Signification of “Shah” and “Shahi” in the Eastern Islamic Lands
Abbas Ahmadvand

The Peculiarities of Golestan Palace’s Art and Architecture from the Perspective of Foreign Travelogues
 Abbas Panahi and Saman Kashani 

From Vernacular Modernity to Modernizing Tradition in Iran
Yaser FarashahiNejad

Perfect Wisdom: Sa‘di and the Manners of Conversation
Hamid Sahebjami

Lost in History or Reached the Zenith? Text and Margin in the Poetic Network of the Eighth Century
Fateme Montazeri

The Hopes and Fears of the Badakhshanis of Tajikistan During Soviet Rule
Maryam Moezzi

What Befell Us?
Ziaollah Missaghi

Saeed Yousef: A Wayfaring Poet
Nasim Khaksar

Saeed Yousef: A Prominent Poet of Our Time
Reza Ghanadan


Book Review

The Emergence of Iranian Nationalism: Race and the Politics of Dislocation

Hamed Mehrad

Table of Contents Volume 5, Number 1

Special Issue Dedicated to Professor Shirin Bayani
Guest Editors: Javad Abbasi

English Verso

Manuscripts and Digital Technologies: A Renewed Research Direction in the Ilkhanid History of Iran
Bruno De Nicola


Persian Reverso

A Pioneering Woman: A Historiographical Review of Professor Shirin Bayani’s Scholarship
Javad Abbasi

The Mimeses of the Shahnameh and Historical Epics in the Mongol Age
Javad Rashki-Aliabad

A Synthesizer of Two Faiths
Mohamad Ja‘far Yahaghi

Craft Industries in the Economy and Society of the Ilkhanids
Sayed Abolfazl Razavi

Who is Khayyam?
Touba Fazelipour

The Transformation of the Mongol and the Ilkhanid Period in the Iranian College History Textbooks
Ghasem Gharib

The Twilight of the Ilkhanids and the Dawn of the Sassanids: An Acquaintance with the Learned Historian
Mohammad-Taghi Imanpour

Reflections and the Rise and Fall of the Samanids
Sayyed Abol-Ghasem Forouzani

A Morphological Reflection on the History of Bayhaqi
Fatemeh Jahanpour

‘Alam-i Niswan on Modernity and Hijab
Abbas Panahi


An Adorer of Iran and Iranian
Sayyed Abol-Ghasem Forouzani

The Father of Such an Offspring: Remembering Dr. Khanbaba Bayani
Nasrollah Salehi

Table of Contents Volume 4, Number 3-4

Special Issue Dedicated to Professor Badrolzaman Gharib
Guest Editors: Jaleh Amouzegar and Firouzeh Qandehari

English Verso

Further Fragments of Sogdian Manichaean Riddles?
Christiane Reck

The Turtle and the Geese: A Pañcatantra Fable in Sogdian
Nicholas Sims-Williams

The Manichaean “Living Self”As Reflected in Persian Mystical Poetry
Omid Behbahani

Persian Reverso

The Unique Badri of Our Time
Firouzeh Qandehari

Badrolzaman Gharib’s Publications
Firouzeh Qandehari

Another Explanation for Duality in Zoroastrianism: A Translation of the Seventh Chapter of Shekand Gomanik Vechar
Jaleh Amouzegar

A Profile of Zoroastrian Jurisprudence in the Sassanian Era
Katayun Mazdapour

Divine Knowledge and Benevolence
Zohreh Zarshenas

Studies on the Ancient Aramaic Epigraphy of Georgia
Helen Giunashvili

Mary Magdalene and Women’s Attraction to Manicheanism: Mythical and Historical Parameters
Mohammad Shokri-Foumeshi

The Foundations of Legal Thinking in the Church of the East (400-550 CE)
Nima Jamali

The Etymology of Female Names in the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi
Yadollah Mansouri

Azar Kayvan: Life, Character, Views, and the Judgments of Others
Hooshangh Shokri

Social Media Textual Poachers: How Do Iranian Users Challenge Dominant Discourses on Telegram?
Hossein Kermani

Table of Contents Volume 4, Number 2

English Verso

Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis, 1967-1977
Mahasti Afshar

Dye on the Frontier: Henna and the Military Elites of Nineteenth-Century Bam
James Gustafson

Voluntary Conversions of Iranian Jews in the Nineteenth Century
Nahid Pirnazar

Book Review

Thesaurus of Judeo-Tat (Juhuri): The Language of the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus by Rabbi Ya‘akov Itzhaki
Dan Shapira


Persian Reverso

Computers and Challenges of Writing in Persian
Behrooz Parhami

Dragon Palace Myths
Azam Nikkhah-Fardaqi

An Angelic Encounter: A Review of Daryoush Shaygan’s Esoteric Reflections
Hamid Sahebjami

Loss of Identity in Jalal Al-Ahmad’s The Cursing of the Land and Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Ja‘far Mirzaee Porkoli & Iman Beiranvan

The Arab War Strategy in the Conquest of Iran until 644 C.E.
Saeid Moakedi, Asghar Foroughi Abari, and Ja‘far Nouri

From Qanats to Pipes: Water Distribution in Behbahan
Fatemeh Bineshifar and Mostafa Nadim

Table of Contents Volume 4, Number 1

English Verso

The Dynamics of Resistance: Moral Concepts in Sī mī n 4 Dāneshvar’s Sūvashūn
Magdalena Rodziewicz

An Inquiry into the Terms Adab, Adib, Adabiyat in the 26 Perso-Arabic Languages
Shayan Afshar

State Capacity and Democratization in Iran
Misagh Parsa


Persian Reverso

Iranian Wine in a European Jar: A Reflection on the 3 Spatial Form of The Blind Owl
Reza Ghanadan

The Censured Portions of Mahmoud Katirai’s Kitab-e Sadegh-e-Hedayat
Shahram Azadian

Women’s Rights in the Iranian Women’s Press, 1910-1925
Ali Baghdar Delgosha

On the Intellectual Foundations of the Tudeh Party’s Literary Theory
Yaser Farashahi-Nejad

Mâr, Mihr, and Mir: A Linguistic Connection
Shokoufeh Taghi

Iranian Studies in Georgia: The Pre-Islamic Queries
Helen Giunashvili


A Review of a Review: Was There a Misturn in the 145 Editing of the Scrolls of the Shahnamah-Narrators?
Mohamad Jaafari Qanavati

Table of Contents Volume 3, Number 4

English Verso

Special Issue Dedicated to Professor Mohammad-Ali Islami-Nodoushan
Guest Editor: Javad Abbasi & Mahmood Fotoohi-Rudmajani

Religious Minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the “Right to Have Rights”
Anja Pistor-Hatam

Male Same-Sex Sexuality in the Legislation and Jurisdictions of the Islamic Republic
Arash Guitoo

Journalist Memoirs and the Iranian Diaspora: Truth, Professional Ethics, and Objectivity Between Political and Personal Narratives
Babak Elahi and Andrea Hickerson

The First World Conference on Human Rights and the Challenge of Enforcement
Andrew S. Thompson


Persian Reverso

A Realist Iranophile: Reflections on Professor Nodoushan’s Contributions to Iranian Studies
Javad Abbasi

The Contest of Languages: The Role of Iranian Dehqan’s in the Enduring Competition Between Persian and Arabic
Mahmood Fotoohi

The Soul of the Iranian World
Mohammad Jafar Yahaghi

The Days of the Land of Days: Recounting Nodoushan’s Journey to Yazd
Farhad Taheri

Reading Books in Public
Hasan Zolfaqari

Avecenna’s Recital of the Birdand its Impact onGhazzali’s Epistle of Birdand ‘Attar’s The Conference of Birds
Mahdi Mohebbati

Critiquing the Editing of the Scrolls of ShahnamahNarrators (Naqals)
Kamran Arzhangi

Rustamocide or Sohrabicide? Comparing Orhan Pamuk’sThe Red-Haired Womanwith the Tales of Rostam and Sohrab
Azam Nikkhah-Fardigi

Ferdawsi’s Shahnamehin the Historical Texts of Anatolian Seljuks
Fereshtah Mohammmadzadeh

“This is Not a Building That They Have Destroyed”: Critiquing Two Editions of The Correspondence of ‘Arif Qazvini
Said Pourazimi


Recognizing Human Rights
Mohammad-Ali Islami-Nodoushan

Interview With Dr. Mohammad-Ali Islami-Nodoushan (1977)
Farrokh Amirfaryar


Journalist Memoirs and the Iranian Diaspora: Truth, Professional Ethics, and Objectivity between Political and Personal Narratives

Babak Elahi <> teaches in the School of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology. He holds a PhD in American literature from the University ofRochester. His work has been published in Iranian Studies; Alif; MELUSInternational Journal of Fashion Studies, and Cultural Studies. His book, The Fabric of American Realism, was published by McFarland Press in 2009. Elahi writes about American literary and cultural studies; Iranian culture, film, and literature; and the Iranian diaspora.

Andrea Hickerson <> is the Director of the School of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology. She holds a PhD in Communication from the University of Washington. Her work has appeared in Communication TheoryJournalism and Global Networks. She writes about political communication and journalism routines, especially in transnational contexts.



While interviewing Jon Stewart for Voice of America upon the release of Stewart’s adaptation of journalist Maziar Bahari’s Rosewater (2014),[1] Iranian-American blogger Saman Arbabi asks, “So, in a story, like, about Iran, how do you find the truth? I mean who decides what the truth is? And how do you find it?”  Stewart admits that he doesn’t know what the truth is: “Well, I don’t. […] I have to own my inauthenticity; I’m not Iranian. So, no matter what I do, for someone who lives there, this will be a simplistic and reductive version of their life.  But hopefully, from a Western performer for a Western audience, it’s a more nuanced look into a country that we’ve called evil.”[2]  Stewart adds that for him, “the film is just a reflection of Maziar’s book, which is again an interpretation of his experience.  So within that, truth is probably a pretty elusive figure in all this.  But I think the film is true to his reflection of his experience.  And I think that’s probably as close as I can get to what I wanted to achieve.”[3]

This exchange between an Iranian blogger and an American satirist about how close an Iranian-Canadian journalist’s memoir can get to the “truth” is emblematic of the complex ways in which journalism has been transformed by social media, by the increased legitimacy of satire as alternative journalism, and by the blurring of the line between personal experience and public information.  Stewart is suggesting that average Americans are twice removed from the truth in other countries. They must settle for his cinematic interpretation of Bahari’s narrated experience. This double remove from the truth raises important questions about the function of memoirs in the broader media landscape, especially in an era of displacement and diaspora.

This paper asks how diasporic Iranian prison memoirs penned by journalists deal with “the truth” as a moral, ethical, political, and professional category.  At this intersection—of journalism, diaspora, prison narrative, and memoir—a number of important questions converge. How do memoirs function in contexts where the nature of truth is ideologically overdetermined by state propaganda on one side, and stereotypes about dissimulating non-Western cultures on the other? How is the nature of “truth” in memoirs, or the status of “objectivity” in journalism affected by the dual experience of diaspora and captivity that these journalists’ memoirs relate? What is the best way to classify certain memoirs in terms of genre when they can fall into more than one category? Specifically, we focus on two memoirs by journalists in the Iranian diaspora, Between Two Worlds by Roxana Saberi, and Rosewater by Maziar Bahari. Both books largely recall the journalists’ experiences in captivity in the period surrounding the 2009 presidential election and the “Green Movement” in which there were mass protests against what many saw as a rigged election. In both books the journalists frame their personal and professional experiences as a quest for “truth.”  This quest for the truth is not a simple uncovering of an objective reality that is already “there,” but rather, a search for the strength to speak the truth in a context that militates against it in several ways ranging from the power of propaganda in Iran to the prevailing and similarly propagandistic stereotypes about Iranians in the U.S. media.

Theorists of and practicing commentators on the memoir focus on “truth” not as “information” but as “meaning,” and this creation of meaning is self-referential (for the memoirist as author and memoirists as subject) as well as relational between memoirist and reader.  Vivian Gornick, for example, describes memoir as a set of “fragmentary memories” rather than a “transmission” of facts. These memories are not “invented” but “composed” and the reader bears some responsibility in creating “meaning” rather than consuming information.[4]  Similarly, in their guide to reading autobiography, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson ask readers of autobiography and memoir not merely to seek “evidence,” but to ask about the nature of truth. They urge us as readers to ask, “What’s at stake for the narrator in persuading you of the truth of his story? What’s at stake historically (in the larger society) in having this text accepted as a ‘truthful’ account of a life? What difference would it make to learn that the narrative is a fabrication?”[5] Both at the level of theory in Smith and Watson’s work, and for practitioners like Gornick, then, the key to understanding “truth” in memoirs is how it functions relationally between memoirist and reader. Similarly, Philippe Lejeune defines the “autobiographical pact” between memoirist and reader as a “contract between author and reader in which the autobiographer explicitly commits himself or herself not to some impossible historical exactitude but rather to the sincere effort to come to terms with and to understand his or her own life.”[6] However, the “truth” of referential discourse in the autobiography is different from science, history, or journalism.  In autobiography, the pact covers truth “such as it appears to me, inasmuch as I know it, etc.”[7]  The difference between journalistic truth and autobiographical truth, according to Lejeune is the distinction between information and meaning, between accuracy and fidelity: “Accuracy involves information, fidelity meaning.[8]  Information is transmitted, but meaning must be constructed.

In journalism studies, as Juan Ramón Munez-Torrez has observed, “truth” is often conflated with “objectivity.”[9] Despite the increasing prominence and popularity of news satire and punditry like Jon Stewart,[10] the perception and performance of objectivity is still seen as the hallmark of “good” journalism.[11]  In the pursuit of objectivity, journalists employ strategies and routines which can shelter them from claims of bias. Strategies include reporting conflicting claims, excluding opinion, and using quotes.[12] Journalists also tend to omit personal details, instead focusing on generic, episodic facts conveying the impression of dispassionate observers.

Scholars continue to argue that the routine insistance on objectivity transcends culture and nationality. Surveys of journalists across national cultures show it is highly valued, even if journalists have different ways of defining and practicing it (Donsbach & Klett, 1993; Post, 2015; Skovsgaard et al., 2013).[13]  Drawing on Donsbach & Klett , Skovsgaard et al. identified possible measures related to objectivity: no subjectivity, balance, hard facts, and value judgments.  They argued that journalists may favor one aspect over another based on their perception of the role journalists should play in supporting democracy.  They tested how whether or not journalists perceived their role as either a “passive mirror,” “watch dog,” “public forum,” or “public mobilizer” correlated with their assessments of objectivity.  Their results suggest objectivity is “more important with role perceptions that emphasize a representative conception of democracy in which journalists inform citizens about society, whereas it is less important when they emphasize the inclusion of citizens in a public, democratic debate.”[14]

Indeed, not all believe objectivity is possible or desirable, as Michael Ryan explains.[15]  James Brian McPherson, for example, argues that the journalistic devotion to achieving “balance” in every story leads to polarization and false equivalence.[16]  Furthermore, he contends the overwhelming number of commercially successful conservative pundits on TV and radio in the United States has forced the mainstream media further to the right politically, as they attempt to appeal to and put themselves in conversation with conservative audiences.  Arguably, this has created a vacuum whereby activist and satirists like John Oliver and Trevor Noah, both free from the constraints of objectivity in their satirical genre, find resonance with audiences looking for “truth” outside the mainstream media, and questioning an uncritical “objectivity” that subjects even the facts to contrasting opinion.  Owing to their life experiences rather than their satirical stance, diasporic journalists find themselves at the center of a dynamic tension between subjectivity and objectivity.   Diasporic journalists are widely considered experts on international news because of their experiences in countries with restricted access to Western journalists; yet, their personal histories are often characterized by emotional and sometimes physical upheaval, suggestive, perhaps superficially, of experiential bias.

In contrast to the sometimes formulaic and rigid structure of hard news stories, journalists are increasingly penning memoirs and autobiographies.   Michelle Weldon speculates that a rise in journalist memoirs may be related to a general subjective turn in journalism coinciding with the popularity of social media and blogs.[17] Weldon, who conducts workshops for journalists looking to write memoirs reminds journalists not to stray from basic facts.  “The urge to write a personal story cannot eclipse the need to fully report,” she advises.[18]  Analyzing memoirs and interviews with war correspondents, Howard Tumber and Michael Webster probed for details; Weldon’s notes are typically accounted for in the journalist-memoir genre, namely the motivations and sentiments behind journalists’ chosen occupation.  Journalists often articulate an adventurous spirit and the desire to “bear witness.” The authors further observed that journalists’ “aspirations to report truthfully are couched in language of objectivity.”[19] Pointing to Tuchman’s conceptualization of objectivity as a “strategic ritual,”[20] Tumber and Webster suggest some journalists stress balancing differing viewpoints almost to the point of absurdity. They write, for example, “Inside a military unit as an embed, it is hard to imagine how the inescapable reliance on the limited sources available could even approximate to objectivity.”[21]  In contrast to the war correspondents, historically, African American journalists in the U.S. used their memoirs to counter stereotypes and challenge dominant narratives in the mainstream press.  Calvin Hall suggests these memoirs are born out of the tradition of slave narratives, and that they provided a space for marginalized African American journalists to “challenge the status quo” and describe the institutional racism they faced on the job.[22]  In his analysis of four autobiographies of African American journalists, Hall argues each functions as a “manifesto” or a “combative document whose purpose is to allow its subject to assert him- or herself in the locale of the universal subject.”[23]  Theoretically, Hall draws heavily on Gigi Durham’s work and her argument for using standpoint theory as a counterpoint to objectivity.  Durham argues objectivity is a form of “epistemic relativism” such that the norms associated with the practice ignore and perpetuate socio-cultural inequities by not acknowledging the marginalized standpoint of minority groups.[24] Hall extends Durham to journalistic memoirs and notes how in each of the memoirs he studied, the journalists make a conscious “statement” about the “complexities of being black in America.”[25]  In other words, writers foreground their standpoint, their difference and opposition to mainstream practice, explicitly in their work.

Whether or not diasporic journalists working in mainstream media would articulate a similar stance to the satirist, the war reporter or African American reporters is unknown.  On the one hand, journalists in diaspora are extreme outsiders, marginalized by two cultures, not one. They occupy a liminal space.  At the same time, journalists living in diaspora are privileged by their ability to pass between cultures. Diasporic journalists working in mainstream media are successful because of their personal histories, not despite them. So, then, what happens when diasporic journalists relay their personal histories in memoirs? Stéphane Dufoix defines diaspora as an “analytical framework that takes into account the structuring of the collective experience abroad based on the link maintained with the referent-origin and the community stance this creates.”[26] Much of the literature on the Iranian diaspora focuses on life-writing, but not specifically on journalist memoirs, even though many of the best known Iranian writers in the West have worked as journalists, including Tara Bahrampour, Roya Hakkakian, and Azadeh Moaveni, to name but a few.

A number of articles and special issues have been published since the mid-2000s focusing on Iranian diasporic memoir, though not always explicitly identifying the writers as journalists by training, nor considering the implications of such memoirs being penned by journalists.[27]  More recently, Nima Naghibi builds on this earlier work, broadening its scope to address other media, including documentary film and social media as forums for self-narration.  The critical discourse seems to have shifted away from questions of departure to those of return, and from the affective mode of nostalgia to that of engagement.  Babak Elahi and Persis Karim gesture towards this shift, suggesting that diasporic Iranian writers and artists view their own “work, and praxis as related to the future of Iran.”[28]  Naghibi makes a similar case by contrasting memoirists who remain fixated on the individual memoirist’s nostalgia for a lost childhood with other writers who challenge their readers to bear witness to violations of human rights. While we focus on a very specific sub-genre—the journalist prison memoirs—we see Naghibi’s framing of the question useful: documentary writing negotiates the nostalgic memorializing of the Persian prerevolutionary past with the act of witnessing the present in Iran and the United States towards the overall goal of testifying, allowing for empathy through a form of transmitted affect.[29] Ervand Abrahamian focuses not on memoirs, per se, but on a variety of forms that forced confessions took in Iran, ranging from written recantations to kangaroo courts to videotaped and televised self-recriminations. Nevertheless, we find his concepts useful in analyzing Saberi and Bahari’s work.  However, we wish to narrow the focus even further on diasporic prison memoir, a subgenre Naghibi also discusses.

For example, among the forms confessions took in Iran, Abrahamian includes the “mea culpa memoirs.”[30]  Indeed, Saberi references Abrahamian in the Epilogue to her memoir, saying that in a conversation with the scholar, he tells her that Iranian interrogators force prisoners to write confessions out in their own words (like a memoir) so that these are more believable when released to the press.[31] If forced confessions can be called mea culpa memoirs, perhaps the memoirs written by Iranian journalists who were held and then released based partly on such confessions might be called mea innocentia memoirs or memoirs of political absolution—a journalist asking absolution from his readers for the sin of having made false confessions, a rhetorical stance similar to the apologia. At the same time, whether intended on the part of the authors or not, these memoirs also function as challenges to Iranian propaganda about journalism as a form of espionage.  They specifically address the question of why the memoirist lied to gain his or her freedom, and how the memoir we are reading is an attempt to redeem the author’s personal, political, and professional ethos by telling the truth about the lies they’ve had to tell to save themselves. The memoirist’s central motive becomes the journey from falsehood to fact. By focusing on Saberi and Bahari, we hope to tease out this narrative structure of memoirs of political absolution or mea innocentia statements: the struggle to regain the truth from the political necessity to lie.  Put more formally and in conversation with the previous literature we summarized relating to the genres of journalism, memoir, and journalistic-memoir, we ask: how does the process of meaning-making rather than information-reporting in memoir and journalism affect our understanding of Iranian diasporic prison memoirs?



At the beginning of her captivity, Saberi is coerced into a false confession that she is a spy funneling information to an outside—presumably American—contact, causing her to waiver on both professional ethics and personal morality. Hoping that once released she will be free to set the record straight and vindicate anyone she might have implicated, she succumbs to pressure:

It was then that I came to a terrible realization: The truth meant nothing here. Only lies could save my family and me. My only way out was to admit to a crime I did not commit and to ask for forgiveness. … I could always, like many before me, recant my lies once I was freed.[32]

However, she soon realizes lies lead to more lies, and might ultimately hurt both herself and others.  In a concise Orwellian equation, Saberi sums up how her axiology of truthtelling was turned upside down by the trauma of imprisonment: “In sum: Truth = Prison.  Lies = Freedom.”[33]  The memoir can be read as Saberi’s attempt to turn this formula right side up into the adage, “the truth shall set you free.”  In fact, about half way through the memoir, after witnessing the courage of some of her fellow prisoners who refuse to sign false confessions, she redefines “freedom” as spiritual rather than physical. Saberi seeks religious (Biblical as well as Koranic), cultural, political, and professional paths back to truth, but what ultimately persuades her is the example of fellow prisoners who refuse to give false confessions.  Because the voices of fellow prisoners guide her to the truth, her narrative can be characterized by what Naghibi calls transmitted affect—a function of testiminio that allows the memoirist to speak for the voiceless, in this case Iranian women in prison who do not have the platform on which to speak that Saberi does. In this sense, Saberi’s memoir defines journalism as a balance between objectivity and advocacy, and it is in that overlap where she finds “truth.”[34]

One of Saberi’s touchstones for the value of truth is religion.  She turns to “God,” an entity she defines in a distinctly agnostic way as “a Higher Power to which all major religions pointed in one way or another.”[35] She even asks explicitly for dispensation to deceive:  “God, I asked for help, but you did not rescue me. And if you don’t save me, who will? I have no choice left but to lie for my life.”[36] The example of at least one of her fellow prisoners is distinctly Christian;[37] Saberi explicitly quotes from Matthew 6:31,[38] emphasizing trust in God, and the memoir itself might be read as an instantiation of the Biblical adage from John 8:32, “the truth shall set you free.” Much later in the memoir, she balances these agnostic or Christian religious frameworks for truth with a specifically Koranic axiology.  In response to a question from the judge in her case, she says, “I recanted [the false confession] after I realized it is better to tell the truth late than never, and the Koran told me to tell the truth because even if you suffer, in the end you will prevail.”[39]  Clearly, then, one way that Saberi negotiates the truth is through appeals to religious belief and scriptural doctrine.

In addition to religion, Saberi also turns to culture to contextualize her negotiation of falsehood and truth.  First, she points to taqīya,[40] or “dissimulation,” which she associates with Shiism. This form of cultural discourse “allowed and even encouraged Shiites to conceal their faith to protect their property or themselves.”[41]  Secondly, she links this Shiite form of strategic dissimulation to something that pre-dates and transcends Islamic influence: the practice of tā’rof, which Saberi describes as “a complex system of formalized curtesy—which could often make social interactions seem insincere, for example, when a shopkeeper refused payment although he actually expected it.”[42] As one friend tells her, “lying was not only expedient but also often necessary for survival in the Islamic Republic.” [43]  Taqīya and tā’rof, however, are balanced with Saberi’s reference to everyday Iranian wisdom that values principled honesty: “lies were harder to remember than the truth.  As the Iranian saying went, Durugh-gu kam hâfezeh ast, ‘The liar has a short memory.’”[44] Thus, Saberi finds a tension in Iranian culture between truth and dissimulation.

At the political level, Saberi identifies a moral dilemma in Iranian culture between strategic deception and principled veracity. She avers that like “people all over the world, Iranians often felt compelled to tell lies to get out of danger.”[45] Interestingly, this seems to challenge the stereotype that Iranians or Middle Easterners are particularly prone to mendacity.  She speculates that for Iranians duplicity is one of the bitter fruits of “various authoritarian regimes.”[46] As some “cynically claimed,” Iranians were “right to spin tales because their country’s rulers themselves were so adept at it.”[47]  Thus, Saberi explains that she lied under pressure as a function of Iran’s widespread culture of deception.

The moral dilemma between strategic deception and principled truth-telling is complicated by another ethical conflict: the erosion of journalistic truth in Iran. In Iran, reporters must find ways around the regime’s regulations.  This set of expectations around censorship and self-censorship rejiggers Saberi’s journalistic ethics, including notions of truth and objectivity: “It was then I understood that to report in the Islamic Republic, I would have to balance the expectations of the regime, my employer, interviewees, and my own conscience to do my job.”[48]  Rather than relying on her formal training in the West, Saberi learns from local Iranian journalists who “had become experts at … working within the regime’s often arbitrary and unclear boundaries, while still offering a measure of serious discussion and criticism through their work.”[49]  Here, again, the journalist’s commitment to the truth is replaced with a negotiation between the regime, her professional “conscience,” and her sources—interviewees. The value of the truth becomes less clear.

Ultimately, Saberi’s “truth” comes neither through religious morality, nor in the nuances of culture, nor out of political expediency, and not even from journalistic ethos, but, rather, through solidarity with fellow prisoners—a dialogic truth or truth as social justice.  Through the example of others Saberi begins to realize that she can peak truth to power: “The women I had met over the previous several days defied their interrogators demands to lie, while I had abided by many orders that were in conflict with my conscience.”[50]  One of these new friends, Nargess, tells Saberi “I am glad I didn’t succumb to these people’s threats to tell lies.”[51]  It is these appeals to the axiology of truth that persuade Saberi to change tack from dissimulation to veracity, with the exception of one white lie that she explains will secure her freedom while retaining her integrity.

By the end of the memoir, she sees the truth not only as the measure of her own salvation, but also as the greatest weapon against injustice, and it is here perhaps that the reader is pulled in to sign Saberi’s autobiographical pact, if you will—to reach the “truth” of Saberi’s memoir as the result of meaning-making.  As she prepares for one of her many speaking engagements after her release she concludes her memoir by addressing the reader more directly and highlighting the significance and power of the “truth:”

Tonight I will speak freely, hoping to give a voice to the many Saras, Faribas, and Mahshids who are struggling to achieve their most basic rights. From them, I have learned that in the dark, there is light, and that though there will always be those who suffer, eventually the truth will prevail.[52]

This statement, coming as it does in a post-script in which she—now on a book tour where she literally tells her truth—echoes her fellow prisoners’ advocacy for truth-telling. Saberi embraces the truth not so much as a professional value, but something that transcends her profession, or her culture, or political expediency. She embraces truth as a way to give voice to those who were voiceless—the cellmates who led her back to the truth. We, as readers, are signaled to participate in that purpose of transmitted affect.

However, there is a coda here that complicates the situation somewhat.  During her final appeal, Saberi complicates truth’s triumph by describing how one final tactical lie helped her protect a group with whom she had worked.  When Saberi’s boyfriend, Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi, tells her that the “world knows that this regime tells lies,” and her lawyers urge her to admit to and apologize for the lesser crime of unwittingly copying one classified document, she opts to go along with this white lie, justifying it to herself and her readers by saying that this would protect the moderate Iranians at the Center for Strategic Research where she obtained the documents.[53] When the prosecutor asks who gave her permission to copy the classified document, she once again begins to question the truth:

My mind began to spin. I didn’t want to say that employees at the center let me copy materials because even though I didn’t think this report was classified, if it really was, I didn’t want to get anyone there in trouble. Not only was the center filled with moderates, but hard-liners had also accused one of its directors of espionage in 2007, though he was later given a suspended sentence for a lesser charge and resumed his work there. ‘No one told me,’ I said. ‘I copied it myself…out of curiosity.’[54]

Thus, the line between falsehood and the truth is blurred with one last nuance. Nevertheless, this exception is still in the service of solidarity with others who share her cause.

Maziar Bahari’s prison narrative also hinges on negotiations of truth and falsehood.  An Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker working for Newsweek, Bahari was arrested by Iranian authorities in June 2009 on charges of espionage and incitement of anti-Islamic and anti-government agitation following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election to President.  He was tortured for 118 days in an attempt to extract a false confession linking him to American intelligence.  His interrogator, whom he nicknames Rosewater because of his sickly-sweet cologne, subjects Bahari to a combination of physical and emotional abuse. On the surface, Bahari’s memoir is about how he had to lie in order to free himself from Evin Prison. However, the backdrop to this story is how Bahari views journalism as advocacy, as a set of professional principles, and as personal identity that links him to a history of activism in Iran through his family.  In the context of his captivity he must defend against his captors’ insistence that Western journalism is simply part of Western espionage.

Soon after protests broke out in the summer of 2009, Bahari began to see his journalistic role as one of advocacy, specifically as a key element of the process of democratization. Bahari describes crossing the line between reporter and protester, declaring that he “was not a reporter anymore” but “part of the people.”[55]  He views this as participating in democracy, or at least attempting to revive it in a country where it is limited by a religious judiciary and a Revolutionary Guard.  Breaching journalistic ethics was, for him and others, a matter of participating in public discourse: “Even though we were trying our best to remain professional, I know that, like me, most others were rooting for Mousavi.”[56]  Crossing from journalism into activism elides the distinction between professional and personal aims: “Unlike many stories I had covered in the past, I cared very deeply, on a personal level, about this one.”[57]  In fact, he tries to persuade his captors that his personal stake in stories about Iran could only help the Iranian people and government by providing a fairer picture of Iran to the West: “I always tried to help [Iranian officials] understand that the Iranian government was, in fact, lucky that I was working for Western media.  I knew my job. I knew my country.  And I was a patriot.  If they stopped me, I could be replaced by someone with an ax to grind against the regime.”[58]  Bahari’s blurring of journalism and advocacy seems to balance Rosewater’s blurring of journalism and espionage.

One might argue that one of the things Bahari suffers in prison is a kind of epistemological torture—that he is forced to reconsider how his job as a journalist is connected to truth or lies, how it is connected to espionage rather than democratic discourse.  According to Bahari, Rosewater saw little difference between espionage and journalism.  For Rosewater and his superiors, Bahari is conducting “media espionage,” making him a “media spy” funneling information to Iran’s enemies.[59]  In one scene, Bahari recounts a sort of distorted Socratic dialogue with Rosewater. “Maziar, what is a spy?” asks Rosewater, to which Bahari answers: “A person who passes secret information related to the national security of a country to another country.”[60] Rosewater continues the perverted Platonic inquiry, asking, “What is a journalist?”[61]  Demoralized, Bahari takes his answer farther, replying that “… a spy works secretly against the national security of a country for another government, but a journalist works openly—even if he uses secret sources—to inform the public.”[62] Rosewater turns this back around, claiming that both journalists and spies spread information, and information could harm Iran.  At this point, Bahari is not dealing with the question of “truth,” but is laying the groundwork that will allow him to return to that question later. Bahari demonstrates that the ideology and paranoid style of Iran’s hardline leaders mangle truth, democracy, and integrity.

Further complicating this epistemological torture Bahari’s growing sense that his torturer’s profession of extracting information is a twisted reflection of his own work of gathering information as a journalist.  Each has his own professional code. During one interrogation session, Bahari realizes that Rosewater follows his own set of principles, as perverse as their results might be. Overhearing Rosewater complain to his wife on the phone that he gets all the difficult cases, Bahari concludes, “Rosewater was just a man.  Despite the power he had over me, he was just a man with a job.  Like most people, his main priority was to keep his job and provide for his family.”[63] Bahari relates the importance of his own professional identity as journalist to Rosewater’s professional identity as interrogator, opening up a strategy for escape: “I knew what I had to do.  I had to allow him to be successful in that job.”[64]  In some distorted way Rosewater and Bahari are engaged in a professional transaction.  Ironically, Bahari knows that his deliverable in this professional exchange is information, but the truth or falsehood of that information is secondary to its usefulness to both parties in this transaction.  This is a negotiation of truth and lies.  According to Bahari himself: “I had to give him enough information so that he could prove to his bosses that he was making progress, but not so much information that I would harm my contacts or the people close to me.”[65]

Throughout this ordeal, Bahari is haunted by memories of his father, Akbar, and sister, Maryam, who had been tortured under the Shah and the Islamic Republic, respectively.  Thus, journalism is part of Bahari’s personal and familial identity, a legacy from his sister who tells him his writing is more important than any political action he might take.  After seeking ideological solutions to his and his country’s suffering, he realizes that such answers are elusive, and turns instead to a very personal definition of journalism, but one that also situates him in a history he can trace back to his sister and father: “The Islamic government had been brought to power by the people … like Maryam. … there was no point in blaming everything on the government; instead I should remain the person Maryam wanted me to be: a good journalist.”[66] Bahari recounts a dream in which Maryam and a second redemptive figure visit him on his most trying night in prison.  Two angelic figures approach him, embodying sisters of mercy from Leonard Cohen’s song.  On one level, this can be read in relation to Saberi’s attempts to find truth through religion, but the distinctly Catholic implications of these sisters of mercy, both with names echoing “Mary,” are much more personal. The emphasis here is not so much on religion, as it is continuity, solidarity, and what Naghibi calls transmitted affect. In his conclusion, Bahari tells us that he saw these two figures as his newborn daughter Marianna Maryam, and his deceased sister, Maryam.  Through this anecdote, Bahari places journalism in a deeply personal and familial space, embracing journalism as an identity, and voicing a politics that links his sister to his daughter.

Once Bahari realizes his detention will not be brief, he also realizes that his captors’ demands cut at the very core of his sacred familial identity as a journalist.  One of his interrogators—an official given the pilgrim’s honorific of Haj Agha—broaches this subject with Bahari.  Haj Agha sees Western media as a “vehicle used to provoke demonstrations,” demanding that Bahari exchange his identity as journalist for his freedom.  He must affirm the regime’s claims about media espionage if he wants to be free.[67]  But he begins reasoning with himself: “I thought that I could […] embellish and exaggerate his concepts so that they would sound more ridiculous.  That way, when people heard or saw the confession, they would know it was coerced.”[68]  Turning the term duplicity literal, Bahari shows himself as doubled, describing his confession with the phrase, “I heard myself saying.”[69]  He gives his captors what they want: “One characteristic of the velvet revolutions is their relation to the media.  International media pave the way for such revolutions, and without their presence, these revolutions cannot happen.”[70]  The following chapter opens with Bahari describing himself banging his head against his cell wall, self-flagellation for having “betrayed my family, my colleagues, myself.  My father.” He asks, “What had I admitted to?”[71]

Truth and lies become even more explicitly central to Bahari’s negotiation later when he compares his own situation to that of his father who was a political prisoner under the Shah in the 1950s.  The difference between their experiences is that his father’s captors were attempting to extract the truth from him, while Bahari’s captors want him to lie: “I knew that what I was facing in Evin was very different from my father’s experience in the 1950s.  My father had had concrete information about a number of individuals and their whereabouts.  The torturers wanted him to tell the truth in order to save himself.  I was being tortured to lie about myself and others to preserve the regime’s and Khamenei’s narrative about the election.”[72]  In this key narrative moment, Bahari links his experience to a longer historical trajectory, noting the difference between the current regime and previous ones in Iran.  Moreover, like his reference to his sister Maryam as a sister of mercy, this also links Bahari to his father, underscoring the personal. Like Saberi, Bahari employs a variation of distributed or transmitted affect by linking his own experience to that of his sister and his father, suggesting that tortured confessions are not limited to the Ahmadinejad era, nor even to the Islamic Republic, but were also part of the Pahlavi regime. He gives voice to the now silenced voices of his sister and his father, and invites readers to share these emotional responses to his lived truth.



Like other Iranian diasporic memoirs, and particularly the by-now identifiable sub-genre of Iranian diasporic journalist prison memoirs, Saberi and Bahari negotiate the spaces between political, professional, and personal positions.  Within the broader context of how scholars understand Iranian diasporic life writing, these prison narratives tap into the hybrid voice and transmitted affect identified by scholars ranging from Naficy to Naghibi.  By focusing on what we see as a clearly identifiable subgenre of Iranian diasporic writing—personal memoirs by journalists (some of which deal with captivity)—we hope to add a new level of understanding of Iranian diasporic writing, and situate it among equally alternative subgenres like satire in visual and social media, reflexive war correspondence, and activist African American journalist memoirs. Like these other alternatives to standard notions of objectivity and truth, Iranian diasporic journalism challenges our accepted notions of objectivity, balance, and normative journalistic ethics.  This link between the subgenre of Iranian diasporic journalist memoirs and self-conscious journalism of satirists and others can, we hope, help to illuminate a number of these alternative forms of journalistic praxis.

Thus, Bahari and Saberi do not so much use their writing of the self as an extension of activism, but rather as a negotiation of hybridity.  They practice “balance,” that ideal of journalistic ethos, pointing out flaws in American and Iranian policy, despite the fact that Iran grossly mistreated them by putting them in jail.  Being in jail and asked to confess, both reporters are confronted with the nuances of truth.  More so than Bahari, Saberi speaks of a higher, moralistic truth. Ultimately both journalists use their profession to justify their adherence to truth and demonstrate balance and alternative perspectives. For example, they put forward truth claims that are indeed negative about Iran, arguing, for example, that the Iranian government is paranoid about journalists.  Yet, they both aspire to objectivity by giving voice to officials within Iran and describing their motivations.  In these ways they are more like typical war correspondents, strategically performing objectivity. The author’s emphasis on discussing and practicing objectivity in their narrative calls to mind Skovsgaard et al.’s assertion that the more journalists are preoccupied with objectivity, the more they serve as a “passive mirror” rather than an instigator of debate. In this regard, these journalists are very different from diasporic activists working for/with other mainstream journalists.

While we have focused on two post-2009 prison memoirs, the methods we have employed here can be applied to a wider range of memoirs from the Iranian diaspora, including Tara Bahrampour’s To See and See Again (1999), Afshin Molavi’s Persian Pilgrimages (2002), Azadeh Moaveni’s Lipstick Jihad (2005), and Hooman Majd’s The Ayatollah Begs to Differ (2008), to name only a few. A brief survey of such titles reveals at least four other memoirs that explore the dilemmas of truth, objectivity, and the politics of duplicity in the context of Iranian journalism and politics.  In The Road to Democracy in Iran, Akbar Ganji, the jailed Iranian dissident and journalist, writes, “Authoritarian systems turn lying from a vice to a virtue.”[73]  Similarly, Ramita Navai, a British-Iranian journalist, writes in City of Lies, “Let’s get one thing straight: in order to live in Tehran you have to lie. Morals don’t come into it: lying in Tehran is about survival. … All these lies breed new lies, mushrooming in every crack in society.”[74] In The Lonely War, Nazila Fathi, who narrowly escaped imprisonment in Iran, reveals one of these cracks when describing her courtship with her husband, Babak Pasha, who had recently come to Iran after having grown up in San Diego, California: “Having lived in a free country, lying hadn’t become engrained in his character the way it had become a self-protection impulse in me.”[75] And in Camelia, Save Yourself by Telling the Truth, Camelia Entekhabifard writes, “Affectation and lying were the first things we learned in school, along with great caution in the questions we asked, and the answers we gave.”[76]  These editorial and observations about the prevalence of dissimulation in Iran’s public sphere raise the question of how a variety of forces impinge upon truth and lies in the context of life-writing by Iranian journalists in diaspora.  Future work on these materials could deepen our understanding of how journalists work in the context of various forms of political pressure, particularly under the paranoid style of power at work in Iran.


[1]Rosewater was originally published in 2011 as Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival.

[2]Saman Arbadi, “What Jon Stewart Learned about Iran from Rosewater,” Voice of America, 14 November 2014,

[3]Arbadi, “What Jon Stewart Learned…”

[4]Vivian Gornick, “Truth in Personal Narrative,” in Truth in Nonfiction: Essays, ed. David Lazar (Iowa City: U of Iowa Press, 2008), 10.

[5]Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010), 242.

[6]Paul John Eakin, Foreword to On Autobiography, ed. Philippe Lejeune, trans. Katherine Leary (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 1989), ix.

[7]Lejuene, On Autobiography, 22.

[8] Lejuene, On Autobiography, 23.

[9]Juan Ramón Munoz-Torres, “Truth and Objectivity in Journalism: Anatomy of an Endless Misunderstanding,” Journalism Studies 13, no. 4 (2012): 566-582.

[10]Lauren Feldman, “The News about Comedy: Young Audiences, The Daily Show, and Evolving Notions of Journalism,” Journalism 8, no. 4 (2007): 406-427, 409-410.

[11]See, for example, Wolfgant Donsbach and Bettina Klett, “Subjective Objectivity: How Journalists in Four Countries Define a Key Term of Their Profession,” International Communication Gazette 51, no.1 (1993), 53-83;   Michael Schudson, “The Objectivity Norm in American Journalism,” Journalism 2, no. 2 (2001): 149-171; Merton Skovsgaard et al., “A Reality Check: How Journalists’ Role Perceptions Impact Their Implementation of the Objectivity Norm,” Journalism 14, no.1 (2012): 22-42; Gaye Tuchman, “Objectivity as Strategic Ritual,” American Journal of Sociology 77, no. 4 (1972): 660-679.

[12]See Pamela Schoemaker and Stephen Reese, Mediating the Message: Theories of Influences on Mass Media Content (White Plains, N.Y.: Longman, 2006); Tuchman, “Objectivity as Strategic Ritual.”

[13]See, for example Senja Post, “Scientific Objectivity in Journalism? How Journalists and Academics Define Objectivity, Assess Its Attainability, and Rate its Desirability,” Journalism 16, no. 6 (2015): 730-749;

Donsbach and Klett, “Subjective Objectivity;” Skovsgaard et al., “A Reality Check.”

[14]Skovsgaard, et al., “A Reality Check: How Journalists’ Role Perceptions Impact Their Implementation of the Objectivity,” 36.

[15]See Ryan’s “Journalistic Ethics, Objectivity, Existential Journalism, Standpoint Epistemology, and Public Journalism,” Journal of Mass Media Ethics 16, no. 1 (2001): 149-171.

[16]James Brian McPherson, The Conservative Resurgence of the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2008.), 11.

[17]Michelle Weldon, “Journalists and Memoir: Reporting + Memory,” Nieman Reports, Winter 2011: 20 – 23,

[18]Weldon, “Journalism and Memoir,” 23.

[19]Howard Tumber and Frank Webster, Journalists Under Fire: Information War and Journalistic Practices (London: Sage, 2006), 169.

[20]Gaye Tuchman, “Objectivity as Strategic Ritual,” 660.

[21]Tumber and Webster, Journalists Under Fire, 169.

[22]Calvin L. Hall, African American Journalists: Autobiography as Memoir and  Manifesto (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2009), x.

[23]Hall, African American Journalists, xviii.

[24]Meenakshi Gigi Durham, “On the Relevance of Standpoint Epistemology to the Practice of Journalism: the Case for ‘Strong Objectivity,’” Communication Theory 8, no. 2 (1998): 117-140.

[25]Hall, African American Journalists, 11.

[26]Stéphane Dufoix, Diasporas, trans. Roger Waldinger (Berkeley: UC Press, 2008), 3.

[27]See, for example, Babak Elahi, “Translating the Self: Language and Identity in Iranian-American Women’s Memoirs,” Iranian Studies 39, no. 4 (2006) 461-481; Amy Motlagh, “Towards a Theory of Iranian American Life Writing,” MELUS 33, no. 2 (2008): 17-36; Manijeh Nasrabadi, “In Search of Iran: Resistant Melancholia in Iranian American Memoirs of Return,” Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 31, no. 2 (2011): 487-97; Marie Ostby, “De-Censoring an Iranian-American Memoir: Authorship and Synchronicity in Shahriar Madanipour’s Censoring an Iranian Love Story,” Iranian Studies 46, no. 1 (2013): 73-93.

[28]Babak Elahi and Persis Karim, “Introduction,” Comparative Studies in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (special issue on Iranian diaspora) 3, no. 2 (2011): 386.

[29]Nima Naghibi, Women Write Iran: Nostalgia and Human Rights from the Diaspora (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 10, 19.

[30]Erband Abrahamian, Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran (Berkeley: UC Press, 1999), 4.

[31]Roxane Saberi, Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran (New York: Harper, 2010), 299.

[32]Saberi, Between Two Worlds, 58.

[33]Ibid., 168.

[34]See Naghibi, Women Write Iran, 67-8.

[35]Saberi, Between Two Worlds, 14.

[36]Ibid., 61.

[37]Ibid., 139.

[38]Ibid., 195.

[39]Ibid., 230.

[40]Abdulaziz Sachedina, Chair in Islamic Studies at George Mason University, connects taqīya to political quietism among Shiite communities living in Sunni majority countries.  He defines taqiya as “prudential concealment” or “precautionary dissimulation.” Sachedina limits the concept to the practice of not divulging one’s beliefs and practices rather than lying about specific actions. See Sachedina, “Prudential Concealment in Shi’ite Islam: A Strategy of Survival or a Principle?” Common Knowledge 16, no. 2 (2009): 223-246.

[41]Saberi, Between Two Worlds, 70.

[42]Ibid., 70.

[43]Ibid., 70.

[44]Ibid., 84.

[45]Ibid., 69.

[46]Ibid., 69.

[47]Ibid., 69.

[48]Ibid., 146.

[49]Ibid., 147.

[50]Ibid., 157.

[51]Ibid., 158.

[52]Ibid., 303.

[53]Ibid., 278.

[54]Ibid., 285.

[55]Maziar Bahari, Rosewater: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival (New York: Random House, 2014), 60.

[56]Ibid., 56.

[57]Ibid., 64.

[58]Ibid., 104.

[59]Ibid., 272.

[60]Ibid., 272.

[61]Ibid., 272.

[62]Ibid., 273.

[63]Bahari, Rosewater, 201.

[64]Ibid., 201.

[65]Ibid., 202-3.

[66]Ibid., 145.

[67]Bahari, Rosewater, 167.

[68]Ibid., 167.

[69]Ibid., 173.

[70]Ibid., 173.

[71]Ibid., 173.

[72]Ibid., 207.

[73]Akbar Ganji, The Road to Democracy in Iran, trans. Abbas Milani (Boston: MIT, 2008), xvii.

[74]Ramita Navai, City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death and the Search for Truth in Tehran (New York:  Public Affairs, 2014), xi.

[75]Nazila Fathi, The Lonely War: One Woman’s Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 149.

[76]Camelia Entekhabifard, Camelia, Save Yourself by Telling the Truth, trans. George Mürer (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007), 92.

Table of Contents Volume 3, Number 3

English Verso

A Special Issue Dedicated to Professor Hamid Naficy
Guest Editor: Golbarg Rekabtalaei

Introduction: Alternative Visions of Iranian Culture: A Celebration of Hamid Naficy’s Work
Golbarg Rekabtalaei

Video Sensations: The Experimental Films of Hamid Naficy
Simran Bhalla

Exilic, Diasporic, and Ethnic Media: Hamid Naficy’s Oeuvre from an International Communication Perspective
Mehdi Semati

What a Line (Drawing) Might Reveal: Hamid Naficy’s Caricatures
Michael M.J. Fischer

Through Thick and Thin: An Interview with Hamid Naficy
Kaveh Askari

Ten Theses on Iranian Cinema
Sara Saljoughi

Worlding with Images: Nexus between Art and Anthropology
Mazyar Lotfalian

Persian Reverso

Translating Foreign Sources on the Iranian Cinema into Farsi: Methodological Suggestions
Mohammad Shahba

Local Studies

The Ancient Qanat of Vazvan
Hojjat Rasouli

Literary Studies

The Persian Script and Iranian Temprament
Hamid Sahebjami

Comparing Narrative Elements of “Majnun and the Phlebotomist” in Three Masnavis
Abdol-Majid Yousefi-Nekoo

In Memoriam

Professor Ehsan Yarshater and Yarshaterian Wisdom
Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi

Table of Contents Volume 3, Number 2

English Verso

Special issue on Foucault in Iran

Foucault and Iran Reconsidered: Revolt, Religion, and Neoliberalism
Michiel Leezenberg

French Secular Thought: Foucault and Political Spirituality
Brian Turner

Risking Prophecy in the Modern State: Foucault, Iran, and the Conduct of the
Corey McCall

Foucault and Epicureanism of the Iranian Revolution
Yadullah Shahibzadeh

What is at the heart of the dispute? Reflections on the Foucault Controversy Forty Years Later
Kevin Gray and Rida Faisal

Iranian Conditions: Metaphors of Illness in Iranian Fiction and Film
Babak Elahi

Iranian Conditions: Metaphors of Illness in Iranian Fiction and Film
Babak Elahi

In Memoriam: Heshmat Moayyad, 1927-2018
Franklin Lewis

Persian Reverso

A Thunderbolt Out of the Blue: The Iranian Revolution in Foucault’s Thought
Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi

Possibilities and Limitations in Writing the History of the Present: Foucault and the Iranian Revolution
Ata Mohamed Tabriz

Foucault’ Accounts of the Iranian Revolution in Light of Islamic Historiography
Mahdi Shafieyan

Foucault and Iran
Daniel Defert

Michael Foucault’s 1979 Interview
Farès Sassine


The British Library’s Treasured Persian Collections
Cyrus Ala’i

Dariush Shayegan’s Philosophy Revisited: A Critique of the Cultural Identity of the Migrant
Ata Hoodashtian

Preface: Iranian Masculinities

We are pleased to present the Spring 2018 issue of Iran Namag as a special issue, and the first collection of essays, on the topic of Iranian masculinities.[1] Academic studies of Iranian men and masculinities mainly gained ground during the past decade or so, especially outside Iran, and following the global wave in masculinities studies.[2] Yet, critical discussions of masculinities were not unprecedented in Iran. Indeed, they go back at least to early twentieth century, when such debates were provoked by early Iranian women’s rights thinkers and activists, both women and men. As one of us argues elsewhere, Bibi Khanum Astarabadi’s Maʿāyib al-Rijāl (The Vices of Men), can be deemed the preliminary model of Iranian masculinities studies, on the grounds of her dealing with male privilege and its subsequent sense of entitlement among her contemporary men.[3] While The Vices of Men was never published during its author’s time and we are not exactly sure how far and long it circulated in manuscript form, its outright critical approach towards men is easily noticeable in numerous issues of several women’s periodicals published during the first decades of Iranian women’s movement.

A look at the Iranian women’s periodicals during the late Qajar and early Pahlavi eras (i.e., from the beginning of early women’s movement in Iran until its decline) shows that direct challenging and critique of men and male privilege prevailed in these periodicals.[4] Examples abound. For instance, Shukūfih, the first Iranian women’s periodical, in three issues entitled “Warning to Inconsiderate Men and Youth,” criticized men who—despite being expected by verse 34 of the Qur’anic surah al-Nisā to be “keepers, guides, and guardians of women”—become the “means to women’s wickedness, calamity, lasciviousness, and their reprehensible deeds.”[5] Dānish also allocated the first article in its second issue to a similar topic, entitled “Warning to Men and Youth,” while also addressing, in other issues, men’s “customs of taking care of one’s wife.”[6] The editorial of the fourth issue of Nāmih-yi Bānovān, written by Shahnāz Azad, disparagingly addressed men, showing her disappointment with “Tehran’s affluent men,” in reference to a previous editorial by her on the importance of men’s assisting women in creating girls’ schools. Apparently irritated with many unhelpful men, she posed a rhetorical question, all published in boldface, as the title of her new editorial: “Is the ambition of all rich men in Tehran not equal to three Zoroastrian women from Bombay, who donated their wealth of two kurur [one million] tomans to the building of an all-girls boarding school?”[7] In yet another case, Roshanak No‘dust, the founder of the periodical Piyk-i Sa‘ādat-i Nisvān, in a part of its first issue’s (1927) editorial, entitled “Statement of Purpose,” wrote: “Our journal will watch and criticize the unacceptable acts and behaviors of certain young men regarding women and will seriously pursue this matter.”[8] In the same issue, in an article entitled “Reason for Women’s Wretchedness and Its Remedy,” and in an attempt to answer the question “Why have we Iranian women so far been left behind from civilization and wandering the deserts of ignorance?,” the author alludes to the impact of “men’s reprehensible mentality and their despotic beliefs.”[9] In another article in the same issue, titled “Women in Our Society,” the author explains that “the body of our society is sick and aching” and “poverty, calamity, ignorance, and the corruption of the moral are eating us away like gangrene and threatening the people of this country to a horrible death and annihilation.” The author then identifies the main cause of this “spine-chilling disease” to be “women’s ignorance and illiteracy,” and in an attempt to respond to the question “Whose fault is it?,” s/he (unknown author) points criticism toward men, writing:

If the country’s men had not belittled and demeaned women with obstinacy and animosity to such degree; if they had not closed all the doors of knowledge and information to women; and if they had not wanted women only for self-enjoyment and for satisfying their sexual needs; had they usurped and trampled women’s legitimate rights at least according to reason and [the teachings in Islamic] shari‘a; had they not deemed women’s brains’ weight and their heads’ size the criterion for their weakness and inferiority; had they not composed the poem: “Women and dragons are better dead on the earth / better is the world that is clean of these two filthy creatures,” our time would not have been so, and our lives would not have such quality.”[10]

It appears that the most notable women’s periodicals in later periods, instead of expanding on and complicating these earlier critical interventions into the “man question,” mostly forgot that approach. This remarkable oblivion is seen, for instance, in the critically acclaimed Iranian post-revolutionary women’s periodical Zanān (Women), with Shahla Sherkat as its editor-in-chief, which remains one of the most significant women’s periodicals in Iran’s modern history. Indeed, in reviewing the first thirty-five issues of this magazine (from Feb. 1991 to July 1998), very few articles are found that directly address the topics of men and masculinity. Although, a few legal articles, particularly those written by Mehrangiz Kar, while informing female readers of certain legal issues and criticizing patriarchal laws, sometimes expose privileges that the Iranian Civil Law has disparately granted men.[11]

Masculinities of various forms are pervasive in cultures, Iranian included, and yet they often insidiously remain invisible and unmarked, mostly to men—whom Raewyn Connell rightly deems to be “in significant ways gatekeepers for gender equality.”[12] The metaphor of the invisibility of masculinity was first conceptualized more than two decades ago by renowned masculinity theorist Michael Kimmel in order to make a case for studying men and masculinities—a field which has ever since been variously known as masculinities studies, critical men and masculinities studies, and studies of men and masculinities.[13] We find the metaphor equally helpful in vindicating the acceleration of the bourgeoning research on Iranian men and masculinities. As Kimmel put it back then, regarding US masculinities,

Strange as it may sound, men are the “invisible” gender. Ubiquitous in positions of power everywhere, men are invisible to themselves. Courses on gender in the universities are populated largely by women, as if the term only applied to them. “Woman alone seems to have ‘gender’ since the category itself is defined as that aspect of social relations based on difference between the sexes in which the standard has always been man,” writes historian Thomas Lacquer. As the Chinese proverb has it, the fish are the last to discover the ocean.[14]

Not only that, men as men have often also escaped scholarly scrutiny. This has especially been the case with hegemonic forms of masculinity in a culture, that is, those modes of being, or enacting as, a man which have gained cultural ascendancy not only over femininity in general but also over other subordinated and marginalized versions of masculinity.[15] Such non-hegemonic masculinities can be constructed at any given time in a culture along the lines, for example, of race, class, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, physical abilities, nationality, and religious identity. (And as we will see, along with discussions of hegemonic masculinity, these non-hegemonic masculinities take center stage in many of the articles contributed to this special issue.) Prior to Kimmel’s warning, another founder of men’s studies, the late US sociologist Harry Brod, had also made a strong case for the field, noting the scarcity of scholarship on men as men. In a book chapter, titled “The Case for Men’s Studies,” published in his 1987 edited volume The Making of Masculinities: The New Men’s Studies, Brod, in his attempt to “delineate” the field of men’s studies and justify the necessity of undertaking such research, drew readers’ attention to an obvious contradiction, a fundamental paradox so to speak, in human history, were we to regard it through a gendered lens. On the one hand, Brod noticed, most of what was known and recorded in human history is by and about men, implying that human history is one of men; and yet, as gendered subjects, men had not become subject to any significant thinking and analysis.[16]

In its early phase, second-wave feminism’s focus on women and femininity ironically ended up in gender becoming synonymous with women, thus also contributing to the above invisibility of masculinity. The Women’s Liberation Movement provoked immediate debates on masculinities from the very early 1970s, often in the form of discussions on “the male role.” By 1980s, and later during the 1990s, those debates were, under the influence of gender studies, largely displaced by the critical theorizing of masculinities. Thus, masculinities studies emerged as a sympathetic, multidisciplinary field to pose critical questions about men and their relationship to power and patriarchy. We would like to emphasize the word “sympathetic” since unlike what many—especially outside the academe, but unfortunately also within it—may think, masculinities studies “is many things, but one thing it is not: a rejoinder to, or repudiation of feminism.”[17] Categorically rejecting essentialist, biologically determinist, and sociobiological justifications of gendered behaviors and relations, yet by no means overlooking the role of body—in its various shapes, forms, and colors—in informing prevailing notions of gender and sexuality, masculinities studies scholars presume the constructivist theory in gender studies, therefore also deeming sex, gender, and sexuality to be socially and culturally specific. Rebuffing claims to masculinities as natural or determined traits or behaviors, such scholars understand masculine identities primarily as acts and enactments situated in a given time and place, with possible continuities and ruptures over time. Thus, in line with the its empathy with feminism, seminal to masculinities studies are attempts to clarify the connections between and among femininities and masculinities within the context of the structures of gender and sexuality or as represented in cultural productions, and how those inter- and intra-relations work to sustain any gender hegemony; in addition, they examine how such hegemony may be challenged towards promoting or constructing more democratic gender orders and relations.

To these ends, today many feminists emphasize how undertaking masculinities studies must become a part and parcel of any effective inquiry to gender and sexuality, in order to ensure more comprehensive and insightful outcomes than otherwise.[18] As Judith Gardiner has put it, “feminists need to engage masculinity studies now, because feminism can produce only partial explanations of society if it does not understand how men are shaped by masculinity.”[19] Similar arguments can be made for Iranian and Muslim masculinities, too. More than a decade ago, while referring to the emergence of masculinities studies in the West, Shahin Gerami remarked  that “in other parts of the world, feminists and women scholars and organizations are still too involved with many problems of women’s rights to divert their attention to masculinity.”[20] She deems the study of Muslim masculinities as “necessary.”[21] Distinguishing between “Islamist identity” and “Muslim identities,” Gerami defined the former as “an abstract construct applied by others” yet the latter as “concrete, contested, and differentiated identities created through individual or group agency,” warning that “Muslim societies are never monolithic as such, never religious by definition, nor are their cultures simply reducible to mere religion.”[22] According to Gerami, studying Muslim masculinities will not only help women, gender studies, and men in Muslim societies, but it also “aid[s] Western masculinity studies in going beyond self-absorption with sexuality and in further incorporating the discourse of imperialism into the mainstream of gender discourse.”[23] Aspiring similar aims in Iranian gender studies provided the primary motivation for sending out the Call for Proposals for this issue more than a year ago.

During the past two to three decades, following the global development of gender and women’s studies, many Iranian studies scholars have extensively welcomed feminist theories to the extent that research on gender, as an essential identity element, is now well established in Iranian studies. Most such research has concentrated on Iranian women; however, especially during the last decade, and along with a global thriving of studies on men and masculinities, a gradually increasing number of Iranian studies scholars have also shown interest in considering masculinity within their gendered examinations of Iranian history, culture, and literature. Still, there was no separate volume directly addressing the subject. In the past, some Iranian studies scholars, including historians Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi and Afsaneh Najmabadi, had shown interest in addressing, and at least not ignored, masculinity alongside femininity when attending to gender in their various accounts of Iranian modernity.[24] Yet, to the best of our knowledge, the first book-length projects in Iranian studies where gender is debated with conscious awareness of the relationality of masculinities and femininities are Minoo Moallem’s Between Warrior Brother and Veiled Sister: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Cultural Politics of Patriarchy in Iran (2005) and Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Women with Mustaches and Men without Beard: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (2005), the latter recently having been followed by Najmabadi’s monograph on transgendered subjectivities in modern Iran, titled Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran (2016).[25] Lloyd Ridgeon’s monograph, Moral and Mysticism in Persian Sufism: A History of Sufi-Futuwwat in Iran (2010) is also noteworthy. Although not much interested in analyzing futuwwat (javanmardi [chivalry]) as a gendered discourse, Ridgeon builds on previous research to render a very valuable general survey of the field of Persian Sufi-futuwwat, thus facilitating any future research also on gendered dimensions of this institution and their ramifications for studies on modern Iranian men and masculinities.[26] These book publications have also been punctuated by several scholarly articles and book chapters on Iranian masculinities, in Persian and in English, written by scholars in various disciplines, some of whom are contributing to this special issue. Recently, elsewhere, one of the authors of this Preface, while arguing for the necessity of studying men and masculinities in Iranian women’s and gender studies, rendered an overview and an annotated bibliography of the emerging scholarship in Iranian masculinities studies as well as Islamic masculinities, until 2015.[27] Inviting scholars to join the conversation, the article also proposed a list of topics worthy of attention in Iranian men and masculinities studies, an abridged version of which we included in our Call for Papers for the current special issue. We are excited to see also some monographs, directly focused on Iranian masculinities, forthcoming or in progress in this field.[28] Iranian men and masculinities studies has certainly gained ground and is flourishing. Currently, this endeavour is mostly taking place outside Iran, which is understandable given the current restraints within Iran regarding the institutionalization of gender and women’s studies.[29]

Finally, a few words on the scope of the contributions made by the articles in this issue are in order. By zooming in on masculinity in a set of texts related to Iran and the Iranian cultures, all contributors provide novel insights about their texts and wider aspects of the Iranian history, culture, literature, and the arts, from which we would have otherwise been deprived. Two articles in particular, i.e., that by Arash Naraghi as well as the one by Junaid Jahangir and Hussein Abdullatif, by nature of their particular topic and corpus, exceed Iranian studies, claiming contributions to Islamic studies, too. Moreover, we hope these articles will also be read in line with what Connell calls “a world-centered rethinking of masculinities” as they all attempt to contribute to a “world-centred, rather than metropole-centred, domain of knowledge.”[30]

This special issue, in the familiar tradition of Iran Namag, includes articles both in Persian and English. The essays showcase a variety of topics and texts and are written from various disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, including in gender and sexuality studies, masculinities studies, literary studies, cultural studies, visual and film studies, cultural sociology, and Islamic studies.

The English section opens with Cameron Cross’s “The Tree Atop the Mountain: Mobad Manikan and the Elusive Promises of Masculinity.” This article illuminates the complex character of Mobad, the unfortunate king of Marv in Gurgānī’s Vis & Ramin. He exposes the inherent contradictions of masculinity and the code’s inability to deliver on the promise of its ideology. Cross’s provocative and wittily written article investigates the logic underpinning the assumption that the ideal man must perform well in matters of love and war. Cross illustrates Mobad’s character as an “enigmatic” figure with innate ironies and paradoxes. He responds to the myriad studies on Vis & Ramin that see the figure of the king as static by suggesting to read Mobad’s story through the medium of his own speech, the circumstances surrounding his actions, and the process of his demise. This way, Cross demonstrates that the certainties of the king’s ideal roles as a man, a lover, and a ruler will begin to shift. Cross’s article shines a different light on a classic work of Medieval Persian literature and is a timely contribution to a broader discussion around love and power, and their relation to the concept of masculinity.

Focusing on masculinity as a contested topic in the films of Iranian Oscar Award winning director Asghar Farhadi, Nikki Akhavan’s article “‘Prescriptive’ Masculinity?: Deception and Restraint in the Films of Asghar Farhadi,” advances an argument in the face of ongoing domestic criticisms of Farhadi’s films, whose representations of masculinity such critics have often found disconcerting in a culture where male honor often enjoys a noticeable degree of authority and respect. According to Akhavan, while the critics admit the breakdown of key social institutions such as marriage and the nuclear family, they find it especially troubling to witness inefficient men and masculinities in Farhadi’s films. Focusing on the themes of deception and collusion as the two main concepts favored by Farhadi’s critics in their analyses of his films—especially About Elly, A Separation, and The Salesman—Akhavan shows that these films explore multiple men and masculinities, yet have no interest introducing masculinity or certain types of it as a (re)solution to the damaged institution of marriage, particularly because the—often violent—assertions of masculinity are themselves a serious part of the problem.

Mahdi Tourage’s article “An Iranian Female Vampire Walks Home Alone and Disturbs Freud’s Oedipal Masculinity” discusses Anna Lily Amirpour’s debut feature film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), which is tagged as the first Iranian vampire feminist romance. In it, the unnamed chador-wearing vampire skateboards the streets of the Bad City at night, viciously attacking men who are abusive to women. Suggesting that the film exceeds “limited categorization as a vampire movie or a feminist art film,” Tourage argues that “masculinities are deconstructed and reconstituted as spectacle in this film, and in the process the patriarchal boundaries of pleasure are remapped and circulation of desire is destabilized.” While drawing on feminist psychoanalytic film theory, Tourage notes how “this theory leaves the specific contours of an alternative feminist counter-cinema unarticulated,” thus posing important questions: “Should a feminist counter-cinema embrace patriarchal techniques of representation or develop its own cinematic language? Can a feminist counter-cinema dismantle the visual regimes of patriarchal power relation and still remain faithful to aesthetics of visual pleasure?” In response, he argues that A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night enhances our understanding of feminist film theory by instantiating an example of a feminist counter-cinema. Significantly, the film’s exclusively Persian iconography, Tourage further argues, broadens debates within feminist film theory to include subjects whose epistemological roots extend beyond the horizons of Europe and the Americas.

Kaveh Ghobadi’s “On the Path to Manhood: Men and Masculinities in the Contemporary Kurdish Novel” examines sex, gender, and particularly the representations of hegemonic masculinity in two novels from Iranian Kurdistan: Zindexew (Nightmare) by Fatah Amiri and Siweyla (Suheila in Persian, proper female name) by Sharam Qawami. Nightmare tells a story of a new generation of Kurdish young men during the final years of the late Pahlavi’s reign. The protagonist suffers from a recurring nightmare in which he tortures people as a SAVAK intelligence officer. Set in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran, Siweyla is about a young man’s stifled enthusiasm when he falls in love with the eponymous character Siweyla. Relying on Judith Butler’s notion of gender performativity as well as on Raewyn Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity, Ghobadi undertakes to show the ramifications of the naturalization of the categories of “masculine” and “feminine”, while also examining patterns of hegemonic masculinity in the novels to demonstrate how this culturally ascendant masculinity “adapts itself to new conditions to guarantee men’s dominant position.” Ghobadi argues that while both novels feature innovative narrative styles and radical political standpoints as well as depict a “New Man” and a “New Woman”, they “substantially reproduce essentialist gendered subjectivities, through reinscribing a binary opposition that defines woman as man’s ‘other’.”

Taking up the issue of same-sex sensuality in Islam, in their “Homosexuality—The Emerging New Battleground in Islam,” Junaid Jahangir and Hussein Abdullatif look closely at a seminal essay by Scott Kugle entitled “Sexuality, Diversity and Ethics in the Agenda of Progressive Muslims” and its scathing critique by Mobeen Vaid, in the aftermath of the shooting at a gay bar in Orlando. This dialogue becomes a starting place for the authors to address some “misconceptions that Muslims generally have on homosexuality.” While crediting Vaid for engaging with Kugle’s article in detail, the authors criticize Vaid’s analysis, suggesting that his argument “emboldens conservative Muslim leaders to equate LGBT Muslims with Lot’s people and downplay the legitimate human need for affection, intimacy and companionship as mere urges and whims.” Through this critical intervention into Vaid’s response to Kugle’s essay, Jahangir and Abdullatif deconstruct the fourteen salient points which Vaid makes in his critique of Kugle. In response to Vaid, the authors put forward rebutting counter claims. Some of the main topics addressed concern consensus in Islam regarding same-sex relations, the issue of permanent celibacy as a test, the necessity of updating traditional jurisprudence, procreation, the Qur’anic account of Lot, the qasas (stories) literature, and the heterosexist overtones of some Qur’anic tafsir or exegesis.

In the face of the paucity of research on male sexuality in Persian literature, Claudia Yaghoobi’s article, “The Abject Outsider: The Story of Two Gay Men,” introduces three texts in which male same-sex relations are brought to the fore: Amir Soltani and Khalil Bendib’s graphic novel, Yousef and Farhad Struggling for Family Acceptance in Iran: The Story of Two Gay Men; Arsham Parsi’s memoir Exiled for Love; and For the Love of Mohammad, another memoir by Jean Beaini and Mohammad Khordadian. All three narratives deal in one way or another with the “coming out” phenomenon within the contemporary Iranian culture. In her article, Yaghoobi gives center stage to the graphic novel, while occasionally drawing on the other two memoirs and their accounts of lived experiences to support some of her arguments. She examines the narratives’ male characters in order to demonstrate how Iranian hegemonic masculinity directly feeds off the subordination of the gay masculinity. She maintains that this “subordination of gay masculinity normalizes heterosexuality while deeming homosexuality as abnormal.” By contrast, Yaghoobi foregrounds the constructive role of the religion in the novel, demonstrating how religion is not the root of the main characters’ problem. On the contrary, the authors, she posits, draw on religion, especially Islamic mysticism, to subvert heteronormative discourses about male sexuality. Finally, Yaghoobi’s article highlights the role of the unique medium used by Soltani and Bendib—that is, comics as image-text—which provides unconventional expressive power by enabling the authors to create “a combination of thoughtful images and key words” to convey their message more effectively.

Finally, in her article, “Queering the Iranian Nation: Be Like Others and Resistance to Heteronormative Nationalism,” Amy Tahani-Bidmeshki takes up the intersection of masculinity and transgendered subjectivities, which she debates through the lens of Tanaz Eshaghian’s 2008 documentary Transsexual in Iran (also known as Be Like Others). The film follows the lives of several trans Iranians, particularly Male-to-Female persons, offering “the viewer opportunities for reflection about the role of gender, sexuality, whiteness, and belonging in nation-building broadly, and in the post-1979 landscape of Iran.” Tahani-Bidmeshki employs Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined community” to argue that “Iranian regime’s acceptance of post-SRS trans Iranians as citizen-subjects presupposes the ‘imagined community’ of heteronormative Iran” and that it is an effort to “abolish homosexuality by ensuring a particular form of trans identity.” She builds on the works of Afsaneh Najmabadi regarding the historical roots of repression of public displays of homoeroticism since the Qajar Iran and in the modernization and nation-building processes to conclude that the visual arts from the time of Qajar paintings to the present-day form in the documentary Be Like Others highlight the tensions between the government and the Iranian polity for nation-building.

The Persian section of this special issue begins with the article “Wedding Trials of Masculinity in Iranian Fairy Tales” by Samin Espargham, Abolghasem Ghavam, and Samira Bameshki. Analyzing numerous Iranian fairy tales, the authors investigate the various types of arduous and grueling trials frequently appearing in these tales, through which men must prove their suitability, manliness, and prowess to marry the tales’ princesses. The authors analyze these tales from a structuralist viewpoint and with regard to their fundamental generic units of narrative structures, i.e., their mythemes. The trials, deemed as “trials of masculinity,” are intended to test the intelligence, physical and financial capacities as well as the courageousness of the young men involved. The frequency of these literary tests of manhood poses a series of questions such as: Why should men go through hard trials, and why should men be killed in the process? Why, in these tales, is the nobility of the suiters not significant? And finally, why do the brides and the suiters all come from different lands? To answer these questions, the authors examine myths and rites related to fertility, studying the mythemes appearing in numerous fairy tales and revealing their structural similarities. Through this comparative analysis, the authors postulate that the wedding trials in fairy tales are rooted in the myth of the “sacred marriage”—or the story of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and war (known in Akkadian as Ishtar) and the shepherd-king Dumuzi (Akkadian Tammuz), who became a god at some point, possibly through his marriage to Inanna and the fertilization of nature. According to this myth, the future king would have to be “healthy,” “strong,” and “fertile” in order to guarantee his ability to impregnate his bride. The authors conclude by posing questions for further research on the possible influence of Iranian folk literature on the conceptualization of gender, particularly masculinity, in contemporary Iranian culture.

In “Ekhrajiha I (The Outcasts I): The Role of the ‘Lāt’ Figure in the Construction of Islamic Republic’s Idealized Man,” Ali Papoli-Yazdi addresses Islamic Republic discourse’s strategic revisiting a section of the Iranian traditional culture, which was initially reviled in the wake of the Islamic Revolution—i.e., the social types of the lāt (rogue) and the lūtī (tough guy). The revisiting, Papoli-Yazdi shows, is aimed at achieving a peacetime ideal of masculinity, as opposed to the male basījī (volunteer member of state-operated militia) heroic figure of the Iraq-Iran war period. These processes of revisiting and reconstruction, Papoli-Yazdi argues, occur via Masoud Dehnamaki’s best-selling film Ekhrajiha I (The Outcasts I) (2007). Analyzing the film within the context of the Iranian “Sacred Defense” Cinema, Papoli-Yazdi first shows the evolution of the image of the basiji into the lāt in The Outcasts I; then, putting the film in the context of pre-revolutionary jāhilī movies,[31] he demonstrates how the jāhil character is also restored. This restoration, however, is deployed to redefine a mystical-popular image of the clergy, since, amidst many allegedly religious persons’ denial of the lāts, it is only the clergy characters who, as if through mystical intuition, are cognizant of the eventual transformation of the lāt figure in the battlefield. Moreover, by reviving the lāt as a redefined figure, Papoli-Yazdi argues, The Outcasts I illustrates the Islamic Republic’s ideal society, one in which the lāts and clerics, as if within a traditional neighborhood, can bond.

Goli Taraghi’s novella, In Another Place, is the focus of Amirhossein Vafa’s article, “The Predicament of Complicity with Hegemonic Masculinity in Goli Taraghi’s In Another Place,” where—drawing on Raewyn Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity—Vafa sheds light on a particular mode of masculinity in Taraghi’s narrative, i.e., that which becomes complicit with the hegemonic masculinity in order to benefit from what Connell deems the “patriarchal dividend.” In Another Place is a final piece in the collection of the same title that tells the story of a wealthy but unhappy businessman living with his “affluent and assertive wife” in 1998 Tehran. Discontented with the sociopolitical status quo, the novella’s male protagonist is feeling for another place. Vafa offers this character as “one of the author’s most developed male portrayals to date, as a means both to make visible and to challenge the author’s conception of urban, upper middle-class masculinities in contemporary Iran.” Vafa shows that the male protagonist fails at dissent; he concludes that the character’s failure “is in part informed by the novella’s entrapment in the binary of two opposing but completing masculinities performed by the complicit middle and upper classes and the hegemonic state apparatus.” Drawing on postcolonial feminism and masculinities theory, as advanced by such scholars as Minoo Moallem and Raewyn Connell, the author criticizes Taraghi for her feminist agenda that centers exclusively on urban, upper-middle class masculinities. This exclusive feminist agenda, Vafa maintains, is limited and elitist, “potentially informed by a ‘Western’ notion of ‘egalitarian ‘feminism’.”

Contributed by Arash Naraghi, the last article of the Persian section tackles male homosexuality in Islam. Titled “The Male Homosexuality Problematic in the Context of Contemporary Iranian Shiʿism,” the essay delves into Shiʿi jurisprudence and Qur’anic exegesis, particularly on the scripture’s narration of the story of Lot, to propose a solution for the problem of male homosexuality in Islam. First, Naraghi explores the sources of discrimination against sexual minorities within Shiʿi jurisprudence, while critically evaluating the views of some prominent contemporary Iranian Muslim scholars on homosexuality. Then, he introduces a rationalist tradition within Islamic philosophy and theology which provides a theoretical framework for approaching the problem. His proposed framework is based on two pillars: first, Ibn Rushd’s view on the relation between demonstrative reason and Shariʿa, and second, Muʿtazilites’ view on the relation between God’s nature and moral obligations. Finally, within the above framework, he suggests ways for how a devout Muslim might refute discrimination based on sexual orientation, and how Muslim communities could create a space tolerant, if not welcoming of male homosexuality.

Many of these contributors, along with other scholars interested in pursuing research on Iranian men and masculinities, will be gathering in the forthcoming Association for Iranian Studies (AIS) conference at the University of California, Irvine, during 14-17 August 2018, over four panels on “Iranian Men and Masculinities,” organized by the editors of this special issue, in order to share their research with the conference attendees. As the first collection of arguments on the topic, this special issue and the above panels are of course a starting point, which we also plan to follow with an edited volume in the near future. We will have achieved more than what we aim for if these efforts incite similar endeavours.

At the end, we would like to thank all who kindly contributed their papers for this issue as well as the anonymous reviewers and the journal’s copy editors, Susan Foster and Vahid Tolooei, for their kind help and co-operation. We are also indebted to the Iran Namag’s Editor-in-Chief, Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, for his assistance in preparation and publication of this issue and for his editing help.

[1]The authors would like to thank Raewyn Connell for her invaluable comments on an earlier version of this introduction.

[2]Mostafa Abedinifard, “Maʿāyib al-Rijāl va Żarūrat-i Mardānigī-Pazhūhī dar Muṭaliʿāt-i Zanān-i Iran” [The Vices of Men and the Necessity of Studying Men and Masculinities in Iranian Women’s Studies],” Iran Nameh 30, no. 3 (2015): 230-282.

[3]Abedinifard, “Maʿāyib al-Rijāl.” In 1894, an educated and well-known woman named Bībī Khānum Astarābādi was motivated by some female companions of hers to retort the male chauvinism of Ta’dīb al-Nisvān (The Education of Women), copies of which had obviously moved around and impacted some people. The Education of Women—of which there exist variant manuscripts with such titles as Ta’dīb al-Nisā’ (Educating/Disciplining Women), Sulūk va Sīrat-i Zan (Women’s Conduct), Ādāb-i Moʿāshirat-i Nisvān (Rules of Etiquette for Women), and Nasāyih-i Mushfiqānah (Affectionate Pieces of Advice)—was written by a male upper-class author who chose and apparently managed to remain anonymous among his contemporaries. Up until recently, scholars had no conjectures about the author’s identity. Lately, it has been argued that the text was most probably written by Khānlar Mirzā Ehtishām al-Dawlah (?-1287/1861), the 17th son of Prince Abbās Mirzā Nāyib al-Salṭanah (1168/1789-1212/1833). As evidenced by the manuscript variants, it is likely that the author chose to remain unknown lest he be reproached by women. The text continued to be re-inscribed, with minor changes, by other men who welcomed Khanlar Mirzā’s message yet who likewise preferred to be nameless. Organized in ten short thematic chapters, The Education of Women addresses and prompts men to patrol and discipline the behavior of their daughters and wives. The author’s conservative and often misogynous advice, frequently garrisoned with references to the Qur’an and hadith, ranges from counsel on women’s unquestionable obedience to their men to instructions on table etiquette and sharing a bed. Bibi Khānum, being a pro-women rights activist, and having personally tasted the patriarchal oppression in her marital relationship, complied with her friends’ request. She responded by penning a diatribe she titled as Maʿāyib al-Rijāl, i.e., The Vices of Men, also known to be the first satirical piece written by an Iranian woman. As opposed to The Education of Women, Bibi Khanum’s book is framed and informed by autobiographical information (e.g., she reveals her painful experience of bearing with her husband’s contracting their female servant as a maid/concubine). In her rejoinder, Bibi Khanum first paraphrases and criticizes the main arguments of her opponent, and then continues by expounding on what she believes to be the typical vices of men in her time. For Persian versions of both texts, see Javadi, Hasan, Manizheh Marʿashi, and Simin Shekarlu, eds. Ruyārūʼi-e Zan va Mard dar Asr-i Qājār: Du Risālah-yi Taʼdīb al-Nisvān va Maʿāyib al-Rijāl (Chicago: The Historical Society of Iranian Women (Kānūn-i Pazhūhish-i Tārīkh-i Zanān-i Irān), 1992). See also Afsaneh Najmabadi, Maʿāyib al-Rijāl: Vices of Men (Chicago: 1992). For English translations of both texts, with commentary, see The Education of Women & The Vices of Men: Two Qajar Tracts, trans. Hasan Javadi and Willem Floor (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2010).

[4]For a classical account on the women’s rights movement in Iran, which also considers men’s contributions, see Eliz Sanasarian, The Women’s Rights Movement in Iran (New York: Praeger, 1982).

[5]Abdulhossein Navayee et al., eds., Shukūfih & Dānish: First Iranian Women’s Journals (Tehran: National Library of the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1998), quote on 152.

[6]Navayee et al., Shukūfih & Dānish, 305-306, 330.

[7]Alireza Tayrani et al., eds., Women’s Periodicals (Tehran: Library, Museum and Document Center of Iran Parliament, n.d.), DVD.

[8]Banafsheh Masoudi and Naser Mohajer, eds., Piyk-i Sa‘ādat-i Nisvān (Berkeley, CA: Noqteh, 1390/2011), quote on 2.

[9]Masoudi and Mohajer, Piyk-i Sa‘ādat-i Nisvān, 21-22.

[10]Masoudi and Mohajer, Piyk-i Sa‘ādat-i Nisvān, 27-28. For a more detailed discussion and further examples, see Abedinifard, “Maʿāyib al-Rijāl.”

[11]For a digitized archive of many issues of Zanān, see

[12]Raewyn Connell, “Change Among the Gatekeepers: Men, Masculinities, and Gender Equality in the Global Arena,” Signs 30, no. 3 (2005): 1801–1825, quote on 1802.

[13]R. W. Connell, Jeff Hearn, and Michael Kimmel, eds., Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005); David Buchbinder, Studying Men and Masculinities (London: Routledge, 2013).

[14]Michael Kimmel, “Invisible Masculinity,” Society 3, no. 6 (1993): 28-35; quote on 29.

[15]It is no exaggeration to regard the theory of “hegemonic masculinity” as the most influential theory in the field of masculinities studies so far. For an overview of this theory, some criticisms of it, the main theorist’s response to them, and the theory’s probable prospects in gender studies in the future, see R. W. Connell and James Messerschmidt, “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept,” Gender and Society 19, no. 6 (2005): 829-859. For a more recent article by Connell on hegemony and masculinity in relation to imperialism and neoliberal global power, see Raewyn Connell, “Masculinities in Global Perspective: Hegemony, Contestation, and Changing Structures of Power,” Theory & Society 45, no. 4 (2016): 303–318.



[16]Harry Brod, “The Case for Men’s Studies,” in The Making of Masculinities: The New Men’s Studies, ed. Harry Brod (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1987), 39-62. Commenting on an earlier version of this preface, Raewyn Connell remarks: “There was an older European questioning of masculinity, as well as femininity, which Harry Brod misses—it’s very clear in the work of Freud and Adler.”

[17]Helena Gurfinkel, “Masculinity Studies: What It Is and Why Would a Feminist Care?”

Masculinity Studies: What Is It, and Why Would a Feminist Care?

For the interplay of feminist theory and masculinities theory, see especially, Nancy Dowd, The Man Question: Male Subordination and Privilege (New York: New York University Press, 2010).

[18]See, for example, Dowd, The Man Question; Judith K. Gardiner, ed., Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory: New Directions (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002); Peter F. Murphy, ed., Feminism and Masculinities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[19]Judith K. Gardiner, “Introduction,” in Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory: New Directions, ed. J. K. Gardiner (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 1-29; quote on 9.

[20]Shahin Gerami, “Mullahs, Martyrs, and Men: Conceptualizing Masculinity in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Men and Masculinities 5, no. 3 (2005), 257–74, quote on 258.

[21]Shahin Gerami, “Islamist Masculinity and Muslim Masculinities,” in Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities, eds. M. Kimmel, J. Hearn and R. W. Connell (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005), 448–57, quote on 456.

[22]Gerami, “Islamist Masculinity,” 448.

[23]Gerami, “Islamist Masculinity,” 456.

[24]For some such works by these authors, see Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Reading ‘Wiles of Women’ Stories as Fictions of Masculinity,” in Mai Ghoussoub and Emma Sinclair-Webb, eds., Imagined Masculinities: Male Identity and Culture in the Modern Middle East (London: Saqi Books, 2000), 147-68; Afsaneh Najmabadi, The Story of the Daughters of Quchan: Gender and National Memory in Iranian History (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998); Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Naqsh-i Zan bar Matn-i Mashrutah,” Nimeye Digar 2, no. 3 (1997): 72-121; Afsaneh Najmabadi, “The Erotic Vaṭan [Homeland] as Beloved and Mother: To Love, To Possess, and To Protect,” Comparative Studies of Society and History 39, no. 3 (1997): 442-67; Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Digarguni-i Zan va Mard dar Zaban-i Mashrutiyat,” Nimeye Digar 2, no. 2 (1995): 72-105; Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Zanha-yi Millat: Women or Wives of the Nation?,” Iranian Studies 26, no. 1/2 (1993): 51-71; Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Historiography (Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001); Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, “Going Public: Patriotic and Matriotic Homeland in Iranian Nationalist Discourses,” Strategies: Journal of Theory, Culture, and Politics 13, no. 2 (2000): 175-200; Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, “Nigaran-i Zan-i Farang,” Nimeye Digar 2, no. 3 (1997): 3-71; Mohamad Tavakli-Targhi, “Zani Bud, Zani Nabud: Bazkhani-yi Vujuhb-i Niqab va Mafasid-i Sufur,” Nimeye Digar 14 (Spring 1991): 77-110; Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, “Imagining Western Women: Occidentalism and Euro-Eroticism,” Radical America 24, no. 3 (1990): 73-87.

[25]See, respectively, Minoo Moallem, Between Warrior Brother and Veiled Sister: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Politics of Patriarchy in Iran (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Afsaneh Najmabadi, Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); Afsaneh Najmabadi, Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014).

[26]See Lloyd Ridgeon, Morals and Mysticism in Persian Sufism: A History of Sufi-Futuwwat in Iran (London: Routledge, 2010). Ridgeon has also brought together English translations of three medieval Persian futuwwat-nameh texts (books on futuwwat/javanmardi [chivalry]), with a detailed introduction to the book, and with each text being preceded by a separate introduction. See Lloyd Ridgeon, Jawanmardi: A Sufi Code of Honour (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011).

[27]See Mostafa Abedinifard, “Maʿāyib al-Rijāl.” Since that article was published, more articles and book chapters have appeared on Iranian masculinities. Some include Christopher Gow, “Real Men: Representations of Masculinity in Iranian Cinema,” Asian Cinema 27, no. 2 (2016): 165–76; Nagihan Haliloğlu, “Activist, Professional, Family Man: Masculinities in Marjane Satrapi’s Work,” in Uwe Bläsing, Victoria Arakelova, Matthias Weinreich, eds., Studies on Iran and The Caucasus: In Honour of Garnik Asatrian (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 495-506; Amy Motlagh, “What Kind of Crisis?: Marriage and Masculinity in Contemporary Iranian Cinema,” in Kristin Celello and Hanan Kholoussy, eds., Domestic Tensions, National Anxieties: Global Perspectives on Marriage, Crisis, and Nation (New York, NY: Oxford University press, 2016), 192-211; Nacim Pak-Shiraz, “Shooting the Isolation and Marginality of Masculinities in Iranian Cinema,” Iranian Studies 50, no. 6 (2017): 945-967; Sivan Balslev, “Population Crisis, Marriage Reform and the Regulation of Male Sexuality in Interwar Iran,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 45, no. 2 (2018): 121-137; Sivan Balslev, “Dressed for Success: Hegemonic Masculinity, Elite Men and Westernisation in Iran, c. 1900–40,” Gender & History 26, no. 3 (2014): 545-564; Sivan Balslev, “Gendering the Nation: Masculinity and Nationalism in Iran during the Constitutional Revolution,” in Meir Litvak, ed., Constructing Nationalism in Iran: From the Qajars to the Islamic Republic (London: Routledge, 2017), 68-85.

[28]Minoo Moallem has been working on a monograph on masculinities in Iran-Iraq War movies. A chapter of hers is forthcoming in 2019: Minoo Moallem, “Staging Masculinity in Iran-Iraq War Movies,” in Aaron Magnan-Park, Gina Marchetti, and Tan See-Kam, eds., Handbook on Asian Cinema. Sivan Balslev’s monograph Iranian Masculinities: Gender and Sexualities in Late Qajar and Early Pahlavi Iran is under contract with Cambridge University Press. And Wendy DeSouza’s book Unveiling Men: The Emergence of Modern Masculinity in Twentieth-Century Iran is forthcoming by Syracuse University Press.

[30]Raewyn Connell, “Margin Becoming Centre: For a World-centred Rethinking of Masculinities,” NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies 9, no. 4 (2014): 217-231.

[31]A sub-genre of the “tough guy” genre in prerevolutionary Iranian cinema. See Hamid Naficy, “Males, Masculinity, and Power: The Tough-Guy Movie Genre and Its Evolution,” in A Social History of Iranian Cinema, vol. 2 (Durham: Duke University Press), 261–324.


Table of Contents

English Verso

On Abbas Kiarostam

Transcending Cinema: Kiarostami’s Approach to Filmmaking
Maryam Ghorbankarimi

Trajectory of Smooth Female Spaces within the Striated Masculine in Kiarostami’s Ten
Pouneh Saeedi

Waves of Stasis: Photographic Tendency and Cinematic Kindness in Kiarostami’s Five (Dedicated to Ozu)
Donna Honarpisheh

Kiarostami and Love on the Iranian Screen
Proshot Kalami

On the Borders of Documentary and Fiction in Kiarostami’s Homework and Close-Up
Persheng Sadegh-Vaziri

Abbas Kiarostami’s “Lessons of Darkness”: Affect, Non-Representation, and Becoming-Imperceptible
Tanya Shilina-Conte


An Approach to Humour in Persian Literature
Homa Katouzian

Transition from Orient to the Third World: Sketch of a Phenomenological Study of a Historical Fall
Tanya Shilina-Conte


Persian Reverso

On Abbas Kiarostami

Khatereh Sheibani

Altering Perspectives: The Documentary and Fictional Components in Abbas Kiarostami’s Works
Saeed Aghighi

The Contradictions of Unactoricity: Actoricity in Kiarostami’s Films
Robert Safarian

Abbas and ‘his’ Bench: A Short Memoir on Abbas Kiarostami’s Latest Film in China
Hossein Khandan

Wind: Serentdipity and Cinephilia
Negar Mottahedeh

Persian Variorum

Ideological Agendas in Historiography of Early Safavid Era: Study of Tarikh-i Iran Dar Asr-i Safavi
Behzad Karimi

In Praise of Form and Deprecation Content: critiquing Rastakhiz- Kalamat
Hamid Sahebjami

Table of Contents

English Verso

My Kurdish Brother, Amir Hassanpour
Thomas M. Ricks

The Raven of Separation: Arabic Poetic Topoi and the Persian Courtly Tradition
Asghar Seyed-Gohrab

Interiority and the City Center: Locating the Gulistan Harem During Nassir al-Dīn Shah’s Reign
Leila Pourtavaf

Arānī, Kasravī and Demonic Irrationality: Discourses of Reason and Scientific Explanation
Arshavez Mozafari


Persian Reverso

Namag: A Concise Etymology and Semantic
Nima Jamali

Culture and Democracy
Ali Mirsepasi

The Western Problematic and the Idea of Everyday Culture and Life in the Post-Revolutionary Iran
Mohammad Reza’i and Hadi Aqajanzadeh

Divorce as Seen through Women’s Cinematic Lens
Nasrin Rahimieh

European Racial Thought, Iranian Nationalists, and Theories of Arab Invasion and Decline
Reza Zia-Ebrahimi

Kamal Khojandi, Reza Quli Khan Hedayat, and Muhammad Hashim Asef Rustam al-Hukama
Jalil Nozari

Bloodletting Practices in the Iranian History of Medicine
Mohsen Farsani

The Seven Cities of Love
Hamid Sahebjami

My Kurdish Brother, Amir Hassanpour

Amir. Your name is so simple. “The Commander.” But, in fact, it’s more complicated than that. Your father changed it from Omar to Amir knowing that you would be in a Shi’a land in Tehran for the last years of your high school. In fact, there was nothing simple about you at all.

Born on November 17, 1943 in Mahabad, Iran, you reached your seventy-third birthday this year, dear friend, and your life has been full of accomplishment. We all sat at your hospital bed standing watch as you slipped away in your long struggle with cancer, eyes closed and breathing heavy though stable and calm through it all. Then, at 5:49 on Saturday morning on June 24 of this year, you quietly left us weeping by your side motionless with blinding grief and shaken by the thought that you were no longer on this planet. Peace in Paradise. Oh yes, I know how you would dislike these words, but you know that the Persian word, pardis, is the root of our English word. When I first met you, I heard your name was “Kak Amir,” a Kurdish version. Then, as time went on, we all began to call you “Amir Khan,” in a reference to your faux military status which you scorned. You got even with me by naming me, a Peace Corps volunteer of all things, “Tom Khan.”

I met you on one of those frigid Zagros mountain days in December 1964. You were comfortably ensconced in your home reading, just down the alleyway from the bazaar. Bob Abramson, the other Peace Corps English teacher, led me to that heavy wooden door of your house and banged the knocker loudly. We had tea and cookies that day according to polite society customs, just Bob, you and me. We came to your house a few more times again, but usually met in our second-floor apartment in the old bank building on the main street.  After introductions and brief mention about what I was going to do in Mahabad, you corrected me about the town’s name. “Tom, we actually call this place “Cool Spring” or soujboolak in Kurdish.”  This was just the beginning of the avalanche of information on a myriad of subjects from Amir.

From these early days of our brotherhood, there began a long list of historical and archaeological   discussions about the writings of British, Australian, French, and Italian historians aligned with the Communist Party or from Socialist activist backgrounds, including your all-time favorite work, Man Makes Himself, by the Australian-born Marxist scholar, V. Gordon Childe. We spoke about that and several other of Childe’s writings on Labor and Civilization. All these and more were new to me though I had studied Tomistic philosophy and French literature at Notre Dame in Indiana. You had asked me if I had read much fiction and I had said some American and French as school requirements. I had then asked you the same question, and you said very little except in school. And so, for the next fifty-two years, we discussed a range of topics in history, anthropology, philosophy, archaeology, and in Marxism as well as any number of social sciences, debating their virtues and failings. Religion did not figure high at all in these discourses so when I told you that I had been in Mashhad for the previous eight months, and that some of my Persian friends took to calling me “Mashti Tom,” you had looked disapprovingly on such mirth, and announced that for you, I was only “Tom Khan.” We never spoke again about Mashhad or pilgrimage sites focusing instead on civilizations, dialectical materialism and class struggle in nearly all that we read the years I spent in Mahabad. We also talked a lot about socialism and the communist party of Iran, the Tudeh Party.

Bob was amused by our exchanges and debates, interjecting his questions and comments about the present Kurdish conditions, society and economy, and the doings of the Pahlavis in Tehran and the countryside or rusta. Together, Bob and I recalled the beginnings of Peace Corps, our training programs in Oregon and Michigan respectively, and our own unpreparedness for anything Iranian, much less Kurdish. We both had had our brief introduction to the linguistics of second language learning, but that did not count for much. We were Bachelors of Arts and Sciences, or, as Peace Corps dubbed us, “AB generalists” thrown into developing societies of the Third World.

We were witnesses, as Amir observed, of the modernity process of global outreach of industrial countries to pull other countries into rapidly expanding capitalist relations, and if we looked closely, we might observe various forms of resistance to this process. These discussions and others with Amir made me rethink so many of my older assumptions, and he became our main source of information about “Modern Iran” and the Kurdish resistance movement in Iran and in the Middle East, particularly in northern Iraq and eastern Turkey, countries that bordered northwestern Iran. It was Amir who introduced us to the fairly recent history of Mahabad and its singular Mahabad Republic of Kurdistan of 1946 and the reasons for its rise and fall. He took us to the grave site of Ghazi Mohammad, the leader of the Republic, who was executed by the Pahlavi forces in the winter of 1946.

Throughout the spring and summer of ’65, Bob and I saw Amir almost daily. As one of our colleagues and an increasingly close friend, he was introducing us to his perspective on the limited rights of Kurdish people as a minority under Pahlavi rule, the issues of US and Iran relations and military advisors, the Vietnam War, the role of women and families in Iranian society, the daily forms of resistance to modernity, and the complicated gender and family relations in Iran. In fact, these discussions were both instructive and amusing at the same time. My first encounters in Mahabad were with some of Bob’s friends whom he had befriended in evening get-togethers in their homes over the previous fall term before I had arrived. On nearly my second or third day in Mahabad, I met a Kurdish banker friend of Bob’s who began our conversation with “the rules of the street.” I was told that there are two languages spoken in Mahabad, “Kurdish and English.” The second rule was politics was everything – he wanted to know why the CIA killed President Kennedy. Stunned by both “rules” as no one had broached such matters to me while I was in Mashhad, I answered that I was willing to learn Kurdish though I had been studying Persian for nearly a year by then, and had no idea how to get Kurdish language materials, and secondly, had a few notions about Kennedy’s death none of which included the CIA!  From these early days in Mahabad, I had learned some important lessons about Kurdish nationalism, and Iran-US politics.  Bob and I had met our first Kurdish scholar, companion, and teacher, dear Amir. It was over time that Amir and I became brothers in many ways.

Amir had just completed his BA degree in English from the University of Tehran, and following those four years, he went on to complete a year at the Tehran Teacher Training College. Now, he was assigned to teach in Mahabad’s secondary schools or at the dabirestan level. In short, we and Amir had become colleagues in teaching English as a second or third language to the young Kurdish and few Azeri and Armenian adventuresome high school students in that remote mountain town comprised of 90% Kurdish Mokri and Debokri Sorani-speaking peoples of Kurdistan. We discussed why there were no more pastoralists in Kurdistan as that was part of an older period of history. While some texts on Iran do talk about the Kurdish tribes as do the American diplomats in their consular reports, Mr. Eagleton, a past US consul in Tabriz does not use those words in his introduction to Kurdish language. Come to think of it, in trying to follow the advice of Bob’s banker friend, I had asked the Peace Corps Office in Tehran to send me a Kurdish grammar and funds for a Kurdish language tutor. The reply was a little stunning – the PC Office told me that since Kurdish is a dialect of Persian, there are no funds for dialects so they could not support my language studies. I then asked my twin brother Ted in the States to find Professor Ernest McCarus’ Kurdish grammar used in his classes at the University of Michigan where he taught, and send a copy to me. My brother found the book and sent it.  It was a lesson in the Iranian linguicide of Kurdish. I left it behind with Amir when I returned to the States in 1966.

Proud of his town’s historical role in the on-going Kurdish national struggle for self-determination and the survival of Kurdish as an endangered world language, Amir’s home was stocked with Persian, Kurdish and English works on a wide spectrum of topics hidden away from Iranian security and public eyes. I found that unlike so many other educational colleagues, he had an unquenchable thirst for books. He was equally enthusiastic about Marxist theories and world view. I found that in those two years in Iran and for the rest of my life that there was just no one else like Amir Khan.

It was Amir Khan who led us to a summer excursion into the Zagros plateau north of Mahabad in search of ancient caves with some Peace Corps friends from distant Rezayeh who were also engaged in English training. During the summer months, we also spent time in picnics with our Kurdish, Gilaki, and Persian teacher and professional friends in the valleys and dells of the surrounding mountain streams in laughter-filled story-telling and mountain-naming mixed babble of English and Kurdish according to the “rules.”  In more somber moments, Amir related some of his experiences during his Tehran stay at the university, such as the time when he and several other Kurdish undergrads asked to be included in the underground students’ socialist club mainly followers of the forbidden Tudeh party – they were accepted immediately with another kind of “rule” or understanding about their use of Kurdish. They were told by the Persian-speaking students to not speak Kurdish, or there “would be consequences.” It was not the first time that I began to learn of the factionalism in the Iranian student movement.

By the fall of 1965, Amir and I were deep into our discussions about Marx and Marxist theories of historical change and historical generalizations with a growing list of new works for me. I had already discovered Eric Hobsbawm and George Rudé, part of the British “social historians” in their eye-opening work on the threshing machine protest by workers of Sussex near Kent, England. They had based their research mainly on the police records of the striking peasants in their co-authored work, Captain Swing –  the mysterious signature found at the bottom of the warnings that appeared on local parsons’ doors of the possible burning of local wheat fields using threshing machines and not human labor. This wonderful work was my introduction to the English social history school while I was in Mashhad where I had by chance met the British Consul and took some liberties with the British Council’s library. Before the year was out, Amir and I had read and discussed other British and French historians’ works, such as E. H. Carr’s seminal work on What Is History?, E. P. Thompson’s recently published The Making of the English Working Class, and the equally seminal work of Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft. We promised each other to continue reading the English Social Historians and the French Annales school historians after I left Mahabad at the end of my two-year obligation that had begun in February 1964. We also completed a translation project of a Kurdish romance story in the midst of our school work that included Bob and me conducting Friday (a holiday) classes in acquired language learning with all the English teachers of Mahabad and nearly free evening Adult English classes in one of the high schools for anyone interested in the subject. As with everything else, Amir was a fellow teacher in both Teacher and Adult Evening classes.

The English translation of a Kurdish folk tale that Amir and I did was his idea. The story, Khadj va Siamand, in both Persian and Kurdish, was based on a popular Kurdish ballad concerning the youth of Kurdistan in Sorani Kurdish. Khadj was the attractive young daughter of a wealthy Kurdish merchant who had forty sons from his four wives as well as several daughters. Khadj was the most beautiful of them all. Siamand, on the other hand, was a strapping young and good-looking shepherd from a neighboring village who saw Khadj and other young Kurdish girls coming to the communal well on the outskirts of the town. In the midst of the collective spring flower gathering, and the summer harvests from nearby fields, Khadj and Siamand became more acquainted, falling in love with each other over time. They then planned to run away to the mountains to live together, fearing in part her father’s outrage and the forty brothers of Khadj whom she knew would be close behind. In the eventual confrontation in the mountains, first Siamand fell in combat and then, in despair, Khadj leapt to her death off the mountain in the end. We translated the text into polished English and ran off copies of the ballad in Persian and English for the advanced students in the high schools – we were forbidden to use Kurdish by the principal. The mimeographed story was a hit, needless to say. I told Amir that I was sending our translation off to the Netherlands to be published. I found out later that the translation was only listed in a bibliography of Kurdish literature and not published. That would have to wait until later.

By February 1966/1345, I was getting ready to leave Mahabad and then Tehran for the States. Before doing so, Amir and I had decided to translate small parts of E. H. Carr’s What is History?  and V. Gordon Childe’s Man Makes Himself into Persian over the next year. We wanted the social studies teachers and advanced students to benefit from these authors. Amir was to do most of the translations, while I was to work on some bibliographic information. We planned for a translation into Kurdish but it was never done as we were both too busy in graduate programs. We did finish the two translations of Carr and Childe into Persian that I left with Amir.

Little did I realize how important we would become to each other in the next three decades. By 1975, I had married Janice and completed my doctorate at Indiana University in Middle East history with a minor in Persian Studies with a US grant while Amir had gone to the University of Illinois at Chamagne-Urbana in the mid-1970s. While Amir continued his studies in Communication, I was soon hired first by Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and then by Georgetown University in DC. We met a couple of times first in Chicago at the 1975 American Historical Association meeting, and then again at Illinois University as the Iranian Revolution was beginning in 1977/1356. I was the one of the guest speakers of the Confederation of Iranian Students – US at the University of Illinois and took part in one of their campus-wide conferences on Iran.

By 1979/1358, in the midst of the Iranian Revolution, like so many other Iranian students, Amir had returned to Iran with hopes for a better Iran in his mind and heart. In 1986, Amir completed his Illinois doctorate program, and, with his family, immigrated to Canada, settling first in Toronto, then in Windosr and Montreal, and finally back to Toronto taking teaching positions in those cities’ universities in Communication and Middle Eastern studies. In 1992, Amir published his revised thesis with the new title of Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan, 1918-1985 in which he made a very strong case for the role of a nation-state in the evolution and survival of languages such as Kurdish. He also argued for the standardization of Kurdish language that would contain the northern/southern Kurdish dialects of Kirmanji and Sorani.  Amir continued to read and write about Marxism and applying his Marxist perspective in his writings and teachings in his many articles on oral traditions of Kurdistan, linguistics, linguicide, genocide, Turkish and Iranian policies, the role of language formation in the media, in song and music throughout his academic career at the University of Toronto. His final work of articles in Farsi was published in April 2017, which was particularly special to him and is entitled, Bar Faraz-e Mooje Nuvin-e Kumunism [On the New Wave of Communism].

On reflection, Amir was my brother, colleague and closest academic life companion. We had left the level of normal friendship long ago during our continued conversations, debates and discussions. Amir had radicalized me in both my politics and historical research. Many of my American Peace Corps volunteer companions had remarked, rightfully, that the Peace Corps and their Iran experiences had “changed their lives.” For me, Amir, Kurdistan, and contemporary Iranian struggles for political and economic independence had changed my life. My dear mother took about three seconds upon my return to our Lafayette, Indiana home after my two-year Peace Corps absence to say that, “Tom, you’ve changed.” She was absolutely correct. It took take me several years to completely understand that statement as “Yes, Mom, I have changed because of my Kurdish brother and the Iranian people’s life and death struggles against various imperial powers including the United States.”

Sometime after I had left Georgetown University and was invited to Birzeit University in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that I understood how much of Amir’s world view or jahan bini influenced my thoughts as an analyst of contemporary US foreign policy as well as an historian of 18th century Iran. Amir and I had also discussed Immanuel Wallerstein’ s world systems analysis of center and periphery dialectics and the role of US development polices within Washington’s Consensus and world geopolitics that contributed to “underdevelopment”. We continued our discussions of Andre Gunnar Frank, Paul Baran, Samir Amin and Walter Rodney regarding dependency theories and US Agency for International Development, or US AID. My own reading of these political economic theories was in relation to historical studies of greater Asia and world historians’ work over the past three centuries as became evident in my courses and more recent writings.

Thus, Amir’s death thus has left a “hollow in the land” according to the Southern African adage. I would add that his death has now left a deep hollow in all the hearts and minds of those who knew Amir Hassanpour. His many intellectual feats, his own radical perspective of this world and its affairs, a Marxist perspective from beginning to end, and his amazing historical imagination and humor will not pass as quickly as he did physically in Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. He, more than any of my life friends and acquaintances, fulfilled Samad-e Behrangi’s famous dictum in his international literary work, Mahi Siyah-ye Kuchulu, (The Little Black Fish) when the Little Black Fish notes towards the end of the story, “Living or dying is not that important. What is important are the influences one may have on the lives of other.”

So, beduwa and goodbye, Kak Amir, for now. I long to be with you again someday, my dear Kurdish friend, colleague, and companion. I am bowed from grief for Shahrzad and Salah, and all of Amir’s fine students for their and our immense loss.

Table of Contents

English Verso

“Not about, but for workers”: Media, Labour and Politics in Post-2009 Iran
Zep Kalb

“Translator’s Invisibility”: Strategies of Adaptation in Persian versions of Indian Tales from the Mughal Period: King Vikrama’s Adventures and Ocean of the Streams of Stories
Anna Martin

Hafez and Sufi Hermeneutics
Daryoush Ashouri

Persian Recto

Bonyad Monthly and the Depoliticization of Gharbzadegi
Ali Mirsepasi and Mehdi Faraji

Shafiei-Kadkani between Poetry and Prose
Reza Ghanadan

The Untold Stories of the Wolf: A Comparative Study of “The Wolf”
Nasser Maleki, Bahman Fallah, and Meraj Kazemi

Shahrzad: Pop Culture, Media Culture, and the Representation of Gender in the Digital Age
Khatereh Sheibani

Cyrus in Judeo-Persian Literature
Nahid Pirnazar

Reconstructing Ancient Iranian History through the Deciphering of the Avesta and the Fahlaviyyāt
Abolala Soudavar

Qur’anic Perspectives on the ‘Nafs’ and the ‘Ruh’
Esmail Tabibi

Land Reform and Agrarian Transformation in Iran, 1962–78

Amir Ismail Ajami has worked at Plan Organization, Tehran; University of Tehran; Pahlavi University, Shiraz; the Ministry of Agriculture, Tehran; and the University of Arizona. His research interests focus on rural social change, peasant studies, agrarian transition, and rural social stratification. Selected publications include Shishdangi: Pazhuhishi dar zaminah-yi jamashinasi-yi rusta’I (Sixdangi: A Study in the Field of Rural Sociology) (Pahlavi University Publications, 1969); “Differential Fertility in Peasant Communities: A Study of Six Iranian Villages” (Population Studies, 2011); and “From Peasant to Farmer: A Study of Agrarian Transformation in an Iranian Village” (International Journal of Middle East Studies, 2005).

The current literature on the 1960s Iranian Land Reform program is highly divided, especially regarding the program’s sociopolitical and socioeconomic outcomes. During the Pahlavi regime, Land Reform was viewed by the opposition groups with cynicism and disbelief or as pro-regime propaganda. Following the fall of the regime in 1979, revolutionaries blamed Land Reform as the primary cause of the destruction of Iranian agriculture, mass rural migration, and peasant poverty. The most contentious debates on Land Reform likely arise largely from the multi-faceted and intertwined nature of its outcomes. The reform program’s implementation not only overhauled the prevailing landownership and tenure system, nizam-i arbabra’yati, but also generated complex changes in agrarian relations, modes of production, and rural socioeconomic and sociopolitical structure. Besides these complexities, a lack of reliable data has often thwarted scholarly efforts to make an adequate empirical assessment of the program’s consequences.

As an illustration, the performance of agriculture in the post-reform period is a very contentious issue. Some scholarly works suggest agricultural stagnation[2] while others show positive growth rates for agriculture of about 3.9 to 4.8 percent per annum.[3] Yet despite considerable disagreement on the reform consequences, there is general consensus on some major transformations: Land Reform abolished traditional landlord–peasant relations, nizam-e arbab ra’iyati; substantially increased peasant proprietorship; and markedly weakened landlord domination over peasants.[4]

The reform also contributed to further development of commercial farming.[5] Still, the reform critics point to notable drawbacks such as the increased concentration of landholdings, continued prevalence of subsistence farming, and substantial rise in landlessness.[6] The disintegration of peasant production teamwork, boneh, also stands out as a major negative impact.[7]

The reform has been also criticized for having excluded the peasants who did not hold cultivation rights, khwushnishins. Consequently, over one-third of all the rural families fell outside the beneficiaries of land redistribution.[8] Land Reform is further blamed for massive rural-urban migration.[9]

The present article attempts to shed light on some major contentious issues surrounding Land Reform outcomes by investigating the program’s impact, specifically on peasant beneficiaries, commercial farming, agricultural production, and rural social class structure. I will examine scholarly works and analyze macro-level statistical data as well as the findings of some village-level case studies for this purpose.


Peasant Beneficiaries

As a result of the three stages of Land Reform implementation, the ownership of an estimated 6–7 million hectares of agricultural land, about 52–62 percent of the total in Iran, was transferred to an estimated 1.8 to 1.9 million sharecroppers and tenants, nasaq-dars, approximately 92 percent of the total of sharecroppers and tenants in Iran.[10] However, the amount of land that peasants acquired varied significantly, as land distribution was based on their existing occupancy rights, nasaq, which differed considerably both within and among the villages. Consequently, the majority of peasants, 64.4 percent of the total number of landowners, received less than 5 hectares, accounting for 14.8 percent of the total area; 17.3 percent acquired holdings of 10–50 hectares, occupying 45.7 percent of the country farmland; and the remaining 17.3 percent obtained holdings of 5–10 hectares, which represented 18 percent of the total area.[11] (The remaining 1 percent were landowners with holdings of 50 or more hectares and therefore were not considered peasants.)

The amount of land received by peasant beneficiaries in various regions of the country also varied greatly, as indicated by the findings of a field investigation conducted in nine provinces, ostans, by the Rural Research Center in the Ministry of Agriculture.[12] The results show that while the peasants in the nine provinces received, on an average, 5.05 hectares each, the corresponding figures for Gilan, Isfahan, Fars, and Hamadan were 1.1, 2.4, 4.1, and 8.9 hectares, respectively.[13] Besides the unequal land redistribution, there existed vast variation in regional agro-climatic and soil conditions, peasants’ access to irrigation water, agricultural credits, cropping patterns, and proximity to towns. Thus, the impact of Land Reform on peasant beneficiaries as a whole defies any conclusive assessment. Therefore, peasant beneficiaries are divided into three groups based on the size of their landholdings: mini-farm holders, smallholders, and large-farm holders. This distinction is necessary in order to evaluate the reform effects on each group distinctly.

Breaking down peasants into subgroups by size of holdings alone is bound to be unsatisfactory and has to be taken with much caution.[14] Yet this breakdown is the necessary choice because all agricultural census data is organized by the size of landholdings. In light of the above classification, owners of plots less than 2 hectares composed 42.6 percent of beneficiaries while occupying merely 4.3 percent of total arable land and forming the bulk of poor peasants. Smallholders owning plots ranging from 2 up to 10 hectares constituted 39.1 percent of beneficiaries, occupying 28.6 percent of land. Large-farm holders with 10-to-50-hectare farms accounted for 17.3 percent of beneficiaries, occupying 45.7 percent of total arable land in the mid-1970s.[15]

Still, the three groups share certain features. For instance, crop variation showed no significant difference between mini-farm holders and smallholders. Both also depended on family labor, although smallholders occasionally hired laborers. Furthermore, in the mid-1970s, about 83 percent of all land under annual crops was allotted to cereals; the dominance of cereal production is evident in the three groups of beneficiaries.[16]

A vast majority of mini-farm holders were adversely affected by Land Reform, partly because their holdings became smaller, moving from an average of 0.76 hectares in 1960 to 0.66 hectares in 1974. This is reflected in the number of their holdings, which increased by 41 percent relative to their area, which increased 23 percent.[17]

Their holdings were clearly much smaller than the size generally considered essential to meet basic subsistence needs, even in Gilan, which has abundant rainfall. In addition to the smallness of their farms, mini-farm holders were faced with irrigation difficulties, lack of access to low-cost credit, and land fragmentation, all of which hindered them in improving their farm production. Moreover, their plight was exacerbated by the government’s negligence as manifested by unfavorable allocation of agricultural credits to the peasant sector. As an illustration, in 1973 some 2.3 million members of rural cooperatives received a total credit of approximately 20 billion rials from the Agricultural Cooperative Bank. In the same year, 310 commercial farmers were granted 2.65 billion rials by the Agricultural Development Bank.[18]

In general, mini-farm holders depended largely on earnings from wage labor to supplement their farm income in order to meet household subsistence. Since macro-level data on the relative weight of earnings derived from these sources is not available, the findings of a few case studies can be used to illustrate the situation. As an example, a study of three villages near Isfahan shows that of the 210 households, 87 percent who owned less than 0.9 hectares depended on wages in addition to farming income to meet family subsistence. The corresponding figure for peasants whose holdings were between 0.9 and 5 hectares was 40 percent.[19] A study of sample villages in Yazd Province shows a similar pattern, indicating that 62 percent of the income of poor peasants was earned from non-agricultural sources.[20]

In light of the foregoing analysis, we can fairly conclude that a vast majority of mini-farm holders did not benefit from Land Reform. Consequently, prevailing rural push factors, combined with the 1970s urban economic boom, lured masses of poor peasants to towns and cities. Owing to a lack of macro-level data on peasant migration by size of landholdings, the findings of some field investigations can be used to illustrate a differential migration rate according to the size of holdings. For example, a study of a sample of villages in the province of Hamadan indicates that peasants who migrated in the post–Land Reform years had held, on an average, 2 hectares of irrigated land and 1.3 hectares of rain-fed land while the average holdings of peasants who stayed in farming were 4.6 hectares of irrigated land and 4.1 hectares of rain-fed land.[21] A 1975 socioeconomic survey of all 821 households residing in a 10 percent sample of villages located in Chahar-mahal-e Bakhtiyari province shows a differential migration rate by landownership. The data indicates that among khwushnishin households, the migration rate during the five years preceding the survey was 43 percent while the corresponding figure for farming households was 12 percent. However, the rate varied according to the size of the landholding; it was 20 percent for peasants with small holdings and who owned, on average, 2.3 hectares, in contrast to 5 percent for farmers with medium holdings and whose holding size, on average, was 6 hectares.[22]

The second category of peasant beneficiaries consists of smallholders, who owned between 2 to 10 hectares, the lower brackets of which, mostly the holders who owned 2 to 5 hectares, share certain features with poor peasants. These smallholders were also adversely affected by the disintegration of peasant teamwork, boneh, following Land Reform implementation, which led to further fragmentation of their holdings. Subsequently, many smallholders began independent farming on their scattered plots, which had previously been consolidated into larger fields for efficient water and land use under the boneh organization.[23]

The process of individual farming by peasants accelerated in the 1970s, leading to a substantial increase of mini-holdings and further land fragmentation. Overall, the prevalence of land fragmentation was aggravated by Land Reform and the subsequent sub-division of family farms, as indicated by the increased number of plots per holding from 6.1, on average, in 1960 to 8.5 in 1973.[24]

Some observers have argued that the prevalence of small landholdings, coupled with excessive land fragmentation, largely blocked the transition of peasant subsistence agriculture to a more commercially oriented farming.[25] Yet despite the uneconomic size of their holdings, smallholders who acquired land with access to water gained a modest improvement in their farm production and household income.[26] According to Lambton, in many Land Reform villages, more land was brought under cultivation, peasants worked harder, and the use of fertilizers increased, all of which resulted in higher crop production.[27] Although Lambton does not provide empirical data to substantiate her observations on the results of the early phase of Land Reform, her judgment is likely valid considering her outstanding scholarship on Iranian agrarian relations and peasantry.

Field studies also suggest that smallholders responded positively to new economic opportunities by adopting improved agricultural techniques, increased use of fertilizers, and crop diversification.[28] This is reflected in the improved performance of the peasant sector, which by one estimate occupied some 35 percent of total farmland, contributing about 41 percent to agricultural gross output in 1972.[29] Moreover, some skilled peasants increased their production and income by participating in a mode of production known as half-and-half cultivation, nesfe-kari, under which they were able to raise farm productivity by improved irrigation, increased use of fertilizers, and adoption of improved seed variety in cultivating summer vegetables and fruits, saifi-kari, for the urban market. Although nesfe-kari had existed on a smaller scale before Land Reform, its rapid growth in the post-reform years was largely due to the increased availability of farmland for lease and the fast-growing demand in urban markets for vegetables and fruits.[30] On balance, it is likely that smallholders in the upper brackets (5–10 hectares) were generally better off after Land Reform: partly because of some improvement in their farming practices, as noted above, and partly because the sum they paid each year for the price of the land was often less than the value of crops previously taken by the landlords.[31]

Nevertheless, many smallholders, especially in less fertile regions, could not rely entirely on their farm income to meet their household needs. This is illustrated by the results of a sample survey of 152 villages in seven regions indicating that most smallholders had to seek wage labor in the area or migrate to towns for supplementary income.[32] Individual village studies show a similar pattern in the case of peasants whose holdings were less than 5 hectares.[33] In general, the survival of smallholders in the post-reform period relied on a combination of activities: partial self-subsistence farming, partial production for sale, and income from wages.[34] However, many smallholders, mostly those in the lower brackets, found little incentive to continue farming, especially after the 1972 urban boom. Some abandoned their land altogether, some left it barren if they could not find tenants, and some migrated to towns.[35]

Smallholders suffered also from difficulties in obtaining credit to meet their financial needs. This was mainly because rural cooperative societies, which were the most accessible source of low-interest loans available to them, fell short of providing credit in the volumes needed by the smallholders. Most cooperative loans provided a low amount and generally for a short term, such as six to twelve months.[36] Still, in quantitative terms, the development of rural cooperatives was notable, as an extensive network of cooperative societies totaling 2,942 with about 3.01 million members had been established by 1978.[37] However, most of the cooperatives were small units without adequate financial resources and trained personnel, which was primarily due to the meager financial resources allocated to the peasant sector.[38]

Financial resources at the disposal of the cooperative societies markedly deteriorated following the dramatic change in the government’s agricultural policy in 1967, as will be discussed later. This is evident by the fact that each peasant farmer who borrowed through rural cooperatives in the period 1968–71 received, on average, loans which were only 11 to 18 percent of the amount of loans and grants per shareholder received by farm corporations in the same period.[39] Since the amount of most of the loans was not enough to meet peasant farmers’ credit needs, they had to rely on an informal credit market—moneylenders, merchants, and shopkeepers—where interest rates were substantially higher. More significantly, cooperatives were not able to provide loans to all of their members; only 55 percent of members received loans between 1963 and 1973.[40] Even those who received a cooperative loan did not usually spend it to improve their farming practices. Field surveys indicate that a large portion of all loans granted to peasant farmers by the cooperatives and the Agricultural Cooperative Bank was used to meet household consumption needs, leaving about a third for production inputs.[41] Apart from their inadequate financial services, the cooperatives did not generally evolve into autonomous institutions supporting peasants to actively participate in village affairs and develop local leadership capabilities.[42]

The third category of Land Reform beneficiaries consists of large-farm holders with farm sizes ranging from 10 to 50 hectares. Within this category, the higher-tier farmers had easy access to credit from the Agricultural Cooperative Bank for investments, mainly in irrigation and farm mechanization. These farmers, particularly those near large urban centers, enjoyed notable growth in their production and income by providing the towns with fruits and vegetables. By 1974, according to one estimate, nearly 30 percent of holdings in the 10–50 hectares category were family-owned commercial farms which depended partly on wage labor and sold more than half of their produce to the market.[43]

In sum, this analysis suggests that Land Reform mostly benefited peasants who acquired holdings of 10 to 50 hectares while the majority of peasant beneficiaries who received plots of land less than 5 hectares had, by and large, minimal opportunity to improve their subsistence farming. In fact, the lowest tier, whose holding was less than 2 hectares, experienced vast economic hardship.


Development of Commercial Farming

Land Reform furthered the development of commercial farming because it created conditions conducive to the transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture, as well as to the further integration of rural production into the national economy. Initially, under the first stage of the reform program, large mechanized estates were exempt from redistribution. Then as the program proceeded, the government adopted an agricultural policy that substantially supported the development of medium and large-scale commercial farms, as will be discussed later. Subsequently, large landowners increasingly moved to agricultural mechanization, improvement of irrigation, and production of cash crops. This is partly reflected in the increased use of agricultural machinery from 6,000 tractors and 900 combines in 1962 to 53,000 and 2,500 in 1977, respectively.[44] The transformation of large estates to commercial farming is illustrated by the results of a sample survey of 651 commercial farmers conducted in five provinces in the mid-1970s, which indicates that among the farmers with large holdings, those with an average of 364 hectares of land, 69 percent had inherited the land they farmed.[45] Commercialization of agriculture advanced further by medium- and small-scale landowners, khord-malekan, who, after dividing their land with sharecroppers, mostly transformed their remaining estates into mechanized farming. By investing in agricultural machinery, irrigation, and farm inputs, these farmers increased their land productivity and production, especially cash crops for the market.[46] In addition to former landowners, a small segment of Land Reform beneficiaries who had received larger tracts of land expanded their farming to family commercial farms, as mentioned before.

Loeffler’s field study in a village within Sisakhst, located in the Boir Ahmad region, demonstrates the emergence of a small number of petty commercial farmers who had substantially increased their grape production for market by investing in drip irrigation.[47] Furthermore, a growing number of pump-operating farmers, tolomb-e karan, who owned mostly larger tracts of land than did the rest of the peasant beneficiaries, increased their crop diversification by allotting more land to cash crops.[48] The growth of a market-oriented segment of the peasantry in the post-reform years is also reflected in the substantial increase of the number of nesfe-karan who were engaged in the production of summer vegetables and fruits in partnership with landowners, as described earlier.

The development of large-scale commercial farming accelerated markedly following a dramatic shift in the government’s agricultural policy in 1967, which strongly favored large-scale mechanized farms over peasant agriculture.[49] The official policy was adopted in the Fourth Development Plan (1968–72), under which substantial government agricultural development funds and credits were allocated to large-scale mechanized farms. The implementation of the new policy was controversial within some government circles as well as among academic experts. Notwithstanding these objections, a number of state-initiated and managed farm corporations and agribusinesses, both multinational and domestic, were established under the stipulation of two pieces of legislation. These comprised the 1967 law for the establishment of farm corporations (sherkat-e sahami-ye zirai) and the 1968 law for the creation of agricultural companies under the dam irrigation system (agribusinesses or kesht-o-sanat). In 1968, the Agricultural Development Fund (later the Agricultural Development Bank) was set up specifically to provide long-term investment capital, loans, and grants to corporate and large-scale commercial farms. The bank’s capital had been substantially increased from 5 billion to 10 billion rials by 1977.

Farm corporations were established by pooling the lands of several villages whereby all peasant proprietors and landowners would turn over their land to the corporation in return for corporate shares equivalent to the value of their land. According to the law, a board of directors, elected by shareholders and including one government representative, would make all the farming decisions. However, in practice, government agents generally managed farm corporations with minimal participation by peasant shareholders. By 1978, the government had established eighty-nine farm corporations, which encompassed 813 villages covering 318,000 hectares owned by 185,000 peasant proprietors and small-scale landowners.[50] However, because farm corporations depended largely on government financial support and management, they did not evolve into an economically viable production system as originally expected. In fact, the corporations with over a decade of operation (1967–78) covered less than 2 percent of the villages and some 10 percent of the Land Reform beneficiaries. Though farm corporations succeeded in land consolidation, improved water management, and increased land productivity and crop production, the critics argue that they incurred high production costs, depended heavily on government grants and credits, and were subject to widespread peasant discontent.[51]

As to the development of agribusiness, thirty-seven companies covering some 238,000 hectares of farmland had been established by 1978.[52] Fifteen of these agribusinesses were very large farms covering between 5,000 to 25,000 hectares, of which seven businesses were managed by multinational companies and eight by the state. The remaining twenty-two agribusinesses, which were smaller farms ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 hectares, belonged to Iranian private investors. Agribusinesses, being capital-intensive ventures, could absorb only limited numbers of farm workers. This is illustrated by the case of Khuzistan’s four agribusinesses, in which out of an estimated 17,000 peasants who had been dispossessed of their landholdings, only a small minority were employed by the four companies. The peasants’ eviction from their land created widespread resentment and social tensions among many peasants, who blamed the government for their plight. Besides their adverse social impact, Khuzistan’s large agribusinesses were not economically viable enterprises, as none of them became profitable ventures.[53] Moghadam’s field research evaluating the economic performance of the four agribusinesses in Khuzistan in comparison to four categories of farms in five village case studies indicates that “the four agribusinesses were inefficient both in terms of their own productive potential and relative to the productive performance of the farms in the five village case studies.”[54] More specifically, the data reveals higher output per unit of both land and water in the village farms than in the four agribusinesses.[55]

Furthermore, along with government-sponsored corporate farms, a number of urban entrepreneurs began to invest in the development of agricultural enterprises including livestock and poultry production, and agro-industrial complexes. The rapid increase in the number of agricultural companies from 23 with registered capital of 1.65 billion rials in 1972 to 310 with registered capital of 8.46 billion rials in 1976 demonstrates the substantial rise of a new generation of modern capitalists in agriculture.[56] Data limitation does not allow for a sound assessment of economic performance of different categories of commercial farms, their respective contribution to agricultural production, and marketed output in the post–Land Reform period. However, a rough estimate by the IBRD Mission in Iran suggests that the commercial sector of Iranian agriculture represented some 20 percent of farms, occupied about 70 percent of agricultural land, and produced some 80 percent of marketed output.[57]

The 1967 government policy mentioned earlier, which was initially criticized because it was heavily biased in favor of large-scale mechanized farms at the expense of the peasant sector, arose again as a highly contentious issue in the mid-1970s, largely due to the poor performance of the newly created corporate farms. Over time, the policy’s wisdom was questioned by some government officials who held numerous meetings debating the policy’s socioeconomic outcomes. The growing controversy within the government, coupled with critical evaluation by rural scholars, led to a three-day agricultural seminar in June 1976 in which Prime Minister Hoveyda and eight cabinet ministers including the minister of agriculture, the director of the Plan and Budget Organization, and the minister of cooperatives and rural affairs participated.[58] I was among some one hundred officials and academics who participated in the seminar, which was primarily focused on the critical review of and debates on government agricultural policy regarding agribusinesses, farm corporations, and peasant farms. The two key research papers presented at the seminar clearly indicated the poor economic performance of farm corporations and agribusinesses in contrast to the productive efficiency of family commercial farms and small farms. The critics, furthermore, pointed to the adverse social impact of the large corporate farms as manifested in the dislocation of peasants, increasing economic insecurity among farmers, and widespread peasant discontent. At the end of the three days, it was evident that the opponents of the policy had a strong case. But the seminar deliberations failed to reverse the government’s agricultural policy, except that shortly after the conference, the two ministries in charge of agriculture were consolidated into one.

In sum, though large-scale commercial farms grew in the post–Land Reform period, the most profitable of these ventures were family commercial farms and large private agricultural enterprises. In contrast, the experiment with agribusinesses and state-managed farm corporations proved largely a financial and social failure.


Agricultural Production

Apart from provoking considerable disagreement amongst scholars, the performance of agriculture in the post–Land Reform period has been subject to sharp criticism by the left and militant religious opponents of the Pahlavi regime. The critics blame Land Reform for the decline in agricultural production leading to the increased dependency on food imports. This view, as Ashraf argues, overlooks the driving force for the rapid increase in food imports. This increase was primarily fueled by the population explosion—from approximately 19 million in 1956 to more than 34 million in 1976—combined with rising incomes in the urban areas leading to an accelerated growth of demand for food, which vastly outpaced agricultural production.[59] In fact, during the mid-sixties and the seventies, the annual agricultural growth rates varied between 2.5 percent and 4.8 percent while the demand for food increased by nearly 8–10 percent per annum. This widening gap was largely filled by food imports, the volume of which jumped from 0.5 million tons in the early 1960s to over 2.5 million tons in the late 1970s.[60]

Some scholars have also argued that Land Reform resulted in agricultural stagnation, as noted earlier. Other studies have indicated positive growth, mainly as a result of an over 45 percent expansion in agricultural land, a substantial increase in farm mechanization, the use of fertilizer, and improved farming practices, as well as government capital investment and subsidized credits. Yet agricultural growth was not widespread throughout the country; as more fertile regions, including Gilan, Mazandaran, and Azerbaijan, yielded high production growth rates, the poor-rainfall areas of the east and south witnessed agricultural stagnation. This stagnation was particularly devastating in marginal areas where farming deteriorated mainly because of inadequate maintenance of underground irrigation systems, qanat.[61] The growth rates of different crops also varied widely. Grain production grew very slowly at 140 percent during the 1960–75 period while industrial and cash crops rose by 580 percent and 330 percent, respectively, over the same period.[62] This is partly due to the fact that wheat and barley are not commonly irrigated crops but are rain fed, and partly due to government pricing and import policies which strongly favored urban consumers at the expense of agricultural producers.

In the case of wheat, the minimum price set by the government was far below its production cost, which discouraged the farmers from investing in wheat production.[63] This becomes further evident as indicated by Alam, the minister of court, who noted in his diaries, “because of extraordinary high wages of agricultural workers, about 450 rials per worker per day and [a] very low price set by the government (about one thousand rials per ton) it is not economical to harvest (the produce).”[64] As a result, many wheat growers, especially the large-scale and more prosperous farmers, gradually shifted from wheat cultivation to cash crops that were more profitable. This trend is illustrated by the case of large-scale mechanized farms in Gorgan, which were originally developed for wheat production, but later shifted to the cultivation of cotton and oil seeds.[65]

Consequently, farmers’ steady shift from grain production to cash crops resulted in an approximately 11 percent decline in the area of land under grain cultivation during the 1960–75 period.[66] Nevertheless, agricultural production did not fall in the post-reform period, though in the first couple of years following Land Reform implementation, growth was sluggish: 1.8 percent per year according to the Plan and Budget Organization estimate.[67] By the mid-1960s, the sector witnessed a higher growth rate, though various sources disagree about the specific number. According to official figures, the average annual growth rate during 1963–77 was 4.8 percent[68] while the estimate by the IBRD Mission in Iran for the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s shows that the rate fluctuated between 2.5 percent and 4 percent per annum.[69] Based on analysis of various sources, Karshenas concludes that the average annual rate of agricultural growth was 3.9 percent between 1957 and 1977.[70] Still, estimates of the agricultural production growth rate should be treated with much caution due to certain deficiencies in the data. Finally, it is worth noting that the growth figures published after the revolution show an average annual rate of 4.6 percent for 1963–77.[71] This is fairly close to the 4.8 percent rate reported earlier by the former regime.


Rural Social Classes

Land Reform dramatically transformed the prevailing rural class structure, which was closely tied to the absentee landownership system, nizami arbabra’iyati. Under this system, the rural population was differentiated into three major social classes: peasant proprietors and petty landowners; sharecroppers and tenants, ra’yat; and landless villagers, khwushnishins. These strata composed, respectively, about 25 percent, 40 percent, and 35 percent of the country’s rural population.[72]

Petty landowners and prosperous peasants who possessed large amounts of land were located at the top of the village class structure while sharecroppers and tenants constituted a lower village stratum. Most sharecroppers lived near or at subsistence level because the amount of land they cultivated was very small and a high share of the crops was collected by landowners. In some areas, the landlords levied dues in addition to a share of the crop while the peasants were also subjected to certain personal services, bigari. The landless villagers consisted of two strata: rural proletariat and petty bourgeoisie. The former included agricultural and non-agricultural workers, whose common characteristics were low income and frequent periods of unemployment, and who were located at the bottom of the rural class structure. The rural petty bourgeoisie were composed of village shopkeepers, moneylenders, and rural craftsmen, and constituted a small segment of the khwushnishin population. It is noteworthy that they occupied a relatively higher socioeconomic status than most sharecroppers did in the villages. Overall, the pre-reform rural class structure was rigid, allowing little opportunity for social mobility within and between classes.

By transferring the ownership of large landholdings to nearly all sharecroppers and tenant farmers, Land Reform resulted in their upward social mobility to a class of peasant proprietors. Contrarily, the socioeconomic conditions of khwushnishins, who were excluded from land redistribution, deteriorated notably as they suffered from mounting decline in job opportunities in village agriculture. Land Reform also led to a marked decline in the sociopolitical power of the landowning classes and their bailiffs in rural areas. Nevertheless, the Iranian Land Reform, contrary to conventional views, did not lead to a more egalitarian rural social structure, mainly because of unequal land redistribution, as mentioned earlier. Consequently, a small minority of beneficiaries, prosperous farmers who own plots of land ranging from 10 to 50 hectares, along with the rural bourgeoisie, now constitute the village upper class. As a group, they control a major portion of rural capital and credit, thereby influencing village agricultural production. They have further consolidated their position by establishing a close relationship with government agents and by joining the boards of state-initiated rural organizations in the villages.[73] Next in the hierarchical order is the middle peasantry, consisting of small-scale peasant farmers who own 2 up to 10 hectares, comprising about 40 percent of peasant proprietors. The majority within this stratum are small-scale subsistence farmers who depend on wage labor, because their farm income is insufficient for their living.[74]

The lower peasantry consists of the rural proletariat and poor peasants whose holdings are less than 2 hectares, constituting roughly 43 percent of the total peasant proprietors who occupied 4.3 percent of the total agricultural land in the mid-1970s.[75] In most cases, the lower peasantry’s plots are insufficient to provide for their household consumption needs. Thus, the livelihood of this stratum depends partially on subsistence farming and partially on income from wages in local agricultural work or from urban employment for at least part of the year. The rural proletariat, consisting of 1.1 million landless agricultural workers and 1.3 million workers in industry and services, formed the bulk of the lower peasantry in the mid-1970s.[76]

The rural population is generally conscious of the existence of this class structure. The symbolic significance of this stratification system can be observed through the interpretation of different expressions used by rural residents in various regions of Iran with reference to the khwushnishin class. For example, the laborer segment of this class is referred to by the farmers in the northwest of the country as aftab-neshin, literally “those who sit and relax in the sun,” while in the southwest, they are called mahrum, literally “the deprived class.” In fact, khwushnishins themselves describe their overall life conditions as being destitute and powerless.[77] Furthermore, the increasing marginalization of the khwushnishin population in the post–Land Reform period has led to a growing feeling of discontent within this group.[78]

The rural classes, as described above, are differentiated mainly on the basis of land tenure relationships, overlooking other significant factors such as level of income, education, and occupational status.[79] In the absence of macro-level data on rural social stratification, which would include the above variables, I have constructed a composite scale of socioeconomic status (SES) to illustrate class differentials in the fertility behavior of peasant couples in a sample of six villages under study. The SES scale includes landholding, a proxy variable for rural household wealth and income, occupation, and level of education of the head of household. According to the SES scale, the 205 total households residing in the six villages were distributed as follows: 52 high status, 92 medium status, and 61 low status. The data indicates substantial differences in the fertility behavior of high-status and low-status peasant couples.[80] The socioeconomic survey of Chahr-mahal Bakhtiyari province, as described earlier, shows class differences in household income, migration rate, and school attendance.[81] Field research that I conducted in three villages near the town of Marvdasht, about 45 kilometers northwest of Shiraz, reveals substantial differences in level of income, literacy rate, and social mobility between the households of three classes: prosperous farmers, tolomb-e karan; small-scale peasant farmers; and landless laborers.[82]

It should be noted that class differences involve not just quantitative inequality but qualitative disparities in social perception, value orientation, and attitudes. There is little empirical evidence in Iranian rural studies—to the best of my knowledge—indicating rural class differences in terms of the above characteristics. Peasants are generally characterized as being conservative, fatalist, and traditionalist. Still, an empirical investigation I conducted in a sample of households in three villages near the town of Marvdasht suggests class differences in fatalism, achievement motivation, social alienation, and occupational aspiration among peasants. For instance, the data indicates that the mean scores on achievement motivation, social alienation, and occupational aspirations differ significantly by the respondent’s class position. However, the differences between classes on the fatalism mean score are not statistically significant, implying that fatalism is a common characteristic of all members of the rural population regardless of socioeconomic status.[83] However, because of the small sample size and the experimental nature of the measurement instrument, the class differences described above suggest at best some general tendencies that should be taken with caution.



This paper has presented a general trajectory of the agrarian transformation in Iran following the 1960s Land Reform, which swept over every domain of rural life and profoundly altered agrarian relations, peasant production, rural class structure, and rural-urban relations. The reform significantly contributed to the development of peasant proprietorship, family commercial farms, and corporate agriculture. However, the state-initiated, large-scale, corporate-managed agricultural systems, despite the generally favorable resource allocations, did not demonstrate economic efficiencies. The reform program resulted in unequal land redistribution whereby a minority of peasants acquired large plots of land while a majority received mostly small and uneconomic landholdings. Moreover, one-third of the rural population, the landless khwushnishins, were excluded as beneficiaries of the program, and that played a major role in the massive rural migration to cities in the post–Land Reform period.

More specifically, the paper’s detailed analysis on the outcomes of Land Reform indicates that the unequal land distribution, coupled with government agricultural policy that heavily favored large mechanized farms, led to a dualistic agrarian system in which small-scale peasant farms coexisted with large commercial and corporate farms. Under the prevailing conditions, the large-scale farmers had easier access to subsidized government credits and services while the small-scale farmers had, by and large, little chance to improve their farming and standard of living in the post-reform period. Agricultural production, which was sluggish in the first couple of years following land redistribution, witnessed a higher growth rate in the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. Along with the transformation of landownership and organization of agricultural production, the prevailing rural social stratification was profoundly altered in its sociopolitical and socioeconomic configurations. Landlord domination over the peasantry was dismantled, which resulted in the upward social mobility of a large segment of the sharecroppers to a class of proprietors. Moreover, the rural economy, which depended heavily on peasant agriculture and petty traders, was diversified as a consequence of the increasing integration into the market, expansion of wholesale and retail trades, and development of the rural capital and credit market, as well as the creation of numerous service and technical occupations. All of this contributed to the expansion of the rural bourgeoisie, which moved mostly into the upper level of the village class structure. The expansion of the bourgeoisie, coupled with the development of family commercial farmers, on the one hand, and the deterioration in socioeconomic conditions of the poor peasants and khwushnishins, on the other, led to increasing rural class differentiation. This is clearly reflected in the sharp differences in the household level of income, education, and occupational opportunities by class status, as illustrated by the findings of village case studies.

Land Reform succeeded in eliminating absentee landownership and overhauling the prevailing unproductive agrarian relations. However, its achievement in creating more productive and efficient owner-operated family farms was, at best, modest. Furthermore, it led to an unintended adverse impact on the village social structure, which customarily facilitated peasant participation in the collective work of agricultural production and the maintenance of irrigation systems such as the repair of qanat. Land Reform was also instrumental in extending state intervention in rural affairs as a variety of rural organizations were superimposed upon village communities by government agencies. These rural organizations, which mainly included village councils, rural cooperative societies, and cultural houses, had limited success in performing their assigned functions, especially in mobilizing local support and participation in rural development.


[1]It is a privilege to contribute to this special issue in honor of Professor Ahmad Ashraf, whose scholarship in historical/sociological studies and empirical analysis of agrarian transformation in Iran has greatly influenced my research work.

[2]Eric J. Hooglund, Land and Revolution in Iran, 1960-1980 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982), 121; Keith McLachlan, The Neglected Garden: The Politics and Ecology of Agriculture in Iran (London: I. B. Tauris, 1988), 172–73.

[3]Massoud Karshenas, State, Oil, and Industrialization in Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 153; Fateme E. Moghadam, From Land Reform to Revolution: The Political Economy of Agricultural Development in Iran, 1962-1979 (London: I. B. Tauris, 1996), 88–89.

[5]H. Bergmann and N. Khademadam, The Impacts of Large-Scale Farms on Development in Iran: A Case Study of Certain Aspects of Iranian Agrarian Reform (Saarbrucken, Germany: Verlag d. SSIP-Schriften, 1975); Najmabadi, Land Reform and Social Change, 114–25.

[6]Khosro Khosrovi, Jami’aShenasi-ye Rusta’i-ye Iran (Rural Sociology of Iran) (Tehran: Daneshkade Ulum- Ejtema’i va Ta’avon, 1972), 165–69; Hossein Azimi, “Tawzi’-i Zamin va Daramad dar Astana-yi Islahat-I ‘Arzi” (“Distribution of Land and Income on the Eve of Land Reform”), in Majmmu’ih-yi Kitab-i Agah: Masa’il-i Arzi va Dihgani (Land and Peasant Questions), ed. Agah (Tehran: Mu’assisa-yi Intisharat-i Agah, 1982), 75–94; Hossein Mahdavi, “Molahezati dar bareh-e Masa’el-e Arzi-ye Iran” (“Notes on Land Questions in Iran”), in Majmmu’ih-yi Kitab-i Agah: Masa’il-i Arzi va Dihgani (Land and Peasant Questions), ed. Agah (Tehran: Mu’assisa-yi Intisharat-i Agah, 1983), 167–88.

[7]Hooshang Saedloo, “Boneh,” Rahnama-ye Ketab 18 (1975): 72–90; Javad Safi-Nejad, Boneh (Tehran: Daneshkade Ulum- Ejtema’i va Ta’avon, 1977), 180–89; Ahmad Ashraf, Moshakhasat-e Eqtesadi va Ejtema’i-ye Nezamha-ye Bahre-bardari-ye Keshavarzi dar Iran (Economic and Social Characteristics of Agricultural Production Systems in Iran) (Tehran: Markaz-e Amuzesh va pazhuhesh dar Barnameh rizi-ye Mantaqa-yi, 1974), 23–31.

[8]Eric Hooglund, “The Khwushnishin Population of Iran,” Iranian Studies 6 (1973): 229–45.

[9]Farhad Kazemi, Poverty and Revolution in Iran (New York: New York University Press, 1980), 14, 28; Hooglund, Land and Revolution in Iran, 118–19.

[10]Hooglund, Land and Revolution in Iran, 72; Mohammad J. Amid, Agriculture, Poverty and Reform in Iran (London: Routledge, 1990), 103; Ashraf, “State and Agrarian Relations.”

[11]Iran Statistical Center, Natayej-e Amargiri-ye Keshavarzi, Marhale-e Dowom-e Sarshomari-ye Keshavarzi (Results of Agricultural Census, Phase II), AH 1353/1974 (Tehran: Plan and Budget Organization, 1977), tables 1 and 15.

[12]Mohammad G. Majd and Vahid F. Nowshirvani, “Land Reform in Iran: New Evidence on the Result of Land Reform in Nine Provinces,” Journal of Peasant Studies 20 (1993): 442–58.

[13]Majd and Nowshirvani, “Land Reform in Iran,” 449, table 3.

[14]Amid, Agriculture, Poverty and Reform in Iran, 105; Mostafa Azkia, “Rural Society and Revolution in Iran,” in Twenty Years of Islamic Revolution, ed. Eric Hooglund (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002), 96–119; Farhad Nomani and Sohrab Behdad, Classes and Labor in Iran (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006), 160–61.

[15]Iran Statistical Center, Natayej-e Amargiri-ye Keshavarzi, tables 1 and 15.

[16]Najmabadi, Land Reform and Social Change, 110, 117.

[17]Calculation derived from 1960 and 1974 agricultural census data.

[18]Central Bank of Iran, Annual Reports for 1968-1976 (Tehran: Bank-e Markazi-ye Iran, 1977); McLachlan, Neglected Garden, 134.

[19]M. Alvandi and T. Rostami, Report on Seasonal Migration of Villagers in the Isfahan Area, 1979 (Isfahan, Iran: Nashriyeh Daneshkadeh-e Adabiyat, 1979), 32.

[20]Rural Research Center, A Survey of Development Potential of Non-Agricultural Activities in Six Rural Regions (Tehran: Ministry of Cooperatives and Rural Affairs, 1975), 56.

[21]Rural Research Center, Summary of the Results of Land Reform in Five Provinces (Tehran: Ministry of Agriculture, 1978), 11.

[22]Massoud Shafigh, Umran-e Rusta’i: Barnameh Tawsea-yi iqtisadi va ijtima, i-yi Ostan Chahar-mahal-e Bakhtiyari (Rural Development: Economic and Social Development Plan for Chahar mahal-e Bakhtiyari Province) (Tehran: Plan and Budget Organization, 1976).

[23]Javad Safinejad, Boneh, 3rd ed. (Tehran: Muassisa-yi Intisharat-i Amir Kabir, 1989), 186–9; Eric J. Hooglund, “Rural Socioeconomic Organization in Transition: The Case of Iran’s Boneh,” in Continuity and Change in Modern Iran, ed. Micheal E. Bonine and Nikki Keddie (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), 161–77; Eckart Ehlers, “The Iranian Village: A Socio-Economic Microcosm,” in Agricultural Development in the Middle East, ed. P. Beaumont and K. McLachlan (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1985), 151–70; S. Amini, “The Origin, Function and Disappearance of Collective Production Units (Haraseh) in Rural Areas of Iran,” Der Tropenlandwrit 48 (1983): 47–61; Amir Ismail Ajami, “Boneh dar Sakht-i Ijtimai rustai-yi Iran” (“Boneh in Iran’s Rural Social Structure”), Iran Nameh 13 (1995): 503–22.

[24]Department of Public Statistics, First National Census of Agriculture, 1960, vol. 15 (Tehran: Ministry of the Interior, 1962), tables 101 and 301; Iran Statistical Center, Natayej-e Amargiri-ye Keshavarzi, tables 1 and 15.

[25]Mahdavi, “Molahezati dar Bareh-e Masa’el-e Arzi-ye Iran,” 167–88; McLachlan, Neglected Garden, 116–17; Gholamreza Heidari, “Yekparchegi-e Arazi va Tawse’a Keshavarzi dar Iran” (“Land Consolidation and Agricultural Development in Iran”), Eqtesad-e Keshavarzi va Tawse’a 4 (1996): 145–203.

[26]McLachlan, Neglected Garden, 147.

[27]Lambton, Persian Land Reform, 347–560.

[28]Mohammad S. Nuri Na’ini, Kara’i-e Keshavarzi-e Dehqani-e Iran (Productive Efficiency of Iran’s Peasant Farming) (Tehran: Plan and Budget Organization, Iran Planning Institute, AH 1356/1977), 161–62; T. Suzuki, Land Reform, Technology, and Small Scale-Farming: The Ecology and Economy of Gilaki-Rashti Rice Cultivators, Northern Iran (Tokyo: Institute of Asian Economic Affairs, 1985), 378–79; Moghadam, From Land Reform to Revolution, 161–65; Morio Ono, Kheirabad Nameh: Bist-panj Sal ba Rustai yan-i Iran (Kheir Abad Nameh: Twenty Five Years with Iranian Villagers), trans. Hashem Rajab-Zadeh (Tehran: Intisharat-i Daneshgah-i Tehran, 1998), 26–34.

[29]Bookers Agricultural and Technical Services, National Cropping Plan: Inception Report, vol. 2 (Tehran: Bookers Agricultural and Technical Services, 1974), annex 5, table 5.4.

[30]Ashraf, Moshakhasat-e Eqtesadi, 32–35; Hossein Mahdavi, “Tahavvulat-I si s ala-yi yik dih dar Dasht-I Qazvin” (“Thirty-Year Transformation in One Village in Qazvin”), in Majmmu’ih-yi Kitab-i Agah: Masa’il-i Arzi va Dihgani (Land and Peasant Questions), ed. Agah (Tehran: Mu’assisa-yi Intisharat-i Agah, 1982), 50–74.

[31]Azimi, Tawzi’-i Zamin, 91; McLachlan, Neglected Garden, 147.

[33]Ashraf, Moshakhasat-e Eqtesadi, 27; Eric Hooglund, “The Effects of Land Reform Program on Rural Iran: 1962-1972” (PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1975); Alvandi and Rostami, Report on Seasonal Migration of Villagers.

[34]Najmabadi, Land Reform and Social Change in Iran, 165.

[35]McLachlan, Neglected Garden, 140–42; Ehlers, “Iranian Village.”

[36]Mostafa Azkia, “The Effect of Rural Development on the Iranian Peasantry between 1962 and 1978, with Special Reference on Farm Corporations” (PhD diss., Aberdeen University, 1980), 98.

[37]Iran Statistical Center, Salnama-yi Amari, 1357 (Statistical Yearbook, 1978) (Tehran: Plan and Budget Organization, 1981), 554, 557.

[38]Amir Ismail Ajami, “Cooperatives,” in Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. vi (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1993), 253–58.

[39]Amid, Agriculture, Poverty and Reform in Iran, 118, table 7.4.

[40]Iran Statistical Center, Salnama-yi Amari (Statistical Yearbook, 1972) (Tehran: Plan and Budget Organization, 1975), 183, 211; Iran Statistical Center, Salnama-yi Amari (Statistical Yearbook, 1973) (Tehran: Plan and Budget Organization, 1976), 184, 215.

[41]Mostafa Mohajerani, Barrasi-ye Eqtesadi va Ejtema-ye Etebarat-e Keshavarzi Qabl va Pas az Eslahat-e Arzi (Socioeconomic Survey of Agricultural Credits before and after Land Reform) (Tehran: Tehran University, AH 1348/1969), 120; Najmabadi, Land Reform and Social Change in Iran, 179.

[42]Amhad Ashraf, “The Role of Rural Organizations in Rural Development: The Case of Iran,” in Rural Organization and Rural Development: Some Asian Experiences, ed. Inayatullah (Kuala Lumpur: Asian and Pacific Development Administration Center, 1978), 133–61.

[43]Ashraf, “State and Agrarian Relations,” 287.

[44]Amid, Agriculture, Poverty and Reform in Iran, 122, table 7.7.

[45]Babak Qahraman, “Do Yaddasht dar Bara-yi Kishavarzi-yi Tijari dar Iran” (“Two Notes on Commercial Farming in Iran”), in Majmmu’ih-yi Kitab-i Agah: Masa’il-i Arzi va Dihgani (Land and Peasant Questions), ed. Agah (Tehran: Mu’assisa-yi Intisharat-i Agah, 1982), 139–54.

[46]Najmabadi, Land Reform and Social Change in Iran, 114–25; Abdolali Lahsaizadeh, Contemporary Rural Iran (Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 1993), 179–83.

[47]Reinhold Loeffler, “Recent Economic Changes in Boir Ahmad: Regional Growth without Development,” Iranian Studies 9 (1976): 266–87.

[48]Amir Ismail Ajami, Shishdangi: Pazhuhishi dar zaminah-yi jam’ahshinasi-ye rusta’i (Six-dangi: An Inquiry in the Field of Rural Sociology) (Shiraz, Iran: Pahlavi University Publications, AH 1348/1969), 71–79; Azkia, “Effect of Rural Development on the Iranian Peasantry.”

[49]Mansur Rohani, “Towse’eh-e Keshavarzi dar Qotbha-ye Manabe’-e Ab va Khak” (“Development of Agriculture in the Poles of Water and Soil Resources”). Reprinted in Hooshang Saedloo, “Naqdi bar ‘Towse’eh-e Keshavarzi dar Qotbha-ye Manabe’-e Ab va Khak,’” Majalleh-e Tahqiqat-e Eqtesadi 5 (1967): 66–78. Rohani’s article reprinted on 78–88; McLachlan, Neglected Garden, 134–7.

[50]Mortaza Hoghooghi, Sherkatha-ye Sahami-ye Zer’I (Farm Corporations) (Tehran: Jamia’-e Mohandesan Moshavr-e Iran, AH 1390/2011), 3–4.

[51]For detailed analysis, refer to  Azkia, “Effect of Rural Development on the Iranian Peasantry”; McLachlan, Neglected Garden, 134–37; Hooshang Kishavarz, Barrasi-yi Iqtisadi va Ijtima’i-yi Shirkat-I Shami-yi Zira’i-yi Riza Pahlavi (A Social and Economic Survey of Riza Pahlavi Farm Corporation) (Tehran: Institute for Social Research, AH 1349/1970); Nosratolah Khatibi, “The Development of Garmsar Farm Corporation: A Case Study,” Oxford Agrarian Studies 4 (1974): 1–17; Cyrus Salmanzadeh, Agricultural Change and Rural Society in Southern Iran (Cambridge: Middle East and North African Studies Press, 1980), 232–35, 241–50; Moghadam, From Land Reform to Revolution, 94–96; Hoghooghi, Sherkatha-ye Sahami-ye Zer’I, 77–87.

[52]Azkia, “Effect of Rural Development on the Iranian Peasantry.”

[53]McLachlan, Neglected Garden, 136–37; Najmabadi, Land Reform and Social Change in Iran, 151–54.

[54]Fateme E. Moghadam, “An Evaluation of the Productive Performance of Agribusiness: An Iranian Case Study,” Economic Development and Cultural Change 33 (1985): 755–76.

[55]Moghadam, “Evaluation of the Productive Performance,” 767.

[56]Najmabadi, Land Reform and Social Change in Iran, 150.

[57]Owen T. W. Price, Towards a Comprehensive Iranian Agriculture Policy, IBRD Mission/Iran Report No. 1 (unpublished manuscript, 1975). Paper.

[58]Moghadam, From Land Reform to Revolution, appendix to chapter 3, 76–78.

[59]Ashraf, “State and Agrarian Relations.”

[60]Mohammad-Said Nour Naini, “Farming in Persia,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. ix (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1999), 303–11.

[61]McLachlan, Neglected Garden, 140–42; Scetiran, Tarh-e Amayesh-e Sarzamin (National Spatial Strategy Plan) (Tehran: Sazeman-e Barnameh va Budjeh, AH 1355/1976), 132–40.

[62]Agah, “Amarha-yi Rusta-I va Keshavarzi-e Iran” (“Rural and Agricultural Statistics of Iran”), in Majmmu’ih-yi Kitab-i Agah: Masa’il-i Arzi va Dihgani (Land and Peasant Questions), ed. Agah (Tehran: Mu’assisa-yi Intisharat-i Agah, 1982), 155–86.

[63]O. Arsevik, The Agricultural Development of Iran (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1976), 143–44.

[64]Amir Asadollah Alam, Yadasht ha-yi Alam (Alam Diaries), vol. 5, ed. A. Alikhani (Bethesda, MD: Iran Books, AH 1354/1975), 182. Translation mine.

[65]S. Okazaki, The Development of Large-Scale Farming in Iran: The Case of the Province of Gorgan (Tokyo: Institute of Asian Economic Affairs, 1968), 76.

[66]Amid, Agriculture, Poverty and Reform in Iran, 125, table 7.10.

[67]Sazman-e Barnameh va Bodjeh, Barnameh-e Umrani-yi Chaharom, 1347-1351 (Plan and Budget Organization, The Fourth Development Plan, 1968-1972) (unpublished manuscript, 1967), 34. Paper.

[68]Moghadam, From Land Reform to Revolution, 88.

[69]Price, Towards a Comprehensive Iranian Agriculture Policy, 1.

[70]Karshenas, State, Oil, and Industrialization in Iran, 153.

[71]Bank-e Markazi-e Jomhuri-e Eslami-e Iran, Edara-ye Hesabha-e Eqtesadi, Hesabha-e Melli-e Iran (Iran’s National Accounts, AH 1338–56/1959–77) (Tehran: Bank-e Markazi-e, AH 1360/1981), table 16.

[72]Ashraf, “State and Agrarian Relations,” 285.

[73]Kishavarz, Barrasi-yi Iqtisadi, 118; Ashraf, “Role of Rural Organizations,” 138–46.

[74]Amid, Agriculture, Poverty and Reform in Iran, 119.

[75]Iran Statistical Center, Natayej-e Amargiri-ye Keshavarzi, tables 1 and 15.

[76]Ashraf, “State and Agrarian Relations.”

[77]Ajami, Shishdangi, 46.

[78]Nikki Keddie, “Stratification, Social Control and Capitalism in Iranian Villages before and after Land Reform,” in Rural Politics and Social Change in the Middle East, ed. R. Antoun and I. Harik (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972), 364–401.

[79]Najmabadi, Land Reform and Social Change in Iran, 115–16; Azkia, “Rural Society and Revolution in Iran,” 102–3.

[80]Amir Ismail Ajami, “Differential Fertility in Peasant Communities: A Study of Six Iranian Villages,” Population Studies 30 (1976): 453–63.

[81]Shafigh, Umran-e Rusta’i, table 1.

[82]Amir Ismail Ajami, “Social Class, Family Demographic Characteristics and Mobility in Three Iranian Villages: A Pilot Study,” Sociologia Ruralis 9 (1969): 62–71.

[83]Amir Ismail Ajami, “Kholqiyat, Mu’tiqidat va Arezuha-yi Shoghli-yi rustaiyan” (“Characteristics, Beliefs and Occupational Aspiration of Peasants”), Nameh-e Ulum-I ijtema’I 1 (AH 1348/1970): 26–47.

Table of Contents Volume 5, Number 3

English Verso

Forgiveness for what? Vis and Ramin and Troilus and Criseyde
Dick Davis

Tales of Two Cities: Tehran in Persian Fiction
M.R. Ghanoonparvar

Translating Race: Simin Daneshvar’s Negotiation of Blackness
Amy Motlagh

‘O Lord! You Broke My Wine Jug’: Omar Khayyām’s Transgressive Ethics and their Socio-Political Implications in Contemporary Iran
A.A. Seyed-Gohrab

The Beginning of New Education in Nineteenth-Century Iran
David Menashri

Iran’s Literary Becoming: Zokāʾ ol-Molk Forughi and the Literary History that Wasn’t
Aria Fani

Reflection of India in the Works of Hedayat
Nadeem Akhtar

Desacralizing a Sacred Defense: The Iran-Iraq War in the Fiction of Hossein Mortezaeian Abkenar
Amir Moosavi

Dynamics of Quest and Search in Three Narratives by Parsipur
Shervin Emami

Reading Lolita in Persian
Paul Sprachman


Persian Reverso

The Wings to Fly, the Feet to Thrive: In Conversation with Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak
Fatemeh Shams

Poetical Language in Revolution: Transition to Prose Through the 1979 Revolution.
Amir Ahmadi Arian

The Study of Literature as an Institution in Afghanistan
Wali Ahmadi

Viewing Existence from the Perspective of an Ant: The Experiential Foundations of Subtlety in Indian School
Mahmood Fotoohi

A Critique of Simantov Melamed’s The Life of Soul (Hayat al-Ruh
Nahid Pirnazar Oberman

Poetry in Translation: Seamus Heany, Allen Gingberg, Ilma Rakuša, Leonard Schwartz
Fatemeh Shams, Alireza Abiz, Ali Abdollahi


فهرست سال ۵، شماره ۳

بخش فارسی

 ویژه­نامۀ استاد احمد کریمی حکاک
ویراستاران مهمان: فاطمه شمس

پر پرواز و پای پویایی: گفت‌وگویی با احمد کریمی حکاک
فاطمه شمس

زبان شاعرانه در انقلاب: گذار به نثر در انقلاب ۵۷
امیر احمدی آریان

نهادشناسی ادبیات در افغانستان
ولی پرخاش احمدی

تماشای هستی از چشم مور: مبانی تجربۀ باریک‌اندیشی در سبک هندی
محمود فتوحی رودمعجنی

نقدی بر حیات‌الروح اثر سیمانطوب مِلَمِد
‌ناهید پیرنظر

شعر در ترجمه: شیموس هینی، آلن گینزبرگ، ایلما راکوزا، لئونارد شوارتز
فاطمه شمس، علیرضا آبیز، علی عبداللهی

بخش انگلیسی

بخشش برای چه؟ ویس و رامین و ترویلوس و کرسیدا
دیک دیویس

 داستان دو شهر: تهران در داستان فارسی
محمدرضا قانون‌پرور

ترجمۀ‌‌ نژاد: بحث سیمین دانشور در باب سیاه بودن
ایمی مطلق

اخلاق عصیانگرانۀ عمر خیام و پیامدهای اجتماعی-‌سیاسی آن: ”ابریق می مرا شکستی ربّی“
علی‌اصغر سیدغراب

آغاز آموزش جدید در ایرانِ قرن نوزدهم
دیوید منشاری

پیدایش ادبیات در ایران: ذکاء‌الملک فروغی و تاریخ ادبیاتی که نبود
آریا فانی

بازتاب هندوستان در آثار هدایت
ندیم اختر

تقدس‌زدایی از یک دفاع مقدس:‌ جنگ ایران و عراق در داستان‌‌های حسین مرتضائیان ‌آبکنار
امیر موسوی

مکانیسم‌های تلاش و جستجو در سه روایت از شهرنوش پارسی‌پور
شروین امامی

لولیتا‌خوانی در فارسی
پاول اسپراکمن

Translating Rumi through the Prism of Ideology

Amir Artaban Sedaghat <> holds a PhD from the Sorbonne in sciences du langage, with a specialization in transcultural communications. He currently teaches French translation at the University of Toronto. A multilingual scholar, he focuses his research on the reception of Persian classical literature in the West. He has published articles about the semiology of Persian prosody and Iranian music and the ideological and ethical dimensions of translation.



All became my companion out of their own conjecture
None searched for my secrets from within me[1],[2]

Distich 6 of Neynāme neatly summarizes one of the main problems of hermeneutics: that of interpreting the author’s intentions. This article will show how this is also a central issue in translation, which is a textual process of interpreting the linguistic discourse, eliciting its meaning, and recreating the discourse in a different linguistic system. More often than not, readers, interpreters, commentators, and translators in particular tend to look for and find what they want in the text, rather than letting the text speak for itself. A work’s reception is of long-standing interest to literary critics. Critical theories on reception range from epistemological approaches from the scholastic exegesis of sacred texts to the school of Constance’s Erwartungshorizont (horizon of expectations), Jakobson’s linguistic theory of communication, Roland Barthes’s la mort de l’auteur (death of the author), and the hermeneutic theories of Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer. However, the application of a pertinent set of reception theories to translation is relatively recent. What is of particular interest here is the application of relevant concepts to the reception by the West of Rumi’s mystic discourse through abundant translations and retranslations of his works, mainly in English but also in French and German, throughout the past two centuries.

This article will examine the hermeneutic complexities of Rumi’s mystic discourse, on the one hand, and identify the ideological and political considerations that have affected the transcultural reception of his work through translation, on the other. To this end, I will adopt a hermeneutic approach relying on a linguistic theory of reception, applied to the theoretical framework of translation and transcultural communication studies. The corpus consists of selected translations into English and French from the nineteenth century onwards of the poetic work of Mowlana Jalaleddin Balkhi (Rumi). I will first discuss the epistemological complexities of Sufism and Rumi’s unique discourse to demonstrate what is at stake in the interpretation of his texts. Subsequently, I will examine the question of reception through translation to show the modalities of ideological and political interference in the process of translation, using Karl Bühler’s model of verbal communication, Antoine Berman’s ethic theory of translation, the polysystems theory, and Lefevere’s concept of translation as rewriting. Finally, I will give concrete examples to demonstrate the distorting impact of prevailing ideological and political discourses within both the source and the target culture on the reception of Rumi’s work through translation.


  1. Hermeneutic Difficulties in the Reception of Rumi’s Work

The reception of Rumi’s work and thought in any target culture is hindered by a series of hermeneutic complexities that are associated with the nature of his discourse. These difficulties can be explained by the epistemological specificities of mysticism within the Islamic and Iranian worlds, as well as the particular nature of Rumi’s discourse within the sphere of mysticism. Rumi’s complex rhetoric further complicates the translator’s task.

1.1 Metaphysical Principles of Mysticism

Sufism, tasavvof in Arabic and Persian, is the mystical doctrine developed within the Islamic world. As Henry Corbin, the prominent French philosopher specializing in Islamic and Iranian philosophies, explains, “Sufism as a testimony to the existence of a mystic religion within Islam, is of inestimable importance.”[3]

However, complexities appear from the beginning with the use of the term tasavvof to describe the mystic metaphysics, which Corbin calls “Sufi theosophy” (divine philosophy). He attributes the problem to the connotations of the term tasavvof in a more modern Iranian context, in which it refers to the social historicity of a religious movement rather than to a philosophical system. Ever since the Safavid era, the term erfan ([quest for] the mystic knowledge [of God]) seems to refer more pertinently to a metaphysical system of thought rather than the pragmatic reality of tariqat (Path/Sufi wayfaring) incarnated by organized Sufi orders with a systematic hierarchy and rituals.[4] Moreover, terms such as Sufi or dervish contain a relatively negative connotation in modern Persia by being associated with asceticism, a marginal lifestyle, and esoteric, even secret, communities, whereas aref (mystic) conjures up the image of a seeker of mystic truth through spiritual purification. Corbin explains, furthermore, that mystic metaphysics in Islam is not restricted to Sufi theosophy but also manifested in the oriental theosophy of Sohravardi (Eshraq) as well as Shia metaphysics.[5]

Beyond the terminological difficulties, the distinction between Sufi practice (tariqat) and mystic theosophy is of utmost importance in the study of the metaphysics of Rumi’s discourse.[6] This differentiation is all the more crucial in that many mystic poets like Hafez or Rumi show reticence towards tariqat; its top-down, master-disciple, hierarchical order; and its sheikh-dominated social organization. While not strictly antagonistic to it, Rumi’s approach, involving self-abandonment and purification in an individual quest and union with the Truth, is not perfectly in tune with the somewhat sectarian character of tariqat-e sufiyye (Sufi orders), often embedded in secrecy and occupied with social and political influence.

Among other dissociations, mystic theosophy stands in a dual dialectical opposition to prevalent theological tenets of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and Islamic scholastic philosophy (kalam). First, from an epistemological standpoint, mystic metaphysics, as Corbin explains,[7] is based on an axiomatic distinction between the zahir, exoteric component, and the batin, esoteric aspect, of phenomena, the sacred text in particular. For Islamic mystics, the hidden esoteric meaning of the Holy Scripture has primacy over its apparent, immediately accessible aspect. From this belief stems the theoretical exclusion of mysticism from the mainstream literalist interpretation of the Koran and Sunna (prophetic tradition), regardless of mystics’ adherence to Sharia law. While shari’at[8] is the domain of literalist Islamic theology embodied in the elicitation of God’s law from the letter of the sacred text, theosophy thrives in a spiritual quest for the esoteric spirit of the word (haqiqat).[9] A number of scholars, like Edward Browne and Nicholson,[10] have seen in this central dichotomy of letter and spirit the influence of pre-Islamic philosophies such as Neoplatonism with reference to the Hellenic axiomatic notion of the duality of the word. Not surprisingly, the concept of the duality of the Sacred Word—itself a linguistic sign above all—as the underlying paradigm applied to the translations of the Hebrew Bible was met with heavy criticism by the French Talmudist Henri Meschonnic.[11]

Moreover, there is an essentially ontological approach to the nature and acquisition of knowledge, especially to the achievement of the knowledge of the ultimate Truth, the divine Truth. Between kalam (and a fortiori fiqh) and spiritual theosophy, “there is all the distance that separates the certainty of theoretical knowledge (‘ilm ol-yaqin) from the certitude of personally realized and lived knowledge (haqq ol-yaqin).”[12] The fundamental difference resides in both the nature and the modalities of acquiring knowledge. The theoretical knowledge gained by an active thinking subject from a passive object is opposed to the ontological knowledge where the object of knowledge becomes its subject; the known is revealed to and experienced by the knower. This knowledge is not acquired but experienced—erfahren in German and éprouvé in French. In Corbin’s view,[13] when the object of knowledge surpasses the intellectual capacity of its subject,[14] the knowledge is realized only through the “revelation” of the Truth to the knower. This is the concept of theophany, the manifestation of truth to the heart of the mystic, a phenomenon Corbin finds common to Islamic theosophy and Christian speculative theology.[15] In speculative theology, too, God appears to the mystic as if in a mirror (speculum). As a result of the experience of this manifested truth, the known and the knower become one. The mystic becomes the Truth. Human becomes God.[16]

1.2 Mystic Thought and Islamic Orthodoxy  

It is therefore not difficult to imagine the clash between mystic thought and Islamic orthodoxy in its legal theory (fiqh) elicited from the immediate sense of Kitab  (the Koran) and Sunna, or in its dialectic discourse of ‘Elma al-kalam (Islamic scholastics), destined to dispel doubters and detractors. Mystic theosophy’s esoteric approach to Truth and its reliance on a spiritual path of union with God give it the uneasy status of a heterodoxy—if not heresy—in the face of the legalist core of Islam. However, in an inclusive mindset, efforts have been made on occasions, by both mystics and benevolent adherents to Islamic orthodoxy, to reconcile theoretical and practical differences, bridging the ideological gaps in the form of a modus vivendi. This has given birth to a more law-abiding and conformist view of Sufism which some scholars like Leili Anvar call the “sobriety Sufism,” as opposed to the fiery version of mysticism, “intoxication Sufism,” characterized by the antinomic and provocative language of mystics like Rumi in his Divan. Discrete and compliant mystics[17] have been more or less tolerated throughout the centuries in the Islamic world in the name of freedom of faith and religious symbiosis. However, the tragic fate of thinkers such as Sohravardi or Hallaj, executed by religious authorities for heresy, remains to remind us of the delicate balance between two opposing approaches to the relationship between human and God.

Once established later on, sober Sufism was to be legitimized out of expediency, not only as a set of ascetic spiritual practices imitating the Prophet’s lifestyle, but also as a metaphysical system in its own right. This was realized by attributing its theoretical grounds to the Koran and divine traditions (hadis-e qodsi).[18] Many Sunni thinkers, such as Ghazzali, who was both a Sufi and a prominent Ash’ari theologian,[19] led a Sufi way of life while remaining at the forefront of Sharia.[20] But the theoretical polemic about the inclusion of erfan within Islamic ideology remains even to date. There is no doubt that Sufism both as a practice and a theosophical system has been shaped within the Islamic world and as such is profoundly affected by its theological discourse and references. Yet empirical observations of texts, themes, and practices in mystic works suggest more decisive external influences: systematic and pragmatic similarities between Sufism, on the one hand, and Neoplatonism, Mazdeism, Christian Gnosis, and Indian philosophy, on the other, point to its exogenous sources. Certain orientalists, such as Edward Palmer, go as far as attributing the origins of mystic thought to “the development of the Primaeval Religion of” Indo-Iranians.[21] Many scholars, like Nicholson himself, defend the thesis of Neoplatonism as the source of Sufism.[22] Others, like Anne-Marie Schimmel,[23] point out Christian elements in the mystic beliefs. Edward Browne’s more balanced and synthetic view favors the independence of Sufism, regarding it as a universal human quest for Truth regardless of religion, race, or geographical specificities.[24] More recently, Dariush Shaygan showed in his thesis, Les relations de l’hindouisme et du soufisme,[25] on the works of the Moghul prince Dara Shokuh, the profound influence exercised by Vedic philosophies upon Sufi thought. Mostafa Vaziri’s monograph entitled Rumi and Shams’ Silent Rebellion: Parallels with Vedanta, Buddhism and Shaivism focuses more specifically on the echo of such key Vedic concepts as brahman, atman, samsara, and maya in the evolution of Rumi’s thought in contact with Shams of Tabriz.[26] The bottom line is that regardless of the nature and origin of mystic theosophy and of Rumi’s thought, it cannot be considered as representative of the core message of Islam.

While Sufi orders (tariqat-e sufiyye) later became an inseparable part of the religious scene of the Islamic world, as mentioned before, they correspond more to a pragmatic reality of Sufism, featuring a social structure and collective rituals rather than a philosophical system of thought. This fact should be borne in mind when faced with Rumi’s paradoxical figure manifested in two opposing poles or profiles: that of an intrepid, nonconformist mystic, passionate lover, and dancing bard versus that of an Islamic theologian, headmaster of an Islamic school, notable preacher of Konya, and above all a prominent Sufi sheikh with numerous disciples. The latter is the image of him traditionalists seek to present, however puzzling this conception may look in the face of Rumi’s controversial lifestyle and fiery words, not to mention his striking relationship with Shams.

As for Rumi’s own viewpoint on mystic theosophy and its relation to religious dogma, perhaps nowhere is it more explicitly expressed than in his prose preface of Book V of Masnavi. He makes a clear distinction between three related doctrinal components: shari’at, the orthodox religion, tariqat, the Sufi path, and haqiqat, the spiritual Truth. He subtly implies that the two former, shari’at and tariqat, are supposed to be means to reach the Truth, but that only haqiqat, the Truth, and nothing else, is the goal: “If the truth manifested itself, religions would become nought.”[27] Rumi continues with a metaphor: “[It is] as if copper becomes gold [by the chemistry of religion or Sufi Path] as opposed to when something is gold to begin with.”[28] He thus clearly identifies his goal as spiritual truth, separating it from both religious law and tariqat, albeit without dismissing them altogether.

1.3 Discursive Difficulties of Rumi’s Poetry

The complicated status of mysticism and the subsequent need for discretion, as well as the esoteric nature of mystic teachings, made the use of a hermetic coded language necessary to communicate the message. Therefore, a halo of purposeful ambiguity may be found around all modes of mystic expression.[29] This is one of the main reasons poetry has been the language of preference for many Persian mystics since the twelfth century.

Mystic poetry, as a linguistic semiotic subsystem, is a language in its own right. Poetry is essentially the language of trope, figurative sense, metaphor, allegory. It is the domain of double meaning and the non-dit (unspoken) par excellence, the best means of expression for the ineffable mystic sense. Even the name of God hardly appears in most mystic poems. God is not referred to by his names; he is known by his attributes. The artistic poetic language is also an efficient means of propagating ideas, rarely subjected to censorship by religious and political authorities the way philosophical treaties might be. It is in this logic that Rumi, despite his alleged aversion to poetry, composed some 124,000 verses in two monumental poetic works.[30] Rumi’s verses, particularly his ghazals, are more than a linguistic utterance. Endowed with extraordinary musicality, his verses display the features of a hybrid semiotic system. This constitutes the first hurdle for translation, not only in terms of transferring contextually referenced, culturally specific tropes, but also on account of the multilayer semiotization of the discourse by a transcendental sign system which surpasses at once the limits of language and of music.[31]

The translator of Rumi’s work faces many other hurdles. The work has linguistic complexities—namely, those caused by Persian grammar and lexicon: ambiguities caused by the absence of grammatical gender, lexical and syntactic archaisms, lack of punctuation, polysemy and connotative semantic lexical components, the hybrid nature of the lexicon, and so on. Beyond the linguistic obstacles of translation lie discursive issues: the purposeful ambiguity of Rumi’s idiolect, which is an unstable linguistic discourse built primarily in polysemy. Who can judge beyond a reasonable doubt what Rumi means by terms like friend, companion, love, lover, idol, beauty, wine, intoxication?[32] Are these references to divine love, or to his love for Shams or a female lover?  Furthermore, at a macrostructural level, there is no apparently coherent argumentation in the poetic language of Rumi’s ghazals, nor even in his didactic work, Masnavi, whose versified tales may appear incongruous to a Cartesian mindset on account of their non-linear narrative structure, numerous digressions, multiple narrative voices, and constant change of diegetic paradigms. Rumi’s narration has a logic of its own, that of several ancient texts including the Old Testament, according to a recent study.[33] Masnavi has a circular model of arrangement called ring composition. As if this were not enough, Rumi did not hesitate to shock the reader with obscene language, salacious scenes, and indecent situations.

In short, Rumi’s translator is faced with a monumental task, one that can be compared to the translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Koine Greek (the Septuagint).

  1. Modalities of Deformation

Rumi’s text is indeed a puzzle even in its source language. Even in works with no discursive complexity, recreating medieval Persian utterances in most European languages would present a challenge. But Rumi’s discourse is not a stable one with a fixed semantic message. It is coded, esoteric, deliberately ambiguous. It needs deciphering, commentary, exegesis for many source-language readers. However, exegesis raises a sensitive question in a translation: while objective metalinguistic and explicative notes are an indispensable translation tool, any attempt by the translator to interpret the text for the reader constitutes a fatal error from an ethical perspective.

2.1 Berman’s Theory of Translation Ethics  

Antoine Berman, the renowned French translation studies scholar, postulates a widely acclaimed theory of ethics in translation, inspired by German idealists like Schleiermacher. Schleiermacher argued:

“Either the translator leaves the author, as much as possible, and moves the reader towards him; or he leaves the reader in peace, as much as possible, and moves the author towards him” […] Schleiermacher allowed the translator to choose between a domesticating method, an ethnocentric reduction of the foreign text to target-language cultural values, bringing the author back home, and a foreignizing method, an ethnodeviant pressure on those values to register the linguistic and cultural difference of the foreign text, sending the reader abroad.[34]

Schleiermacher’s clear choice was the foreignizing translation, which Berman takes to be the only ethical form of translation. Berman calls attention to the underlying processes of distorting text in his theory of deformation, which differentiates unethical ethnocentric translations from foreignizing ones. He recognizes a set of twelve deforming tendencies. They stem from the translator’s mostly unconscious proclivities that seriously damage the discursive framework of the source text with a view to conforming to the stylistic and aesthetic norms of the target language. Berman’s deforming tendencies are as follows:

  • Rationalization
  • Clarification
  • Expansion
  • Ennoblement or popularization
  • Qualitative impoverishment
  • Quantitative impoverishment
  • The destruction of rhythms
  • The destruction of underlying networks of signification
  • The destruction of linguistic patternings
  • The destruction of vernacular network[s] or their exoticization
  • The destruction of expressions and idioms
  • The effacement of the superimposition of languages[35]

While these unconscious deformations occur mostly within the translated text, more insidious deforming forces are in action outside the text, in what Gérard Genette calls the paratext.[36] Following from Berman’s rationalization and clarification tendencies, the concept of second-degree deformation can be usefully applied here. Second-degree deformation consists of the translator’s tendency to direct the possible interpretations of the source text by providing extra information on the margin of the text, in such guises as comments, footnotes, forewords, textual reframing, and choice of titles. The paratextual information can lead to distortion of the text’s reception insofar as it affects the potentiality of interpretations—that is, by actualizing only a certain number of  “potential” interpretations that could exist of the text in favor of the translator’s view. This actualization of potential leads to the fixation of an otherwise fluid, unstable discourse. The more fluid the discourse, the more devastating the damage. The nature and modalities of the second-degree deformation can best be explained in light of Karl Bühler’s communication model.

2.2 Karl Bühler’s Communication Model and Second-Degree Deformation

In Bühler’s model, revisited by Prandi,[37] the verbal communication process has three dimensions: The first is the formation of the utterance by the addresser using linguistic signs (words), regulated by the code of a system (language), creating a linguistic discourse with reference to an extralinguistic context. The extralinguistic context of reference is the second side of the triangle. The third is the reception of the linguistic message by the addressee, who deciphers it using the linguistic indications of the discourse and the extralinguistic indications of the context of reference. The linguistic communication therefore relies on three elements: symbol, the linguistic sign; index, the extralinguistic contextual datum; and system, the linguistic code. Thus, to the symbolic character (semiotic feature) of the utterance is opposed the indexical character (semantic feature) of the message. While the semiotic structure of the utterance has an arbitrary but predictable value, since it is imposed by the linguistic code, “the index” receives in each instance a “contingent positional value.”[38]

In the case of demonstratio ad oculos, whereby the addresser and addressee are speaking face-to-face of objects in their sight,[39] Bühler imagines the indication field as “the field consisting of objects and forces that endow the index with its positional value.”[40] The internal indexical forces of language consist of textual deictic and cataphoric/anaphoric expressions.[41] The external denotational elements of this field are the contextual data. In all other forms of communication, including a text, a second field can be imagined: “The interpretation field, on the basis of which the value of the message of the utterance is defined, can be considered as a force field of second degree. Although specific in its structure, it is a functional development of the primary indication field.”[42] The two fields connect the two other sides of the communication triangle to the context of reference, once at the formation and once at the reception of the message. First, the indication field relates the formation of the discourse to the referential context, and second, the interpretation field lies where the discourse is received and understood in relation to the referential context. In an ideal scenario, the indication and interpretation fields are identical, as in demonstratio ad oculos or communication in presentia. However, in communication in absentia, with written texts for instance, the distance separating the two fields can complicate the communication. The larger this contextual distance is, the harder it is to understand the message. Of utmost importance here is the interpretation field of culturally distant texts, a field enriched in order to accommodate “all kinds of knowledge, information, presuppositions, expectations and shared projects by the partners of the act of parole, upon which the interpreter tries to go back to the intended message.”[43]

Translation involves a dual process of communication, once between the author and the translator, then between the translator and the reader. Interpretation being the first stage of the process, the translator interprets the hermetic text of Rumi, for example, before reformulating it into a discourse in the target linguistic system. Furthermore, any external force entering the indication field of the target text, absent in the indication field of the source text, must be considered as “noise” insofar as it increases the distance between the source text’s indication field and the target text’s reader’s interpretation field in the second stage of communication. Influenced by the translator’s subjectivity and ideological orientation, the indication field of the translated text and consequently the reader’s interpretation field are already contaminated. While this residual noise seems inevitable, extra data, exegetic information, and translator’s commentaries within specific ideological paradigms further hamper the process of communication between the author and the target-language reader. The contextual distance is already important because the linguistic and cultural differences have given way to irrelevant presuppositions and expectations. While the first type of contamination of the interpretation field—unconscious because it is the result of the translator’s subjectivity—is uncontrollable, the second, conscious type of interference must be avoided by all means. However, quite often, the translator’s exegetic commentaries find their way into the secondary interpretation field of reception, in such guises as footnotes, prefaces, and chosen titles.[44] It is interference in this secondary field that I call second-degree deformation.

2.3 Translation Norms and Ideological Interference

The text is the privileged space of Berman’s deforming tendencies, whereas paratext is the epicenter of second-degree deformation. Berman’s tendencies are mostly unconscious, attributed to the translator’s subjectivity, whereas the underlying motives of second-degree deformation can be found mainly in conscious ideological choices. The ideology could be the translator’s own or the one dominant in source or target culture paradigms imposed by translation norms.

Inspired by Russian formalists and Roman Jakobson’s structuralist theory of linguistic communication, Evan-Zohar and Toury theorized these norms in their polysystem theory.[45] In their descriptive approach, literary works and, by extension, translations are studied as parts of the society’s literary system, itself in interrelation with other systemic functions: cultural, social, historical, and political. The reception of translated works can be studied by focusing on the relations between all these systems within an overarching polysystem. Translation, like any other literary production, can have a primary or secondary position in the repertoire of the polysystem. This positionality and the polysystem’s institutions determine translation norms, which constitute the key factors having a direct impact on the translation’s nature, quality, and adequacy.

Based on the same model but in a more critical approach, André Lefevere draws a clearer picture of the translation norms in action.[46] According to Lefevere, norms are imposed, with the aim of using translation as part of a rewriting process (of the literary and ideological canons), by two decisive actors: professionals and patronage. Professionals, comprising critics, reviewers, academics, and translators, are at the origin of the dominant poetics and impose the poetological norms. The patronage, consisting of individuals, groups, and institutions, controls the ideology, the economics, and the status of the translation process. They impose the ideological norms of rewriting. Lefevere asserts, “On every level of the translation process, it can be shown that, if linguistic considerations enter into conflict with considerations of an ideological and/or poetological nature, the latter tend to win out.”[47]

These norms and considerations may act directly upon the text, the paratext, or both. As some of the following examples suggest, these norms have been in action with full force in the reception of Rumi’s work in the English- and French-speaking worlds.

  1. Deforming Tendencies in Translating Rumi

Whether deforming tendencies are imposed by the polysystem’s—source or target—poetological/ideological norms or originated deliberately on the translator’s initiative, they are visible virtually everywhere in the reception of Rumi’s discourse, occurring in both the text and the paratext.

3.1 Ideological Interference in Linguistic Choice

The interference of the dominant poetological norms in target polysystems is apparent in the first example: it is manifested by the linguistic choices made by various (French, British, and American) translators since the nineteenth century. Most translators have acted under the influence of a historically prevalent ideological view within the source polysystem (the Persian world) or an orientalist paradigm in their target polysystem. According to this view, Rumi, being a Sufi theologian, must be alluding to only one “Beloved”: a masculine almighty God, despite the sensual imagery deployed in these verses of Masnavi.

پرده بردار و برهنه گو که من               می‌نخسپم با صنم با پیرهن

گفتم ار عریان شود او در عیان             نه تو مانی نه کنارت نه میان

Parde bardar o berehne gu ke man                   minakhosbam ba sanam ba pirhan

Goftam ar oryan shavad u dar ayan                  na to mani na kenarat na miyan

[S/he says:…]

“Tear off the veil, speak to me barely

As I don’t sleep with an idol, with clothes on.”

I say: if she strips her clothes in front of you

Neither wilt thou remain, nor your waist, nor embrace!

E1) Redhouse: p. 8–11[48]

The veil tear off, dissimulation lost:

“When unadorned, beauty’s adorned the most.”

Should my sweet love unveil’d her charms display,

Thy smirks and smiles would all be borne away.

E2) Whinfield: p. 7–12[49]

“Strip off the veil and speak out, for do not I

Enter under the same coverlet as the Beloved?”

I said, “If the Beloved were exposed to outward view,

Neither wouldst thou endure, nor embrace, nor form.”

E3) Nicholson: p. 9–11[50]

“Lift the veil and speak nakedly, for I do not wear a shirt when I sleep with the Adored One.”

I said: “If He should become naked in (thy) vision, neither wilt thou remain nor thy bosom nor thy waist.”

E4) Mojaddedi: p. 10–13[51]

“Be frank and lift the veil, you ditherer.

I wear no nightshirt when in bed with her!”

I said, “If the beloved strips for you,

You’ll be effaced, your waist and body too!”

E5) Williams: p. 16–19[52]

“Hold back the veil and speak the naked truth!

I don’t lie down with clothes on with my lover.”

I said, “If He were naked in your sight,

you’d not survive, nor would your breast nor waist.”

F) Vitray-Meyerovitch: p. 59–61[53]

“Lève le voile et parle nûment, car je ne porte pas de chemise quand je dors avec mon Adoré.”

Je dis : “S’il t’apparaissait sans voiles, tu ne resterais pas, ni aucune partie de toi-même.”


With the exception of Redhouse and Mojaddedi—the former an early Victorian translator insensitive to this ideological discourse and the latter a Persian speaker aware of the subtleties of Rumi’s discourse—all other translators make linguistic choices that have devastating effects on Rumi’s fluid and equivocal discourse. They transform an erotic image, expressed fairly explicitly, into a univocal, sterilized, vaguely spiritual discourse by making two small grammatical and typographical choices: the adoption of masculine pronouns for the Persian genderless sanam (the idol) and the capitalization of the letter B in beloved. The word sanam is a periphrasis (kenaye) for an attractive person (especially female) with a beautiful face spurring adoration. The choice of the masculine gender to refer to this “beauty” in the English and French texts and the capitalization of its first letter, implying its divine nature, clearly turn “idol” into a metaphor for God. This is all the more detrimental, both to the semiotic structure of the utterance and the semantic network of the message, because the explicitly powerful imagery of “making love with your clothes on” is completely transformed into a prosaic allegory alluding to the banal concept of sincerity towards the Creator.

Linguistic choices reveal translators’ ideological orientation, whether they are made deliberately or reflect an unconscious predisposition towards a dominant orientalist ideology. In either case, these apparently insignificant choices present several of Berman’s deforming tendencies: Rationalization occurs, since translators replace an explicitly sensual image with a rational prosaic statement deemed more appropriate for the great mystic teacher. By purging its sexual connotations, they also ennoble the text. Clarification also occurs since the human or divine nature of Rumi’s beloved is by no means revealed in the source text. The outcome of these three deforming forces is the destruction of underlying networks of signification. Examples of this phenomenon abound in translations of Persian mystic poetry.

3.2 Translation Misunderstood: Suspicions of Anti-Semitism

The second example, of a different nature, concerns an incident in the reception of Arberry’s selective prose translation of Masnavi. Published in postwar UK, dominated by a climate of hypersensitivity towards anti-Semitism, Arberry’s translation was faced with very negative reactions from certain critics and readers, who accused him and Rumi of anti-Semitism in reference to one of the book’s tales: The Jewish King and the Christians.[54]

It is the story of a fictive king in Judea who, in order to kill the maximum number of Christians, creates discord among them by infiltrating his vizier into their circle of religious leaders. Despite its suggestive narrative, which may be construed as aimed at diabolizing the Jewish king, placed in the right context and read more thoroughly, the tale has an allegorical nature that seems obvious to any impartial reader. The main theme here is not interreligious feuds between believers of a particular religion—Jews or Christians—nor is it the dominance, by way of dividing and conquering, of a ruling class composed of a specific ethnic group. It is in fact the very social and sectarian nature of some Sufi orders (tariqats), whereby followers rely excessively on the guidance of supposedly illuminated sheikhs instead of searching for the Truth within themselves. If this tale offers criticism, it is criticism of the sociopolitical structure of Sufi brotherhoods, of sectarianism, not of any specific religious group. The antihero here, despite appearances, is not the Jewish king but the gullible disciples and their masters.

As this example shows, a message is easily misinterpreted when the interpretation field is contaminated by irrelevant contextual and circumstantial data. The resulting failure of reception was particularly exacerbated by the dominating ideological norms imposed by the target polysystem’s patronage.

3.3 Turkish Peripeteia of Translating Rumi

Rumi is a central pillar of Turkish culture and one of Turkey’s well-known icons. The Mevlevi Sufi Order, with its emblematic ritual dance of Sama’, was founded by Rumi’s descendants and remains one of the most important Sufi orders not only in Anatolia but all over the world. After the order was briefly marginalized by Kamalism in the early twentieth century, the order’s revival gave it international renown, so it became one of Turkey’s main cultural tourist attractions. Some prominent Turkish scholars have contributed tremendously to the diffusion of Rumi’s thought and work, namely Gölpinarli, whose Turkish edition of Divan is a reference alongside Foruzanfar’s.[55]

Nonetheless, cases of insidious second-degree deformation are not rare in translations done by Turks, rooted, among other factors, in the instrumentalization of Rumi’s figure to project a liberal picture of his adopted homeland. An example of rewriting by the patronage is the active role Turkish institutions have played in funding Rumi translations into English, exemplified by Nevit Ergin’s monumental project of translating the entirety of the ghazals. Having insufficient knowledge of Persian, Ergin used Gölpinarli’s Turkish version of the ghazals as a base, raising the usual ethical and technical problems associated with indirect translation. Ergin’s ideological agenda is furthermore manifested in a range of paratextual devices such as his choice of texts, titles, and forewords. In the introduction to his collaborative anthology with the extravagant title of The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication, Ergin brashly claims to have published translations of Rumi’s censored poems. This claim is utterly false given that the poems in question had all previously appeared in Foruzanfar’s edition of Divan. Below is an extract from this introduction:

Rumi let go of the precepts of formal religion, insisting instead that only a complete personal dissolving into the larger energies of God can provide the satisfaction that the heart so desperately seeks. It is a testament to how well-loved Rumi was in his adopted community of Konya, Turkey, that he encountered no reprisals for pronouncements that would certainly have gotten him into very hot water indeed had they been uttered instead in present day Iran or in Afghanistan under the Taliban.[56]

With this anachronistic distortion of history, Ergin perpetuates the myth of the legendary tolerance in the Sultanate of Rum, evidently undistinguished from present-day Turkey. By the same token, Persian culture is castigated as intolerant through a caricatural alignment of the Taliban and Iranian state.

This phenomenon, which I call a liberalizing tendency—commonplace in more modern translations of Rumi, consisting of stripping Rumi of his Persian and Islamic character—could already be found in some Turkish translators as early as 1950 with Halet Tchelebi’s French translations of quatrains. The echoes of this tendency can be heard in several recent popularizing versions (free translations) of Rumi published in the United States by poets who have no knowledge of Persian or mystic literature. In his preface, for instance, Tchelebi takes a radical position in favor of Rumi’s Divan, deemed superior to Masnavi in view of its “non-Islamic panentheistic and agnostic” nature.[57] He underlines the heterodoxy of Rumi’s discourse within the Islamic world to present him more as a freethinker than an Islamic mystic, more attractive to the laical ideological mindset of both source (Turkish) and target (French) polysystems.

Finally, it is worthwhile mentioning a brazen act of rewriting denounced by the eminent Rumi scholar Franklin Lewis in his quasi encyclopedia of Rumi.[58] Lewis deplores a Turkish tourist guide written by a certain Önder, entitled Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi, in circulation in Konya:

This book published by the Turkish Ministry of Culture, displays an extremely exuberant ignorance, or an ethnocentric agenda. In the introduction, Önder refers to Rumi as “the great Turkish mystic” and “a great Turkish intellectual.” […] In any case, we can forgive the linguistic chauvinism of poets and authors who believe their language to be the best since Babel, but Önder must surely know that Rumi wrote and spoke Persian. Therefore, we can only surmise that his cultural jingoism represents a conscious effort to rob Rumi of his Persian and Iranian heritage, and claim him for Turkish literature, ethnicity and nationalism.[59]

3.4 Rumi, the Quintessence of Islam

A quintessential form of second-degree deformation is seen in a number of English and French translations carried out mostly by Rumi scholars—often themselves members of a tariqat—with a clear ideological stance in favor of the Islamic nature of Rumi’s thought. While this Islamizing view can be supported by the Islamic character of several elements in Rumi’s work and thought, theoretical problems arise when a restrictive interpretation of his text is indirectly imposed on the target-language reader. This ideological manipulation, which I call the Islamizing tendency, as opposed to the aforementioned liberalizing tendency, consists of presenting Rumi’s philosophy as a pure fruit of Islamic dogma, his work as entirely inspired by the Koran and the prophetic tradition (Sunna), and his mystic system in perfect tune with Islamic core teachings. A discussion about how mysticism or Rumi’s thought has been influenced by the Koran and to what extent it corresponds to the main theological doctrines of Islam surpasses the scope of this article. The Islamic world, just as any other religious area,[60] is multiple and pluralistic: there is no single uniform Islamic doctrine. However, taking Rumi’s mysticism as the archetype of Islamic thought or the true message of Islam appears extremely simplistic and reductionist if one takes into account its fundamental differences, in theory and practice, from the doctrinal principles of fiqh and kalam. By emphasizing the Islamic character of Rumi’s texts, primarily Masnavi, and not giving the reader insight into epistemological differences, not to say frictions, between mystic theosophy and the mainstream literalist doctrines of Islam, Islamizing scholars create an orientalist state of nebulosity whereby the reader’s understanding of the text is at the very least distorted.

The principal field of ideological interference in these translations is the peritext, mostly in the translators’ choice of title, exegetic notes, and prefaces. The interference also occurs at a macrostructural level in that many of these translators, supposedly Rumi specialists, have published separate commentaries, speeches, and interviews (epitext) about Sufi thought, poetry, and authors, in which they explicitly demonstrate their ideological view. Some more recent cases of this Islamizing tendency can be understood as a reaction to the prevailing climate of Islamophobia and the xenophobic sentiments emerging of late in Western countries. Certain orientalists, many of whom are Sufi followers themselves, have reacted to this in good faith and with the noble intention of repairing the damaged image of Islam in their target polysystems by presenting an agreeable picture of this religion, stressing the universal character of the thought of figures like Rumi, at the expense of translator’s impartiality. Some of these scholars are in fact responding to the simplistic view of Rumi portrayed by some modern American re-translations, mostly written by poets who do not even read Persian, let alone have a deep understanding of Sufism’s complex system of thought. Overly emphasizing Rumi’s liberal use of sensual images, some of these versions create a caricatural and romanticized image of the mystic, often with commercial aims, sometimes even distorting the text by omitting and adding content. This liberalizing tendency represents the opposite end of a simplistic orientalism spectrum.

An example of the Islamizing tendency in the English-speaking world can be found in the work of William Chittick, whose The Sufi Path of Love presents a heavily commentated selection of Rumi’s verses. This follows the model of commentaries (sharh) existing in the source language, written by religious professionals and patronage with the aim of rewriting the Sufi canon. Chittick’s case is all the more interesting since all his translated poems are systematically organized according to their religious content, and almost every verse is explained by the translator/commentator to showcase a point elicited from the doctrine of Sunni Islam, imitating the structure of an exegesis of the Koran. Chittick asserts: “In spite of the often-bewildering complexity of the picture Rumi paints, all of his expositions and explanations are […] reducible to a single sentence or phrase. […] the overriding reality of Rumi’s existence and of Islam itself: ‘There is no god but God.’”[61] Chittick then cites Rumi: “How many words the world contains! But all have one meaning. When you smash the jugs, the water is one.”[62]

What is striking in such practices as Chittick’s is the judicious selection of quotations to make an ideological point. By isolating utterances from the context, scholars like Chittick pick what suits their argument. While this dialectic approach is commonplace in Islamic theological and proselytizing debates whereby Islamic scholars electively make references to the Koran in order to support an argument, it seems inappropriate for Rumi’s poetry, given its deliberately fluid and unstable discursive nature. Ironically, such quotations often turn out to be unconvincing and are even contradicted when repositioned in the original context.[63] This approach is methodologically flawed since such references are mostly anecdotal and evidence to the contrary is easily available elsewhere within the same text, given that mystic poetic discourse is essentially devoid of a fixed dialectical structure. However, Chittick can see only elements of Islamic doctrine in Rumi’s ecstatic, lyrical, and bacchanalian language: “The Western reader faces a number of obstacles to reading and understanding Rumi’s works. Leaving aside the well-known drawbacks of translations in general, there remain the constant references to Islamic teachings with which the reader may not be familiar. Rumi’s universe is shaped by the Koran, the Prophet, and the Moslem saints, just as Dante’s is shaped by Christ, the Bible, and the church.”[64]

It is then the translator’s duty to show Western readers what, unsurprisingly, they cannot see in Rumi’s secular antinomian discourse. Therefore, Chittick disapproves of translations with no exegetic orientation. As far as he is concerned, the reader must read the text through the prism of the Koran, Sunna, and “Moslem saints”—whoever he thinks they are—and it is obviously the translator/commentator’s task to illuminate the reader in this regard.

Of lesser academic importance, Ibrahim Gamard, the creator of and a fervent Muslim, is another adept of this exegetic tradition in Rumi’s translations. He criticizes, quite justly of course, Rumi’s popularizing American translations for their excessively free style, absolute inauthenticity, simplistic views, and distorting effects on the text. He is, again, rightly in favor of literal translations, following Nicholson’s model. But this posture does not make Gamard’s translations free of second-degree deforming tendencies; his translation of Rumi’s quatrains is heavily annotated.[65] He does not shy away from clearly affirming his main goal in the preface of one of his translations: “And as a Muslim (since 1984), I was also interested in explaining Rumi’s frequent Islamic references (to beliefs, verses from the Qur’an, sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, and so on) that permeate his vast outpouring of poetry. I wanted to convey Rumi’s love and veneration for the profound wisdom contained in the verses of the Holy Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet.”[66]

Interestingly, Gamard comments on some verses[67] in which Rumi clearly demonstrates a secular eclectic worldview and a universal doctrine prioritizing a direct personal relationship with God over formal religious orthodoxies, not quite in tune with Islamic teachings. Gamard either refutes the authenticity of such texts or proposes a more traditionalist interpretation for them. In light of Rumi’s references to the Koran or the Prophet’s tradition elsewhere in his work, Gamard opposes the idea of the universality of Rumi’s thought, in a theologian’s style, by rejecting any direct interpretation of Rumi’s secular antinomian texts as “false impressions.”[68]

This approach is represented by Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch, Rumi’s most prolific French translator. The interesting fact about her otherwise monumental work is that she must have had limited knowledge of Persian, not enough to translate independently without help from Persian speakers. Moreover, her French version of Masnavi is suspiciously identical to Nicholson’s English translation, disqualifying her as a Rumi specialist. Rather than citing Vitray-Meyerovitch’s heavily ideological texts, I think it is worth considering a more serious French scholar, Leili Anvar, whose erudite analytical anthologies, suggestively entitled Rumi la religion de l’amour and Trésors dévoilés : anthologie de l’islam spirituel, still display some residual Islamizing proclivities. Anvar expresses her views subtly in her interviews and in the prefaces of her books. In this extract of one preface, she alludes to a central tradition in Sufism, that of the “hidden treasure,” trésor caché, amply developed in the twelfth-century mystic Ruzbahan Baqli Shirazi’s work on the mystic theosophy of love:[69] “‘I was a hidden treasure; I wanted to be known. That’s why I created the creatures, so that they know me.’ It is with these terms that one of the religious traditions of Islam has God speak. All of the created universe is therefore a Book of God, in which everyone reads the splendor of divine attributes. The Koran itself and all sacred and spiritual texts are but mirrors reflecting this grandiose Book of divine realities.”[70]

Attributing the spiritual tradition of the hidden treasure to the kernel of Islam turns a profoundly complex extra-religious notion into a “religious tradition” and bears the hallmark of the translator’s ideological position. By adding elements such as “Islamic tradition,” “the Koran itself,” and “all sacred texts” to the translation’s indication field, Anvar gives a fixed meaning to the otherwise fluid message of mystics like Rumi. She imposes an ideologically formatted reading of mystic poetry and manipulates the potential interpretations of the text to establish it in the center of Islamic doctrine, put on par with “all” other religious doctrines. But Anvar is certainly aware that according to the fundamental tenet of Islam, Mohammad is God’s last messenger (khatam-ol-anbiae val-morsalin) and his Book finalizes the word of God, overriding all former sacred texts, “altered” throughout history so that they do not show the legitimacy of Islam as the last religion to which all humans should surrender.[71] By putting “all spiritual and sacred texts” at the same level as the Koran, Anvar is deliberately ignoring a cardinal theological component of Islam.

3.5 Epistemological and Ethical Problems

Islamizing and liberalizing ideologies pose a twofold problem, epistemological and ethical. They are problematic from an epistemological standpoint since they fail to take note of the entirety of mystic theosophy. Liberalizers focus excessively on Rumi’s lyricism and romanticism, mostly present in Divan,[72] ignoring the theosophical character of Rumi’s discourse. Islamizers focus excessively on Rumi’s undeniably heavy references to the Koran and tradition, mostly in his didactic Masnavi.[73] However, the distorting character of the Islamizing position is less evident.

Islamic influences in Rumi’s work cannot be denied. His work was composed within an Islamic world. Like any other thinker, Rumi lived and thought in the discursive paradigm of his world, and his work is in a dialectical relation with this same epistemological framework. In that respect, Rumi benefited from and based his work on the material available in his sphere. Yet Rumi’s Islamic references do not make him the Muslim theologian that many would make him out to be, despite his earlier career as a preacher and headmaster of a madrassa. First, a large portion of Rumi’s references are to textual material common to all Semitic monotheistic religions. Rumi’s mastery of non- and pre-Islamic sources, namely the Old and New Testaments, is uncontested.[74] Interestingly, on certain occasions of discrepancy between various narratives, Rumi seems to favor the Biblical version over the Islamic tradition.[75] Second, referring to a text, especially a sacred one, or even being influenced by it, is no proof for one’s adherence to its ensuing theological discourse. Anvar claims that even the structure of his works, like most mystic works in Islam, emulates that of the Koran.[76] However, structural resemblances exist between the Koran and other ancient and sacred texts, too. This does not necessarily make the Koran their pure continuation or derivative.

By referring to Koranic or prophetic texts, mystic authors’ intent may have been to reinterpret them in a completely new light. Rumi’s references to sacred texts were made with a view to eliciting a transcendental sense, often fundamentally different from the face value (surat-e zaheri) of these narratives, not with the aim of reaffirming common religious interpretations. On multiple occasions, Rumi’s work, both implicitly and explicitly, evokes notions of pantheism, gnosis, deism, and even irreligion,[77] not to mention the antinomian character of mystic poetry’s bacchanalian themes and sensual terminology. However, the distance between Rumi’s discourse and the common religious dogma may not be immediately comprehensible to many Western scholars, who approach Rumi’s text from an outsider’s angle. Many of the subtle but seminal thematic and formal (semiotic) nuances in mystic discourse,  essentially heterodoxic in Islamic religious dogma, do not necessarily look as extraordinary and non-conformist to a Christian commentator as they do in the context of the Islamic world: these include unorthodox references to sensuality, intoxication, perplexity, and existential (physical and spiritual) union with God.[78]

The Islamizing and liberalizing tendencies also pose an ethical problem regarding the principle of the translation’s neutrality and the translator’s commitment to ideological impartiality. Translation is a dual act of communication, with two sets of indication and interpretation fields. Any subjective view added by the translator to the paratext in the form of exegesis impacts the indication field of the translated text, further distorting the reader’s interpretation field, which is already affected by inevitable peripheral noise and their own presuppositions. However good-willed and innocent the added data may be, it still causes disruption in the reception process, a disruption that is even more noxious when it contains an ideological component. If Berman’s deforming tendencies represent the malefic forces of ethnocentrism in action, the second-degree deformation pertains to the unethical impact of politics and ideologies upon translation. Rumi’s discourse is conceived to be open to interpretation. It must remain so after it is recreated in a different linguistic system.



As Rumi foresaw, “everyone has found in ney’s laments their own pre-established ideas; none looked for her/his secrets within her/him.”[79] Rumi’s discourse indeed has secrets and a semantic content wrapped in a multilayered semiotic system that employs music, trope, allegory, mystic idiolect, provocative language, and more, to speak of the unspeakable. The result is, undoubtedly, an evasive, liquid discourse waiting to be recommunicated through translation as is, not through an ideological prism. It is almost impossible for translators to efface their subjectivity from the reception process, but they can at least limit damage to the original text by being aware of the potential consequences of their linguistic choices, their exegetic notes, and their paratextual activities. In fact, it is the “task of the translator,” to borrow the title of Walter Benjamin’s famous essay,[80] to remain neutral to the text, wary of political and ideological forces at play in both the source and the target polysystems.

The most anodyne piece of information inadvertently added to the interpretation field of the reader can influence the understanding of the author’s intent and modify the reach of the message. Therefore, deliberate interventions made by professionals and patronage with the aim of rewriting poetological or ideological canons are, a fortiori, destructive to the semantic content of the discourse. I presented only a few examples of interference of this kind in the reception of Rumi, an author whose conflictual intellectual position is still highly topical both in the West and in the East. I also observed how Rumi’s message of unity, ironically, still divides today, perhaps because his discourse is a consciously fluid one. But the most important issue is that “specialists” cannot resist the temptation of interpreting an elusive message and reducing its potentiality to compartmentalized ideological postures. Whether the ideological influence is Islamizing or popularizing, many translators, intentionally or inadvertently, have fallen in a reductionist orientalist trap in their approach to an infinitesimally complex philosophy. Hence, these translators have betrayed both the author and the reader. They have failed to bring the reader to the author, leaving the reader respectfully alone with the author’s complexity of Otherness. Instead, by simplistically reducing the author to the pigeonholed categories of a religious or liberalistic doctrine, they have imposed their own interpretation of the text on the reader, making decisions in the reader’s place as what to understand from the text.

[1]Rumi, Masnavi-e Ma’navi (Tehran: Enteshārāt-e daneshgāh-e Tehrān, 1966), I:6.

[2]All translations are mine.

[3]Henry Corbin, “La philosophie islamique, des origines à la mort d’Averroës,” in Histoire de la philosophie, vol. I (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1969), 1048–1197. Quote on p. 1158. Corbin’s contribution to the Histoire de la philosophie collection has two parts, both of which appeared later in a separate volume under the title Histoire de la philosophie islamique (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1986).

[4]Nonetheless, to conform to the common practice in Western languages, I use Sufism, erfan, and mysticism interchangeably here.

[5]Corbin, “La philosophie islamique,” vol. 1, 1098.

[6]The term discourse is used here both in its linguistic meaning (the use of language to create utterances with semiotic and semantic aspects) and in the sense of an intellectual and ideological discourse.

[7]Henry Corbin, “La philosophie islamique depuis la mort d’Averroës jusqu’à nos jours,” in Histoire de la philosophie, vol. III (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1974), 1067–77.

[8]In the more global sense of formal legalist religion rather than the more current meaning of Islamic law (Sharia).

[9]Corbin, “La philosophie islamique,” vol. I, 1050.

[10]Edward Granville Browne, A Literary History of Persia, 4 vols. 1908. (Cambridge: Ibex Pub, 1997), 422; Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, Selected Poems from the Divani Shamsi Tabriz, 1898. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

[11]According to this specialist of Biblical poetics, the duality of the sign, and the separation of form and content, are rooted in a Greco-Roman philosophical tradition, in contrast to the central role of the discursive form (rhythm and prosody) in Semitic languages. Meschonnic thus dismisses most translations of the Old Testament as evidence of the “Hellenization” of the Hebraic discourse. Henri Meschonnic, Pour la poétique II. Epistémologie de l’écriture. Poétique de la traduction (Paris: Éditions Gallimard, 1973).

[12]The difference between the “certainty of the existence of fire” and “being fire by oneself.” Cf. Corbin, “La philosophie islamique,” vol. III, 1071.

[13]Corbin, “La philosophie islamique,” vol. III, 1097–98.

[14]Cf. Rumi, Masnavi, I:20: “If you pour an ocean into a jar,/how much can it take? The ratio of a day!”

[15]With notable examples in Master Eckhart and Rhine mystics or Theresa of Avila.

[16]Hence Hallaj’s statement “I am the Truth.”

[17]Those who focused on practical aspects of Sufism such as asceticism and piety, keeping a low profile, as opposed to those who brazenly put the fundamentals of religious dogma into question, not necessarily in their behavior, but in their intellectual discourse.

[18]This quote from the Koran (50:16) has, for instance, been construed as evidence for the concept of unity between the creator and created: “And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein.”

[19]The case of Ghazzali is all the more interesting because as a mystic he is a rigorist reviver of the Ash’ari school of Kalam. With his Ihy’aye ‘Olum-e-ddin, he attempts to reconcile Sufi theosophy with Sunni theology.

[20]Here it is worth mentioning a traditional classification of Islamic mysticism dividing it into “sober Sufism” and “intoxicated Sufism,” based on the degree of the compatibility of its external manifestations with the formal doctrines of Sharia. While many mystics like Ghazzali represent a compliant version of Sufism, they being theologians, preachers, and Sufis at once, many others, like Rumi, are known for their words of ecstasy, belonging to the well-known genre called shathiyyat (antinomian words pronounced by Sufis) in mystic literature. The incongruity of such profane, even heretic, words of ecstasy gradually became normalized throughout the centuries, as they were explained and institutionalized by Ruzbahan Baqli’s famous twelfth-century treaty on the nature of shath. Cf. Ruzbahan Baqli-e Shirazi, Sharh-e Shathiyat. Commentaire sur les paradoxes des soufis, ed. Henry Corbin (Paris and Tehran : Département d’Iranologie de l’Institut franco-iranien, 1966). The dichotomy of sober/inebriated Sufi is especially commonplace among modern Western scholars. Cf. Leili Anvar, “La poésie amoureuse, une anti-philosophie,” interview by Adèle Van Reeth, Les chemins de la philosophie, in Philosophies d’Iran 2/4, Radio France Culture, 12 December 2017. For a study focusing exclusively on the place of shathiyyat, see Carl Ernst, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985).

[21]Edward Henry Palmer, Oriental Mysticism: A Treatise on Sufiistic and Unitarian Theosophy of the Persians (London: F. Cass, 1969), ix–xii.

[22]Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam (London: Routledge, 1963).

[23]Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 3–22.

[24]Browne, Literary History, 418–20.

[25]Dariush Shaygan, Les relations de l’hindouisme et du soufisme : d’après le Majmaʻ al-Bahrayn de Dara Shokuh (Paris: Éditions de la différence, 1979).

[26]Mostafa Vaziri, Rumi and Shams’ Silent Rebellion: Parallels with Vedanta, Buddhism and Shaivism (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

[27]Rumi, Masnavi, V:818.

[28]Rumi, Masnavi, V:818.

[29]There are two schools of thought concerning the ambiguity of mystic language. On one hand, scholars like Arberry and Schimmel regard the poetic language of mysticism from a literary standpoint, describing it as an “imposed allegory,” a certain obligatory disguise for an essentially erotic discourse created by the author’s consciousness trapped in the midst of tensions between sensual and metaphysical love. That is what Corbin calls the creating force of a conscience malheureuse. On the other hand, scholars like Lewisohn and Seyyed Hosein Nasr approach the question from a metaphysical standpoint, rejecting the existence of any contradiction in the audaciously profane language of mystics, regarding it as pure symbolism, necessary to express archetypal meaning (ma’na). See Leonard Lewisohn, Beyond Faith and Infidelity: The Sufi Poetry and Teachings of Mahmud Shabistari (Richmond, UK: Curzon Press, 1995), 174–75.

[30]The idea of Rumi’s aversion to poetry, attested by his own comments, is strongly contested by Keshavarz, who explains those comments mostly in the light of Rumi’s view about the inadequacy of language. Fatemeh Keshavarz, Reading Mystical Lyric: The Case of Jalal al-Din Rumi (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014), 13–30.

[31]Rumi’s ghazals, like many other Persian poets’, serving as the primary rhythmic basis of Sama’ dance and the Iranian avazi form of music, feature a unique system of signification that is not only linguistic but musical as well. See Amir Artaban Sedaghat, “Rumi’s Verse at the Crossroads of Language and Music,” Mawlana Rumi Review 9 (2018): 91–128.

[32]These bacchanalian terms belong to a mystical poetic genre called khamriyye, which constitutes the canon of Persian (and Arab) Sufi poetry, characterized by a highly secular, anti-clerical, and antinomian terminology used for a spiritual purpose. See Leonard Lewisohn, “The Principles of the Philosophy of Ecstasy,” in The Philosophy of Ecstasy: Rumi and the Sufi Tradition (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2014), 35–80.

[33]Seyed Ghahreman Safavi and Simon Weightman, Rumi’s Mystical Design: Reading the Mathnawi, Book One (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009).

[34]Quoted by Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility (London: Routledge, 1995), 20.

[35]Antoine Berman, La traduction et la lettre ou l’auberge du lointain (Paris: Seuil, 1999), 52–68.

[36]Paratext is divided into peritext (footnotes, preface, etc.) and epitext (interview, external commentaries, etc.). Gérard Genette, Seuils (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1987).

[37]Michele Prandi, Grammaire philosophique des tropes (Paris: Minuit, 1992), 135–71.

[38]Prandi, Grammaire philosophique, 146.

[39]E.g., Jack says to Jill: “That picture is beautiful.”

[40]Prandi, Grammaire philosophique, 146.

[41]Textual deixis is the function that relates the term to the immediately knowable fact in the extralinguistic context (me, here, now, that, etc.), whereas anaphor calls back to the textual referent enunciated beforehand (cataphor). Prandi, Grammaire philosophique, 148.

[42]Prandi, Grammaire philosophique, 148.

[43]Prandi, Grammaire philosophique, 149.

[44]Here it is important to differentiate between meta-translation and explicative notes, on the one hand, and exegetic notes, on the other. These two types are of a fundamentally different nature. (Cf. Pascale Sardin, “De la note du traducteur comme commentaire : entre texte, paratexte et prétexte,” Palimpsestes 20 (2007): 121–36.) Unlike the latter, the former are destined to inform the reader of the linguistic and discursive obstacles faced by the translator as well as to provide factual data—for instance, about historical circumstances of the textual genesis. Explicative and meta notes are praised by Berman as part of the foreignizing process of “education towards the foreign,” with the aim of “bringing the reader to the author.” See Jean Louis Cordonnier, Traduction et culture (Paris: Didier, 1995), 179. The difference between explicative and exegetic notes resides also in the dichotomy between explanation (presentation of objective facts) and interpretation (subjective appropriation of text) as two hermeneutic attitudes theorized by Dilthey. Wilhelm Dilthey, Le monde de l’esprit, trans. M. Remy (Paris: Aubier,‎ 1992).

[45]Itmar Evan-Zohar and Gideon Toury, ed., Translation Theory and Intercultural Relations (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1981).

[46]André Lefevere, Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of the Literary Frame (London: Routledge, 1992).

[47]Lefevere, Translation, 39.

[48]James W. Redhouse, The Mesnevi (Usually Known as the Mesneviyi Sherif, or Holy Mesnevi) of Mevlana (Our Lord) Jelalu-d-iīn, Muhammed, er-Rumi (London: Trübner, 1881).

[49]Edward Henry Whinfield, Masnavi i ma’navi: The Spiritual Couplets of Maulana Jalalu-’d-Din Muhammed i Rumi (London: Trübner, 1887).

[50]Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, The Mathnawi of Jalaluʾddín Rumi, 8 vols. 1926. (Cambridge: The Trustees of the E.J.W. Gibb Memorial, 1990).

[51]Jawid Mojaddedi, The Masnavi, Book One (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[52]Alan Williams, Rumi, Spiritual Verses: The First Book of the Masnavi-ye Ma’navi (London and New York: Penguin Classics, 2006).

[53]Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch and Djamchid Mortazavi, Mathnawi  : la quête de l’absolu (Monaco: Éditions du Rocher, 1990).

[54]Arthur Arberry, Tales from the Masnavi (London: Allen and Unwin, 1961), 31–40.

[55]Rumi, Divan-i Kebir: [Yazan] Mevlana Celaleddin, Hazirhyan, trans. Abdulbaki Gölpinarli (Istanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, 1957–60); Rumi, Kolliat-e Shams-e Tabrizi, trans. Badi’ozzaman Foruzanfar (Tehran: Entesharat-e daneshgah-e Tehran, 1957–66).

[56]Nevit Oguz Ergin, The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2006), 3–4.

[57]Assaf Hâlet Tchelebi, Rouba’yat (Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1984), 11–17.

[58]Franklin Lewis, Rumi Past and Present, East and West: The Life, Teachings, and Poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi (Oxford: Oneworld, 2007).

[59]Lewis, Rumi Past and Present, 548–49.

[60]I use the term area with reference to and instead of the term aire civilisationnelle (area of civilization) insofar as speaking of an “Islamic civilization” would sound almost as epistemologically problematic as believing in the existence of a “Christian civilization.” Such an overgeneralizing characterization of cultural and geographic entities based on religious criteria seems reductionist to say the least.

[61]William Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983), 7. One response to such arguments is to ask why Rumi didn’t express directly such a banal affirmation of the Islamic dogma and what would be the need for such discursive “complexity.”

[62]Rumi, Divan-e Shams, ghazal 3020, line 8. First, Chittick’s translation of loghat is erroneous since here it means “language” or “ideological discourse” (logos) rather than the more trivial modern Persian sense of “word.” Second, this reductionist interpretation of Rumi’s verse seems an oversimplification when placed in the context of the ghazal in question, which expresses the notion of “unity of the essence” in defiance of the “plurality of forms” reflected by antagonistic ideological and religious discourses. The tone of the ghazal is in fact very critical of what Rumi considers useless ideological polemics and religious quarrels. The ghazal presents no affirmation of the validity or superiority of any ideology or religion, contrary to Chittick’s interpretation.

[63]This is best exemplified by the Islamizing scholars’ reference to Rumi’s prose preface of Book V of Masnavi, in which he speaks of the trichotomy of shari’at, tariqat, and haqiqat. These scholars construe the opening sentences as Rumi’s commitment to religion and the Sufi path, hence a proof of his adherence to the legalistic aspect of Islam whereas, as mentioned, a thorough reading of the full text provides a much subtler picture.

[64]Chittick, Sufi Path, 9.

[65]Ibrahim Gamard, Rumi and Islam: Selections from His Stories, Poems, and Discourses (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Illuminations, 2004).

[66]Gamard, Rumi and Islam, xi.

[67]For instance,

Love’s religion is other than all religions.

For lovers, religion and faith is God. (Masnavi, II:1770)

[68]Gamard, Rumi and Islam, xi.

[69]Cf. Corbin, “La philosophie islamique,” vol. III, 1098–1100.

[70]Leili Anvar, Trésors dévoilés : anthologie de l’islam spirituel (Paris: Seuil, 2009), 7.

[71]See the etymological sense of the lexeme Islam: s-l-m (peace, pacify) in the first verbal derivative form, the transitive-making infinitive of If’al: to surrender to God’s will.

[72]In general, Divan constitutes the largest part of Rumi’s work, but it is also, ironically, the least studied by both Iranian and Western scholars.

[73]Is Masnavi not, according to a verse attributed to Jami and quoted by Sheikh Bahayi, “the Koran in the Pahlavi language” after all? Hosein Moti’, Daneshname-ye Adabiyat-e Iran (Qom: Buketab, 2018), 117.

[74]Rumi lived in Rum (Anatolia), a multicultural, multi-confessional, and multilingual society at the border of the Islamic and Christian worlds. He even composed poetry in Greek.

[75]See the use of Isaac instead of Ismail in this verse:

I am intoxicated and perplex for you, I am all on your orders.

I am your Isaac sacrificed for you, as this is the Eid of Sacrifice. (Divan, ghazal 1792, line 6)

[76]In reference to the ring composition, for instance, and other macrostructural elements in Attar’s Manteq-otteir or Rumi’s Masnavi. Leili Anvar, “La poésie mystique,” interview by Abdennour Bidar, Cultures d’Islam, Radio France Culture, 24 April 2015.

[77]See this explicit affirmation:

[I am] in the religion of the irreligious; I alienate my peers,

With a sign of hand when [I am] with them; [Go] slowly as I am drunk! (Divan, ghazal 1446, line 10)

[78]Anvar explains this paradox by opposing the notion of sober Sufism (more in line with traditionalist religious views) to that of inebriated Sufism (reflected in Rumi’s encounter with Shams and the onset of his poetic outpouring). Leili Anvar, “Rumi avec Leili Anvar,” interview by Frédéric Lenoir, Les racines du ciel, Radio France Culture, 19 July 2011.

[79]Rumi, Masnavi-e Ma’navi, I:6.

[80]Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 1, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael Jennings (Boston: Belknap Press, 2004).

Manuscripts and Digital Technologies: A Renewed Research Direction in the History of Ilkhanid Iran

Dr. Bruno De Nicola <> born in Buenos Aires (Argentina), studied Medieval History at the University of Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain) and Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS (University of London, United Kingdom). He received his doctorate in Persian Studies at the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) in 2011. Since 2017 he is Lecturer in the History of the Middle East at Goldsmiths (University of London) and Research Fellow at the Institut für Iranistik (OEAW, Vienna). He has recently been awarded the START Prize 2019 from the Austrian Research Fund (FWF).

The writing of history is a dynamic process in which events, institutions, and personalities of the human past are interpreted and reinterpreted by different generations of historians. They systematically look back at a given historical moment to confirm, nuance, or debunk interpretations made by their predecessors. That is the usual cycle of historiography, which incorporates contemporary methodologies and paradigms to the discipline and then uses them to revise our interpretation of the past. The historiography of the Ilkhanate (r. 1260–1335)—that is, the dynasty of Mongol origin that ruled Iran—has also undergone different stages marked by the various approaches used by scholars interested in this period.[3] From the catastrophist view of the Mongol conquest that dominated the first half of the twentieth century, to the cultural history approach that marked most of the beginning of the current century, studies on the Mongol domination of Iran has evolved to uncover a fascinating period of political uncertainty, economic dynamism, religious plurality, and cultural diversity.[4] However, as scholars of the period, we can not be complacent—albeit happy with this historiographical evolution—and remain neither stationed in the same paradigm nor constantly revisiting the same sources. With this idea in mind, this short essay aims to open a discussion on the possibilities that focusing our research efforts on the study of manuscripts and digital humanities can offer in bringing novel research perspectives into the field. We propose to embrace a new research path that, although it has been growing in recent years for other fields of study, has remained only marginal in the study of the Ilkhanate. This proposal does not attempt to invalidate other approaches in the field or the use of more traditional source material, but rather suggests that manuscript studies specifically for the study of the Ilkhanate have the potential to reveal new and unexplored aspects of our understanding of the Mongol domination of Iran in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This paper does not aim to present new research but suggests to scholars of the Ilkhanate, especially those new to the field, that they engage further with manuscript studies and available technologies in an attempt to reevaluate the literary and cultural history of Ilkhanid Iran.

The Ilkhanate: Mongol Rule in Medieval Iran

From the perspective of world history, the rise of Chinggis Khan as ruler of the Mongols and his conquests had a deep historical impact in the present territories of China, Russia, eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Iran. The establishment of the empire that followed these conquests would connect, under a single political entity and through a multitude of land and maritime routes, the Far East with the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in history. Although other nomadic peoples had previously conquered and settled in these territories, the Mongol conquest of the thirteenth century was unique in terms of scale and impact over the native populations of Asia and eastern Europe. The conquered populations were incapable of stopping the advance of the Mongol military machine and had to surrender to the advance of the Mongol armies from the East. Although the conquest was especially bloody in certain regions such as Nishapur in Khurasan or Kiev in eastern Europe, other areas remained untouched, as the Mongols spared from destruction those towns and kingdoms that surrendered to their command.[5] However, the horrors of conquest were followed also by a new political landscape that opened East and West to the migration of skillful artisans, scholars, and religious leaders, while promoting the development of local craftsmen, intellectuals, and personalities.[6] Trade acquired a global dimension, with merchants traveling between China and Europe across the Mongol Empire under the protection of the Mongol Khans.[7] All the territories where the Mongols settled would be deeply transformed by the conquest and establishment of the newcomers, marking the beginning of a distinctive new period in the history of each of the regions dominated by the Mongols.

In the case of Iran, Mongol incursions can be summarized in three main phases. They began in 1218–19, with Chinggis Khan defeating the Khwārazmshāh armies, which paved the way for his advancing into eastern Khurasan. The pursuit of the defeated ruler into central Iran saw the coming of Mongol horses led by the generals Jebe and Subotei galloping across Iran and heading north into the Caucasus to enter the Russian steppes in the early 1220s. After Chinggis Khan’s death in 1227, his successor, Ogetei, dispatched Churmāgūn (d. c. 1242) with another army in 1229 to defeat emperor Jalāl al-Dīn Khwārazmshāh (d. 1231), who was trying to reestablish his dynastic power in the area. The successful new campaign not only defeated Sultan Jalāl al-Dīn but secured the loyalty of Fars, Kerman, and Isfahan to the Mongol emperor and the incorporation of the kingdoms of Georgia and Armenia into the empire. By the early 1240s, the Mongols had established a governorship in Khurasan, controlling most of today’s Iran and the Caucasus and began to advance against the Seljuqs of Rūm in Anatolia. The final Mongol advance on Iran occurred in the 1250s when Hülegü (d. 1265), a grandson of Chinggis Khan, assembled a large army in Mongolia and advanced westward. Without finding any serious military opposition, the Mongol military annexed the territories corresponding to present-day Iran and eastern Turkey to the Mongol Empire and went further into the Arab world by conquering Damascus and advancing as far as Jerusalem. In the process, the Mongols added the newly conquered territories to their dominions and destroyed the hitherto impenetrable fortress of the Ismailis in Alamut, sacked the city of Baghdad, and executed the Abbasid caliph in 1258.[8]

Hülegü’s conquests led to the establishment of the Ilkhanate, or Mongol dynasty of Iran, which ruled the present territories of Iran, Iraq, the Caucasus, Greater Khurasan, and Eastern Anatolia between 1260 and 1335.[9] From the point of view of Mongol history, the newly added Mongol domain quickly became an autonomous political entity within the Mongol Empire that competed with other similar Mongol khanates in Russia and Central Asia. But from the point of view of Iranian history, the Ilkhanate transformed the political borders of the previous Abbasid, Seljuq, Khwarazmian, or Ayyubid dynasties and provoked a profound change in the conception of rule in Iran, which for the first time in over 600 years was ruled by a non-Muslim, with a seemingly omnipresent military power.

In terms of politics, the history of the Ilkhanate is marked, on the one hand, by its dynastic relationship with the emperor of the Yüan dynasty of China, which was the basis of its political autonomy but also of its cultural development.[10] On the other hand, its development was also shaped by the enmity with the Mongols khanates of Central Asia (Chaghataids) and the Golden Horde (present-day Russia and Ukraine) and the Mamluk dynasty of Egypt.[11] In addition, the Mongols facilitated the commercial integration of a truly world economy that had Iran at the center of trade routes connecting China with the Mediterranean, and Siberia with India. Finally, the religious landscape of the region had undergone important transformations. The pagan affiliation of the initial rulers of the Ilkhanate facilitated a short-lived optimism for Christian communities in Iran as well as favored the spread of Buddhism in the area.[12] Eventually, the conversion of the Mongols to Islam in the Ilkhanate would reduce the expectations of religious minorities while adding complexity to the religion milieu of the Ilkhanate where different Islamic sensitivities (Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and others) competed and coexisted under the newly converted Mongol rulers.[13]

These complexities associated with this period in the history of Iran provoked both rejection and fascination among scholars. Some nationalistic historiography produced in Iran has often viewed the Mongol domination of the region either as a dark age or simply reduced it to a hiatus in Islamic history between one glorious period, such as the Abbasid caliphate, and a restoration, generally attributed to the rise of the Safavid Empire.[14] In fact, it took some time for Iranian scholars to begin to see the Ilkhanate not as an interregnum between “proper Islamic dynasties” but as a foundational moment in the history of Iran. It was not until the 1970s when scholars such as Shīrīn Bayānī began to redefine the role that the Mongols played in setting the basis of long-standing political, religious, and cultural institutions that have been generally seen as “Iranian.”[15] The change in paradigm that occurred—albeit with differences to one another—between Iranian and Western scholars in this period transformed scholarly views on the Ilkhanate, opening the field to new research perspectives and approaches that would redefine the influence of Mongol domination in the history of Iran.

A Quick Overview of Scholarly Research on the Ilkhanate

The Ilkhanate, at once at the heart of the medieval Islamic world and an integral part of the larger Mongol Empire, attracts different historiographical traditions, which at times overlap with one another. Mongolian and Islamic studies are the most dominant among them. Scholarship on the Ilkhanate has gone through different stages, generally developing closer to those trends dominating Mongol historiography rather than Islamic studies. Scholars trained in classical Islamic history have generally overseen the Mongol domination of the Islamic world. Often, they refer to personalities (mainly Muslim elites who lived under the Mongols) or specific sources composed by Muslim intellectuals in this period but disassociating, consciously or unconsciously, Mongol rule with cultural developments of the Islamic world. It has been a common assumption that these nomadic conquerors “ruled from the saddle,” leaving the day-to-day administration of their territories to native bureaucrats.[16] This approach suggests a form of social organization where nomads and their sedentary subjects lived apart in some sort of mutually beneficial, but culturally differentiated, social arrangement that only allowed discrete exchanges.[17] However, recent and ongoing studies are pointing in a different direction, suggesting that nomadic rulers interacted with sedentary elites more closely than some historians had previously anticipated.[18]

The Ilkhanate has primarily been studied by scholars who saw it as part of the Mongol Empire or a phase in the larger history of Iran. From the perspective of Mongolian studies, in recent decades the Ilkhanate has been part of the trend described by David Morgan as “The Rise of Cultural History,” which has dominated the field since the turn of the twenty-first century.[19] This tendency of reevaluating the role of the Mongols as more relevant than “barbarians” began to take shape in the 1970s, when pioneering studies began to recognize that the Mongol period had remarkable influences in the history of medieval Iran beyond the destruction provoked by the conquest. A reexamination of the institutional, economic, and religious legacy of the Mongols began in these decades with the publication of the fifth volume of the Cambridge History of Iran in 1968, edited by John A. Boyle,[20] which dedicated a number of detailed studies to different aspects of the Mongol domination of Iran. This new tendency was also followed by the works of pioneering scholars in the field such as Ann K. S. Lambton or Shīrīn Bayānī, to mention but two, who began to consider the Ilkhanate as an integral part in the understanding of medieval Iran.[21]

In parallel with this development, there is a substantial effort made in Iran during these decades for the editing and printing of sources of the Mongol period. Multivolume editions of the Persian chronicles related to the Ilkhanid period began to be edited by Iranian scholars, facilitating access to this material not only in Iran but also specially in Europe and the USA. Western scholars will soon capitalize on their new access to this material and initiate a process of translation of original sources that has been one of the key components behind the revival of Mongolian studies in recent decades.[22] As noticed by Michal Biran, this was a way to partly overcome the linguistic barrier posed by the multilingual nature of the source material connected to the Mongol Empire and facilitated access to the original sources.[23] In this context, the last two decades of the twentieth century saw the publication of research on the Ilkhanate where the religious element acquired a new preponderant dimension. The conversion of the Mongols to Islam and the role of religious minorities under Mongol rule generated productive scholarly debates whereby the religion of the Ilkhanate became the topic that included both Islamic and Mongolian historiographical dimensions. [24]

The field would take a new impetus with the consolidation of the ideas of Thomas T. Allsen, who, after making an impact in the mid-1980s with his dissertation on Mongol imperialism, became the referent for a new generation of scholars after the publication of two of his books at the turn of the twentieth century.[25] Allsen’s unique multilingual and comprehensive approach to the study of the Mongol Empire allowed a reevaluation of the role of the ruling nomads in medieval Eurasia. He suggested that nomads acted as cultural brokers in the territories they ruled, breaking away with the paradigm that saw nomads solely as a military power while cultural, religious, and economic activity rested in the hands of sedentary elites. This paradigmatic shift liberated the field from old stereotypes and released a new generation of scholars, who expanded the scope of the research on the Mongol Empire by introducing new research questions, using novel methodologies and engaging with a multidisciplinary approach. Michal Biran has summarized the progress made in the field within recent decades, highlighting our understanding of the institutions, economy, and religion of the Mongols and their subjects, and integrating scholarship and sources from Eastern and Western sides of the empire.[26]

Research on the Ilkhanate has also widened its horizons in the last few decades following this general trend in Mongolian studies. New documents and edicts have emerged and we now have a better picture of the important role played by different urban centers in the development of religious and secular sciences in Iran.[27] Art history and archeology have made a major contribution to our understanding of the religious and cultural landscape of the Ilkhanate by complementing the abundant narrative sources so characteristic of this period.[28] Moreover, aspects of gender studies have also developed further in recent years with the appearance of monographs and articles that have reshaped some of the long-held preconceptions about the role of women in nomadic societies.[29]

The editing and translation initiative mentioned above is at the core of the emergence of these new research trends. The dissemination of original sources made in Iran, and facilitated access to original sources related to Ilkhanid history, to a new generation of scholars from Iran and abroad has expanded research and helped to better contextualize the history of the Ilkhanate between both Islamic and Mongolian studies. However, access to these edited sources also co-opted research in the sense that the overwhelming majority of studies related to the Ilkhanate are almost exclusively based on those printed sources (either in their original language or in translation). Notwithstanding the fact that these publications remains fundamentally important in advancing the discipline, our impression is that we are at risk of entering a stage in the historiography of the Ilkhanate that is stationary and lacking the dynamism that the field enjoyed during the last few decades.

There is an unbalanced use of resources in the field. While scholars (myself included) have been debating over the same edited/translated sources, using and reusing them in search of new information and approaches, they have been narrowing down the scope of the research to a limited amount of narrative sources that only represents a tiny portion of the literary heritage of Ilkhanid Iran. In turn, we have largely neglected the abundant written source material that remains in manuscript form—thousands of such manuscripts remain unstudied in Iranian and European collections.[30] We believe it is towards those manuscripts where efforts should now be directed in studying the history of the Ilkhanate. To be sure, this is a line of research not bereft of its own set of challenges, but, at the same time, has the potential to unlock a productive and stimulating period in the study of Mongol-dominated Iran.

Manuscript Studies and Digital Humanities

The study of manuscripts has become an important research focus in Islamic studies in recent years. Scholars have noticed that Islamic manuscripts were essential for the production, circulation, and transmission of sciences, literature, and historical knowledge.[31] Even before the arrival of the Mongols in the thirteenth century, a variety of literary genres covering a wide range of subjects—including mathematics, astronomy, religion, politics, law, and literature (poetry and prose)—circulated in the territories of what is today Iran. However, the Mongol conquest and settlement would transform these literary practices and interests of authors, patrons, and readers, triggering the emergence of a literary world that matched the cultural mindset of the new rulers and the local elites that were being assimilating to the nomadic conquerors.[32] The Mongol domination of Iran is a period in which Persian became a major literary language, with Arabic (still having a preponderant presence) being often limited to religious works. Courtly patronage propitiated a booming literary environment where reproductions of the same work were copied simultaneously in different regions of the Islamic world, extending from Samarqand to Konya and from Cairo to Delhi. Mongol rulers of Iran, such as Ghazan Khan (r. 1295–1304) and his brother Uljaytu (r. 1304–16), were themselves active patrons of literature, history, and scientific knowledge as would be some of their successive Timurid rulers such as Iskandar Sultan (r. 1409–14) or Ulugh Beg (r. 1409–49).[33]

Although increasing manuscript production and transmission of knowledge has been documented during this period, we only have a broad picture of its scale and know very little about the details of the cultural life in the Ilkhanate.[34] Despite important research conducted on courtly patronage and the involvement of rulers in financing and promoting knowledge in the period, evidence suggests that production of manuscripts developed in different environments. Manuscripts were copied to supply not only court libraries but also to satisfy a growing number of private collections of wealthy individuals or the need of textbooks for different educational institutions such as madrasas or Sufi lodges (khaneqahs).[35] Despite having hundreds of manuscripts documenting this phenomenon, we barely understand how the process of book production and knowledge transmission worked in Ilkhanid Iran. The lack of comprehensive studies on this topic prevents us from better understanding not only book production but also other relevant aspects of Ilkhanid cultural life such as literacy, multilinguism, or the role played by books in the economy of the period.

The relevance of manuscripts as sources resides not only in the fact that they would substantiate a specific text: for example, although handmade copies were intended as identical reproductions of a given literary work, the handcrafted process in which each manuscript was produced makes each codex a unique object. Each copied manuscript was crafted in a specific place, by a defined group of individuals, and during a particular historical context containing unique information in each codex. Therefore, even if the intention of copyists was to reproduce a text, there are distinctive elements in the paratext[36] that offer a unique window into the past. In this way, each manuscript becomes a unique historical source that provides information on aspects of cultural, economic, and political history that go beyond the text they support. The challenge remains in the capacity of scholars to untangle this information, which is not only scattered unevenly among manuscripts but also dispersed among thousands of extant manuscripts from the period.

The total number of manuscripts produced during the Ilkhanid period that are currently housed in Iranian, Central Asian, and European libraries is difficult to establish but may be reckoned in the thousands.[37] Although there have been recent improvements in library infrastructure, cataloging efforts, and accessibility of the material, the exact number of texts held by different institutions is not always known by library staff or shared with researchers. However, major public libraries in both Europe and Iran provide relatively easy access to their material, with large collections digitized and fully accessible on-site to researchers in the field. While an imprecise number of manuscripts remain in private collections owned by individuals or corporations with varying degrees of commitment to (and interest in) research on their possessions, abundant material remains virtually unexplored, meaning that there are still thousands of books that were copied, circulated, and read during the Ilkhanid period that remain totally unstudied by researchers. Paradoxically, the sheer volume of material, while being a stimulating aspect to advance research in the field, is one of the reasons that has prevented scholars from engaging with this material, as the large number of codices available may have been seen as an unsolved challenge by some researchers in the past.

To overcome this challenge, scholars have been applying methodologies that help to tackle the considerable amount of extant manuscripts. One approach has been restricting the temporal and geographic scope of the research by focusing on manuscripts of a certain literary genre or on manuscripts produced in a particular place or short period of time.[38] While providing useful case studies, this approach will not offer a comprehensive view of the cultural life of the Ilkhanate. Therefore, in addition to case studies, we propose that digital technologies can become a key factor in making large collections of manuscripts manageable for researchers and meaningful for the study of the Ilkhanate as a whole. The aid of new technologies and the application of digital humanities to the study of Islamic manuscripts can play a fundamental role in a quicker and more efficient identification, evaluation, and analysis of the information provided both by the text and the paratext of medieval Islamic manuscripts. Recent research projects such as ISLAMANATOLIA or MONGOL have shown how digital databases not only accumulate large amounts of information but also render useful, and often previously undetected, data to researchers in the field.[39]

Digital technologies allow us to collect, store, and process large amounts of data and to present it to the researcher in an organized manner that enhances scientific inquiry. Although not deprived from challenges of their own, they are a fundamental tool that can allow researchers to manage large amounts of data in a systematized and coherent manner.[40] These technologies can help us, for example, to collect not only metadata (mainly contained in library catalogs) about the large number of manuscripts but also complement this data with some relevant codicological and paratextual information contained in manuscripts from the Ilkhanid period. This could include information about the production, circulation, and consumption of manuscripts that can be found, for example, in colophons, shamsas, or ownership marks that are generally disregarded as sources of information. The comprehensive study of the paratext, always in conjunction with the main text included in the manuscript, could provide pivotal information to the hitherto poorly understood cultural milieu of the Ilkhanate.

Fortunately, these impressions will have the opportunity to be tested soon as part of the newly funded project NoMansland (Nomads’ Manuscript Landscape), which will be carried out at the Institute of Iranian Studies (Austrian Academy of Sciences) in Vienna, Austria.[41] The project that will begin in 2020 aims to use both manuscripts and digital technologies to investigate aspects of Transculturation[42] between nomadic rulers and sedentary subjects in Iran and Central Asia during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Transculturation offers a different methodological angle to processes of cultural exchange that can be seen as multilayered and affecting both interacting cultures, where aspects of “native” culture permeate the “migrant” culture and vice versa.[43] There are studies documenting the existence of this bidirectional flow of cultural trends in medieval Eurasia, for example, in the construction of a common narrative of the past, in which the idea of “foreign conqueror” fades away and is replaced by a shared cultural identity between nomadic rulers and local, sedentary elites.[44] However, research on the cultural symbiosis between nomads and sedentary people has so far been significantly limited in terms of its temporal, geographic, and thematic scope.

The amount of material available, the use of both Persian and Arabic languages, and the expansive territorial landscape that needs to be traversed are just some of the challenges presented to the project. It becomes clear that proving the hypothetical statement of a transcultural process occurring in Iran and Central Asia between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries cannot be carried out by a single individual; rather, it requires a collective research effort sustained over a period of several years. With this idea in mind, a team will be assembled to search and find clues of transculturation in available manuscripts from the period by combining data contained in text and paratext. The project aims to achieve not only a better comprehension of how cultural interaction between nomads and sedentary people worked but also to offer a different model of cultural interaction based on transculturation and the study of codicological information from Islamic manuscripts. We expect that the approach, methodology, and digital tools developed during the project will expand research on aspects of cultural history of Ilkhanid Iran and highlight the scientific impact that studying the abundant corpus of Islamic manuscripts available can have in our understanding of the period.


Ilkhanid studies have come a long way from when they were considered an obscure, historical hiatus in the history of the Islamic world to become a recognized, pivotal moment of cultural transformation in the history of Eurasia. In this short article, I have provided a brief overview of this transformation and humbly suggested a possible way forward for the field. I have consciously avoided being too specific here about the digital technologies that can be applied to the study of manuscripts because there are many available, and under development, in different institutions and departments of digital humanities across the world. My intention is not so much as to inform readers about these technologies but to raise awareness of their existence and the need to apply them to the large corpus of Islamic manuscripts from the period that is awaiting researchers of the Mongol Empire in different Middle Eastern, European, and American collections. We believe that a collective effort dedicated to identifying, mapping, and analyzing the massive literary corpus surviving from the Ilkhanid period could further drive the understanding of the sociocultural impact that the Mongol conquest had over the Islamic world. My proposal, therefore, is that the rise of cultural history highlighted by David Morgan some years ago can be complemented with a rise of manuscript studies that unveil the understudied corpus of surviving Ilkhanid manuscripts for a better understanding of the history of the period.

[1]It is a privilege to contribute to this volume in honor of Professor Shirin Bayani, whose work have deeply influenced my research in the field of Persian studies.

[2]Acknowledgements: This paper was produced in the framework of the START project Y-1232-G30 funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

[3]On the political history of the Ilkhanate, see John A. Boyle, “Dynastic and Political History of the Il-Khāns,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 5, ed. John A. Boyle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 303–421.

[4]General accounts on the historiography of the Ilkhanate can be found in David Morgan, “Mongol Historiography since 1985: The Rise of Cultural History,” in Nomads as Agents of Cultural Change: The Mongols and Their Eurasian Predecessors, ed. Reuven Amitai and Michal Biran (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016), 271–82; Peter Jackson, “The Mongol Empire, 1986–1999,” Journal of Medieval History 26, no. 2 (2000): 189–210; Charles Melville, “Historiography IV. Mongol Period,” Encyclopedia Iranica, vol. 12 (2003): 348–56 (online version updated in 2012, see; Michal Biran, “The Mongol Empire: The State of the Research,” History Compass 11, no. 11 (2013): 1021–33.

[5]For an overview of the Mongols’ conquest from a military history perspective, see Timothy May, The Mongol Art of War: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2016); Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion (New Heaven: Yale University Press, 2017), 71–181.

[6]Thomas Allsen, Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001); Bruno De Nicola, Women in Mongol Iran: The Khātūns 1206–1336 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017).

[7]Jackson, The Mongols and the Islamic World, 210–41.

[8]For an overview of the Mongol conquest of the Islamic world, see, inter alia, Jackson, The Mongols and the Islamic World. On the death of the Abbasid caliph and the sacking of Baghdad see, inter alia, John A. Boyle, “The Death of the Last ‘Abbasid Caliph: A Contemporary Muslim Account,” Journal of Semitic Studies 6, no. 2 (1961): 145–61.

[9]On the impact of the Mongols in the Middle East, see Bruno De Nicola and Charles Melville, eds., The Mongols’ Middle East: Continuity and Transformation in Ilkhanid Iran (Leiden: Brill, 2016).

[10]Reuven Amitai, “Evidence for the Early Use of the Title Īlkhān among the Mongols,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1, no. 3 (1991): 353–61; Allsen, Culture and Conquest.

[11]Boyle, “Dynastic and Political History of the Il-Khāns,” 303–421; Reuven Amitai, Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk–Ilkhanid War, 1260–1281 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

[12]For overviews on the Mongols’ relationship with Christianity and Buddhism, see Peter Jackson, The Mongols and the West: 1221–1410 (London: Routledge, 2014); Roxann Prazniak, “Ilkhanid Buddhism: Traces of a Passage in Eurasian History,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 56, no. 3 (2014): 650–80.

[13]Peter Jackson, “The Mongols and the Faith of the Conquered,” in Mongols, Turks, and Others: Eurasian Nomads and the Sedentary World, ed. Reuven Amitai and Michal Biran (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 245–90; Charles Melville, “Padshāh-i Islam: The Conversion of Sultan Mahmud Ghazan Khan,” Pembroke Papers 1 (1990): 159–77; Reuven Amitai, “The Conversion of Tegü‏der Ilkhan to Islam,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 25 (2001): 15–43; Michal Biran, “The Islamization of Hülegü: Imaginary Conversion in the Ilkhanate,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 26, no. 1–2 (2016): 79–88.

[14]This is by no means a unique Iranian phenomenon; for example, similar perceptions of the Mongol period are reflected among both Chinese and Turkish historiography.

[15]Some of the most influential works on the Mongol period by Shīrīn Bayānī are her pioneering book on women, Zan dar Īrān-i ʻaṣr-i Mughūl (Tehran: Intišārāt-i Dānišgāh-i Tihrān, 1973) and her three volumes on the history of government and religion in Mongol Iran, Dīn va dawlat dar Īrān-i ʻahd-i Mughūl (Markaz-i Nashr-i Dānishgāhī, 1370–1375 [1991/1992–1996/1997]).

[16]Thomas T. Allsen, “Ever Closer Encounters: The Appropriation of Culture and the Apportionment of Peoples in the Mongol Empire,” Journal of Early Modern History 1, no. 1 (1997): 7–8.

[17]Ibid., 17.

[18]See, for example, the case of Anatolia in Andrew C. S. Peacock, “Court and Nomadic Life in Saljuq Anatolia,” in Turko-Mongol Rulers, Cities and City Life, ed. David Durand-Guédy (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 191–222; see also Bruno De Nicola, “The Fusṭāṭ al-ʿAdāla: a Unique Manuscript on the Religious Landscape of Medieval Anatolia,” in Literature and Intellectual Life in 14th–15th Century Anatolia, ed. Andrew C. S. Peacock and Sara Nur Yıldız (Würzburg: Ergon Verlag, 2016), 49–72; Reuven Amitai and Michal Biran, eds., Nomads as Agents of Cultural Change: The Mongols and Their Eurasian Predecessors (Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016).

[19]Morgan, “Mongol Historiography since 1985.”

[20]John A. Boyle, ed., The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 5 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968).

[21]For Shīrīn Bayānī [see n. 14]; Ann K. S. Lambton, Landlord and Peasant in Persia: A Study of Land Tenure and Land Revenue Administration (London: Oxford University Press, 1953); Lambton, Continuity and Change in Medieval Persia Aspects of Administrative, Economic and Social History, 11th–14th Century (London: I.B. Tauris, 1988).

[22]Especially influential for historians of the Ilkhanate have been the translations of the works of ʿAṭā Malik Juwaynī (d. 1283) and Rashīd al-Dīn (d. 1318); see The History of the World Conqueror, trans. John Andrew Boyle, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1958); Jami’t-Tawarikh: Compendium of Chronicles, trans. Wheeler M. Thackston (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

[23]Biran, “The Mongol Empire,” 1023–24.

[24]Especially influential in opening new approaches to the conversion of the Mongols to Islam was the work of Devin DeWeese, Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde (Philadelphia: Penn State University Press, 1994).

[25]Thomas T. Allsen, Mongol Imperialism: The Policies of the Grand Qan Möngke in China, Russia, and the Islamic Lands, 1251–1259 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); Allsen, Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History of Islamic Textiles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Allsen, Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

[26]Biran, “The Mongol Empire.”

[27]See, for example, the research done initially by Minoru Honda in Japan, a trend that has been continued more recently by Ryoko Watabe, “Census-Taking and the Qubchūr Taxation System in Ilkhanid Iran: An Analysis of the Census Book from the Late 13th Century Persian Accounting Manual al-Murshid fī al-Ḥisāb,” The Memoirs of the Toyo Bunko 73 (2015): 27–63.

[28]On Persian narrative sources from the Mongol period, see Charles Melville, “The Turco-Mongol Period,” in History of Persian Literature: Persian Historiography, vol. 10, ed. Charles Melville (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012), 155–207; Melville, “Persian Local Histories: Views from the Wings,” Iranian Studies 33, no. 1–2 (1999–2000): 7–14.

[29]De Nicola, Women in Mongol Iran; Anne Broadbridge, Women and the Making of the Mongol Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

[30]See, inter alia, Robert Hillenbrand, “The Arts of the Book in Ilkhanid Iran,” in The Legacy of Genghis Khan: Courtly Art and Culture in Western Asia, 1256–1353, ed. L. Komaroff and S. Carboni (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002), 134–67; Sheila Blair, “The Ilkhanid Qurʾan: An Example from Maragha,” Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 6 (2015): 174–95; more recently Mohammad Reza Ghiasian, “Images of the Peoples of the World Encountered by the Mongols in the Jamiʿ al-Tawarikh,” Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 57, no. 1 (2019): 71–82.

[31]A good example of how manuscript studies can contribute to the cultural history of a period can be seen in the work of Konrad Hirschler, Medieval Damascus: Plurality and Diversity in an Arabic Library (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

[32]An example can be seen in the specific rewriting of the Siyāsatnāmah of Niẓām al-Mulk by a thirteenth-century Persian writer to suit the literary taste of his Turkmen patron in Anatolia; see Bruno De Nicola, Writing Persian for Turkish Rulers in 13th Century Anatolia: Politics, Patronage and Religion between Byzantium and the Mongols (London: Routledge, forthcoming), esp. chapter 4; an early version of this phenomenon was presented in Bruno De Nicola, “Updating Niẓām al-Mulk: Advising Local Rulers in 13th Century Anatolia,” International Conference ASPS, Mimar Sinan Üniversitesi, Istanbul (TR).

[33]See, for example, a recent article on a copy of the Quran made for the Mongol Ilkhan Uljaytu (r. 1304–16) in Boris Liebrenz, “Troubled History of a Masterpiece: Notes on the Creation and Peregrinations of Öljeytü’s Monumental Baghdad Qurʾān,” Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 7, no. 2 (2016): 217–38. On patronage in the Mongol Empire, see also Reuven Amitai, “Hülegü and His Wise Men: Topos or Reality?” in Politics, Patronage, and the Transmission of Knowledge in 13th–15th Century Tabriz, ed. Judith Pfeiffer (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 15–34.

[34]Recent studies by Andrew Peacock and Michal Biran, respectively, show the potential manuscripts studies in this field; see Andrew Peacock, “Islamisation in the Golden Horde and Anatolia: Some Remarks on Travelling Scholars and Texts,” Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée 143 (2018): 151–64; Michal Biran, “Libraries, Books, and Transmission of Knowledge in Ilkhanid Baghdad,” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 62, no. 2–3 (2019): 464–502.

[35]Manuscripts were kept in madrasas and Sufi lodges to be used in the study of Islamic tradition and Sufi doctrines across the Persianate world. Some well-documented examples can be found, for example, in Mongol-dominated Konya in the second half of the thirteenth century. See Richard Todd, The Sufi Doctrine of Man: Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī’s Metaphysical Anthropology (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 22.

[36]We understand paratext here as all the written elements that can be found in a manuscript which go beyond the main text. In other words, those elements that accompany the main text such as information on the author, copyist, or patron but also preface, colophons, marginal annotations, etc. For a more comprehensive definition of paratext, see Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (Literature, Culture, Theory) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). More precisely for Islamic codicology, see François Déroche, ed., Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script, with contributions by Annie Berthier, trans. Deke Dusinberre and David Radzinowics, ed. Muhammad Isa Waley (London: al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2006); Adam Gacek, Arabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers (Leiden: Brill, 2009).

[37]There are, to my knowledge, no statistics on medieval manuscript production done for the Ilkhanate. The only serious attempt to count surviving codices has been done for medieval Anatolia. See Osman Gazi Özgüdenli, “Persian Manuscripts in Ottomans and Modern Turkish Libraries,” Encyclopedia Iranica Online (

[38]See, for example, some recent research surveying the production of historical narratives in manuscript form during Mongol and post-Mongol Eurasia: Stefan Kamola, Making Mongol History: Rashid al-Din and the Jamiʿ al-Tawarikh (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2019); Philip Bockholt, “Weltgeschichtsschreibung zwischen Schia und Sunna: Ḫvāndamīrs (gest. 1535/6) Ḥabīb as-siyar und seine Rezeption im Handschriftenzeitalter” (PhD diss., Freie Universität Berlin, 2017).

[39]For more information on these projects, see and

[40]There are a variety of frameworks and methodologies developed to convert textual information into machine-readable data. We will not enumerate them all here but those interested in knowing more about it may consult, for example, the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), a consortium that has developed a set of guidelines for the representation of text in digital form. See

[41]The project is funded by the FWF Der Wissenschaftsfonds (

[42]The term transculturation was initially coined by the Cuban sociologist Fernando Ortiz Letelier, especially in his chapter “El mutuo descubrimiento de dos mundos,” in Etnia y Sociedad, ed. Isaac Barreal Fernández (La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1993), 21–27.

[43]The two paradigmatic studies on the subject for the Mongol and Timurid period are Jean Aubin, Émirs Mongols et Vizirs Persans dans les Remous de l’Acculturation (Paris: Studia Iranica, 1995) and Maria Subtelny, Timurids in Transition: Turko-Persian Politics and Acculturation (Leiden: Brill, 2007).

[44]For works dealing with nomadic–sedentary relationships, see Jürgen Paul, “L’invasion mongole comme ‘révélateur’ de la société iranienne,” in L’Iran face à la domination mongole, ed. Denise Aigle (Téhéran: Institut français de recherche en Iran, 1997), 37–53; Charles Melville, “History and Myth: The Persianisation of Ghazan Khan,” in Irano-Turkic Cultural Contacts in the 11th–17th Centuries, ed. Éva Jeremías (Piliscsaba, Hungary: Avicenna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies, 2003), 133–60; Carole Hillenbrand, “Ravandi, the Seljuq Court at Konya and the Persianisation of Anatolian Cities,” Mesogeios (Mediterranean Studies) 25, no. 6 (2005): 157–69; Andrew C. S. Peacock, “Court Historiography of the Seljuq Empire in Iran and Iraq: Reflections on Content, Authorship and Language,” Iranian Studies 47 (2014): 327–45; Beatrice Forbes-Manz, “Nomad and Settled in the Timurid Military,” in Mongols, Turks, and Others: Eurasian Nomads and the Sedentary World, ed. Reuven Amitai and Michal Biran (Brill: Leiden, 2005), 425–57; Forbes-Manz, “Multi-ethnic Empires and the Formulation of Identity,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 26, no. 1 (2003): 70–101; Forbez-Manz, Power, Politics and Religion in Timurid Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Evrim Binbas, Intellectual Networks in Timurid Iran: Sharaf al-Dīn ‘Ali Yazdi and the Islamicate Republic of Letters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Further Fragments of Sogdian Manichaean Riddles?

Christiane Reck <> is a research associate at Goettingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities at the project Union Catalogue of Oriental Manuscripts in Germany. She has published Gesegnet sei dieser Tag: Manichäische Festtagshymnen – Edition der mittelpersischen und parthischen Sonntags-, Montags- und Bemahymnen (Turnhout, 2004) and three volumes of the Catalogue of Mitteliranische Handschriften in soghdischer Schrift (Stuttgart, 2006, 2016 and 2018). Currently, she is cataloguing the Persian manuscripts in Germany.

Riddles are a popular literary and oral genre for entertainment and education of young and elderly people all over the world. Riddles should be solved to win the heart and realm of king’s daughters or to save lives in many tales. But riddles also help one to memorize mythological and religious facts and ideas. The use of riddles in the pre-Islamic period of Iranian literature is examined in the summary by G. Windfuhr.[1] One of the most well-known examples of the Middle Persian tradition of wisdom literature (andarz) is the Pahlavi text “Mādayān ī Ĵōšt ī Friyān.”[2] The culture of riddles continued in Islamic times as a unique literary form by famous authors such as Nūr ad-Dīn Jāmī, for example and remain the subject of scholarly analysis and discussion.

At the beginning of the 20th century, four German expeditions to Chinese Turkestan (present-day Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China) took place. They brought thousands of manuscript fragments to Berlin. Among these findings from the Turfan oasis are some fragments which contain Sogdian Christian riddles, published by W. Sundermann.[3] The Manichaean literature of Central Asia also includes amusing didactic genres. In 1945, W. B. Henning published a Sogdian text[4] (So 10100h) containing questions of the King Xusrō,[5] who asks the water sprite (γntrw) about many diverse issues. These questions are mostly comparisons such as, “What is higher than the sky? What is lower than the earth?” and so on. The Manichaean affinity results from the manuscript itself, the book format, and the handwriting which belong to a so-called multiple text manuscript, which contains tales with obvious Manichaean contents. Unfortunately this fragment preserves only the questions without a single answer. The Sogdian texts very often seem to be enigmatic. B. Gharib’s dictionary was a great step forward unravelling some of the mysteries. I dedicate this work to her as a token of my gratitude.

The Berlin Turfan collection stores three further fragments with texts which can be interpreted as kinds of riddles. They remained unpublished all over the time because of their enigmatic character. All the three texts are written on the reverse side of Chinese scrolls, which confirms the Manichaean affiliation of them. All three fragments were found in Toyoq during the second German expedition to the Turfan oasis in 1904-5. The findings of the expedition are marked by the letter T followed by the number of the expedition (I to IV), the finding place (T for Toyoq, for example) and the number of the bundles for transportation. Two of the fragments (Ch/So 14743 and Ch/So 20150) were collected in the same bundle as marked by finding sigle  T II T 1435.

There was another fragment among the Turfan texts of which now only a transliteration in Hebrew letters exists in the Lentz estate in the Hamburg University. The recent shelf number of this lost fragment is *So 21005.[6] The text on one side, labeled as verso in the Catalogue but recto in the edition, contains letter formulas.[7] On the other side, several words have survived. Lentz categorized them as “Schreibübungen” (writing exercises). However, they have been mentioned tentatively in the catalogue Reck VOHD 18, 1 as a riddle, with the answer ’’ph  āp  “water,” which cannot be approved anymore. This fragment has not been edited here.

Among the Old Uyghur texts from Turfan only few fragments with riddles are known up to the present day. Two examples from the Berlin Turfan collection should be mentioned here:

  1. Ch/U 6905 verso:[8] From the altogether preserved eight text lines only the lines /v/4-8/ are to be determined as a riddle with certainty. The clue for this identification is to be found in the concluding question, bo nägü sav ol (“What does it mean?”).
  2. Mainz 842 + U 4990 verso:[9] The question in this riddle is “Which living being do we see?,” the empty space after this question preserved on these joined fragments clearly indicates that the text is finished with this question.[10] Those texts and some proverbs or sentences are similarly enigmatic like ours.[11]
  3. Ch/So 14743 verso:[12]

The first text is preserved in the upper part of the reverse side of a Chinese scroll. The shelf number of the fragment is Ch/So 14743 (T II T 1435; 13,5 x 39,5 cm). This scroll fragment is cut in the middle lengthwise as it was often done in the case of re-use for Sogdian texts. The text itself is short but complete in three and a half lines with two interlinear words (cw ʾnt) whose position is not clear but which could belong near to the end of the third line. Possibly the writer forgot these two words and added them afterwards. The script is relatively clear and the letters s and š are easily distinguished. The letter z is written without connection to the following letter. This makes it relatively easier to read. Although the script and language of the fragment is Sogdian, several Middle Persian and Parthian words are observed. In Sogdian transliteration the letters t, k and x may also represent the sounds d, g and h. However, the reading is not certain in some cases, neither the translation nor the interpretation. It starts with a question and seems to give an answer like an aphorism. This text is somehow puzzling to understand. I discussed the transliteration and translation with Werner Sundermann many years ago and again with Nicholas Sims-Williams a few years ago, as it remained difficult to read and interpret this text. There were some different ideas about the readings of y and r, which now are more clearly distinguished. Nicholas Sims-Williams kindly informed me about his most recent readings and understanding of this tricky text.[13] Whereas the first part seems to be more or less clear, the second part remains difficult, mainly because of the difficulties with the words yʾδ (or βʾδ, rʾδ) and xʾnk (or xʾʾk, xnʾk). I preferred on this place to adopt the reading yʾδ as proposed by Nicholas Sims-Williams. Nicholas Sims-Williams read trw and trwγ “lie, falsehood,” ʾym as “this,” yʾd as “memory,” xʾʾk “earth” or xʾnk “house.” The word mrδmʾn can be a misspelling of mrδxmʾn or the variant form without any h/x (see DMSB, 230). But one could read *myδmʾn “*guest” as well (see Pashto ميلمه milma). Thus it could be together with the Middle Persian xʾnk an unexpected compound of an unattested Sogdian word together with a Middle Persian word for “guest house.”[14] Furthermore it is not clear where the passage cwn ʾnt should actually be inserted.[15] The reading and understanding of the third line is in any case difficult and can merely be a guess: “The memory is a guest house, from them are they.” In any way, all these are only attempts to understand this short sentence. Thus no final translation of this line is offered here.

/1/ cw  ʾsty  z-βʾk  trw  ʾsty What is the tongue? The tongue is the lie.
/2/ z-βʾk  ʾym  trw  ʾsty  pδ  z-yrt

cwn  ʾnt

This lie is in the heart.


/3/ y/β/rʾδ  my/rδmʾn  xʾn/ʾk  trwγ … … … from them are they. Falsehood
/4/ ʾsty xmʾk


is everything.

Non-Sogdian words:

Sogdian script: Reconstruction in Manichaean script: Translation:
trw drw lie, deceit (MP), DMSB, 193
ʾym ʿym this (MP/Pa)
pd in etc. (MP/Pa)
zyrt zyrd heart (Pa)
yʾδ yʾd memory (MP ʾyʾd)
mrδmʾn mrdwhmʾn people (MP, Pa)
xʾnk xʾng house (MP)
trwγ drwγ lie, deceit (Pa)
xmʾk hmʾg all (MP/Pa) DMSB, 216

1- Ch/So 20150 verso:[16]

The second text Ch/So 20150 (T II T 1435; 13,4 x 10,5 cm) preserves only the endings of seven lines and a trace of the line above. The presence of the interrogative cknʾʾcw “from what, from which, from whom, concerning which” could indicate that these are riddles.[17] But it could well be a kind of doctrinal text like the Sermon of the Soul,[18] as supplemented by Nicholas Sims-Williams. Unfortunately, only a few words are preserved in this fragment. One cannot thus find out, what is asked and what its answer is. The only meaningful passage is tmʾyk ʾʾtr “the hell’s fire,” as in So 18248I/r/13/.[19] The reading of x(wy)rty is proposed by Yutaka Yoshida. Because of the blurred letters and the lack of context the reading and interpretation is complicated.

/1/ ](k/m)[   6         ]
/2/ ](.)  cknʾʾ[cw ] Why
/3/ ](.)myty  rty  CWR(H)[ ]… And self/person/soul/body[20]
/4/ ](m/s/š)[1-2]ysy  ky  ZY ] … who not
/5/ ](.)  x(wy)rty  Ο ] it is eaten(?).
/6/ ](.)  cknʾʾc  pyδʾr ] Why
/7/ ](.)  tmʾykw  ʾʾtr ] the hell’s fire
/8/ ](.)nt  ZY  tšʾnt ] (they) … and escape

2- Ch/U 6419 verso:[21]

The third fragment Ch/U 6419 (T II T 1198; 16 x 13,7 cm) preserves presumably the end of a text because the end of the sheet of paper seems to be cut and the sentence is terminated by a full stop, a filled circle. We do not know how much text is missing. If the text had been written on a scroll cut in the middle, then the lines would have been nearly complete. But if the text was written on a complete scroll, nearly the half of a line is missing. The text in the lines /8/ and /9/ shows, that more than a few letters should be inserted in between these passages. This implies, that this fragment was torn from a complete scroll. The beginning of the lines is preserved in most cases. The character of the text is not clear. But the interrogatives ktʾm ʾʾδy “which person” and ky “who” indicate, that certain questions are mentioned. The word “pyrnm” occurs many times in this text. It means “before” in a temporal or in a locative sense (“formerly, before, first” or “before, in the presence of”). It can be used as a postposition: see DMSB, 164. In this text it seems to be located after several parts of the body (pʾδʾ, cšm-). In l. 9 the second word is not clearly legible. The second letter should be an n. The third letter seems to be a s as it is curved to the left. But the meaning of ʾ(ns)ʾsy is not clear. Yutaka Yoshida proposed to read the third letter as x and interpret the word ”/nx’s as “battle”. Another unknown word has only the beginning of it preserved: wkʾr[.

It would be very nice to learn what the text is about. Thus I can only wish that further research in Sogdian will allow us to identify the content of this text:

/1/ (ZY) pr  xwsʾnt(yʾ)  (βw)[t … is in … and in contentment. [
/2/ sr(y)ʾkycw  γ(n)tʾk  ZY  ptx/γ(.)[ the chief evil and …[
/3/ [n](ʾ)  xwpw  ZY  nʾ  wkʾr[ not good and not …[
/4/ [1-2](y)  ktʾm  ʾʾδy  xcy  ky  cʾwn  [ […] Which person is it, who [   ] of/from [
/5/ pʾδʾ  pyrnm  ʾʾγʾyrt  Z(Y)[ before the feet (goes) …[
/6/ (ZY) ky  MN  pcmʾky  xw  (.)[ and who is of noble [
/7/ [     10     ]  cšmʾ  py(r)[nm [               ] before the eye [
/8/ [   6   ](.)  ZY  MN  pʾδʾ  (p)[yrnm [           ] and [before] the feet [
/9/ ZKwy  ʾ(nx)ʾsy  pyrnm  tysʾy  ZY[ in before the battle(?) enters and [
/10/ pyrnm  xw  p(t)βyw  ZY  ʾ(z)[ before [       ] the respect and …[
/11/ [    8    ](..)γrβ  ʾ(st)[y] Ο [             ] is (much).

Summary: There are no more clearly legible and understandable Sogdian riddle texts in addition to those which had been published before this article. All the remnants are ambiguous, or only fragments are preserved. But it may be possible that some other documents will be discovered or identified in the future which could illuminate these puzzling texts.



Ch/So 14743 verso (detail)

Photo: Berlin State Library



Ch/So 20150 verso

Photo: Berlin State Library



Ch/U 6419 verso

Photo: Berlin State Library

[1]G. Windfuhr, “Riddles,” in General Introduction to Persian Literature, ed. J. T. P. de Bruijn (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009), 312‒314.

[2]M. Macuch, “Pahlavi Literature,” in Literature of Pre-Islamic Iran, ed. R. E. Emmerick and M. Macuch (A History of Persian Literature; Companion vol. 1) (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009), 116‒196, esp. 160‒172. See also I. Colditz, “Eine vergessene zoroastrische Märtyrerin?,” in A Thousand Judgements. Festschrift for Maria Macuch, ed. A. Hintze, D. Durkin-Meisterernst and Claudius Naumann (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2019), 51‒70,  esp. 51, fn. 2.

[3]W. Sundermann, “Der Schüler fragt den Lehrer: Eine Sammlung biblischer Rätsel in soghdischer Sprache,” in A Green Leaf: Papers in Honour of Professor Jes P. Asmussen, (Leiden: Brill, 1988), 173‒186, [pl.?] V-XII.

[4]W. B. Henning, “Sogdian Tales,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 11 (1945) 3: 480‒482 with n. 3.

[5]P. Lurje, Personal Names in Sogdian Texts, IPNB 8, II (Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2010), 84, no. 65.

[6]Mitteliranische Handschriften: Berliner Turfanfragmente manichäischen Inhalts in soghdischer Schrift, described by Ch. Reck, (VOHD 18,1) (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 2006,) 306, nr. *442.

[7]A. Benkato, Studies in the Sogdian Epistolary Tradition (Berliner Turfantexte; 41) (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018),  41, nr. 27.

[8]S.-Ch. Raschmann, Alttürkische Handschriften, Teil 14: Dokumente: Teil 2  (VOHD 13, 22) (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 2009), 184, nr. 503.

[9]The fragments are described in the database KOHD digital:

[10]I thank Simone-Christiane Raschmann for her kind help in referring the Old Uyghur texts.

[11]P. Zieme, “Fragmente von Erzählungen, Sprichwörtern und Reimsprüchen aus der altuigurischen Zeit,” AİBÜ Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Dergisi, Semih Tezcan’a Armağan 13 (2013): 473‒496.

[12]Mitteliranische Handschriften: Berliner Turfanfragmente manichäischen Inhalts in soghdischer Schrift, described by Ch. Reck, (VOHD 18,1) (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 2006), 162‒163, nr. 215 (wrong measurement). The recto side contains Chinese text: Taishō Tripiṭaka nr. 473 = 21, 443c52‒444a.

[13]I thank Nicholas Sims-Williams and Yutaka Yoshida very much for all their help and Alisher Begmatov for improving my English phrasing. All remaining shortcomings are, of course, my own responsibility.

[14]There are some of such multilingual text fragments among the Turfan texts, which use words from several languages; see for example Nicholas Sims-Williams, “A Multilingual Manichaean Calendar from Turfan (U130),” Language, Society and Religion in the World of the Turks: Festschrift for Larry Clark at Seventy-Five, ed. Zsuzsanns Gulácsi (Silk Road Studies 19) (Turnhout: Brepols, 2019), 251‒266.

[15]See DMSB, 67 and 64 s.v. cwn.

[16]Mitteliranische Handschriften: Berliner Turfanfragmente manichäischen Inhalts in soghdischer Schrift, described by Ch. Reck, (VOHD 18,1) (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 2006), 230, nr. 310. The recto side contains Chinese text: Taishō Tripiṭaka nr. 374 = 12, 572c19‒26.

[17]Nicholas Sims-Williams, Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst, Dictionary of Manichaean Texts 3:2, Texts from Central Asia and China (Texts in Sogdian and Bactrian) (Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum: Subsidia 7)(Turnhout: Brepols, 2012), 63‒64.

[18]W. Sundermann, Der Sermon von der Seele (Berliner Turfantexte 19) (Turnhout: Brepols, 1997), 92-93, 153, 155).

[19]W.B. Henning, “The Murder of the Magi”, JRAS (1944): 133‒144, (138 and 140), repr. W. B. Henning, Selected Papers II (Téhéran-Liège: Brill, 1977), 139‒150 (144 and 146).

[20]I thank Yutaka Yoshida for the reading of CWRH.

[21]See Mitteliranische Handschriften: Berliner Turfanfragmente manichäischen Inhalts in soghdischer Schrift, as described by Ch. Reck, (VOHD 18,1) (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 2006), 268, nr. 369. The recto side contains Chinese text: Taishō Tripiṭaka nr. 262 = 9, 18c22‒19a3.

Alternative Visions of Iranian Culture: A Celebration of Hamid Naficy’s Work

Iranian cultural history has been overshadowed by a grand narrative of political history that disregards shifts within the Iranian fields of culture. This focus on political history stems from Iran’s geopolitical position and its implication in international politics. A symptom of a homogenous historical time, such an over-determining political history collapses the continuities and discontinuities in cinema, theatre, literature, and other cultural spheres, as it provides a strictly political interpretation of cultural narratives. Decoupling this political grand narrative from multiple layers of historical time, reveals a range of creative cultural activities inside and outside Iran that have had long-lasting impacts on cultural fields. The history of Iranian film production, for instance, has been almost always explained within a political narrative. An interdisciplinary study of cinema, however, that looks at histories of culture, society, and politics, separately, provides a different reading of the history of cinema and its surrounding culture.

For its unique position as an offspring of a new time and facilitator of modernity, cinema has been an indispensable part of modern life since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In registering contemporary events, cinema provided the conditions to capture the past and project it for the future. By virtue of that, cinema has brought history to life and become a primary source for social thinkers, critics, and scholars from its inception to the present. Its emergence within the conditions of urbanity set a precedent for its proliferation in city centres as places where images, ideas, and peoples were in motion. In the context of early twentieth century Iran, the socio-political circumstances of Tehran and other major cities, provided the conditions for the establishment and expansion of cinema in urban areas, and the projection and dissemination of never-seen-before images of peoples, lifestyles, and cultures.  The acceptance, adoption, and usage of cinema by cosmopolitans of diverse ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds, facilitated the conditions of circulation and cosmopolitanism in major cities, and further engendered a movie-going culture. Many cinema owners and enthusiasts soon seized on cinema’s potential for mass mediation and public education, and, in the absence of Iranian films, employed international motion pictures as didactic media in the service of national advancement.

With the production of the first Persian-language films in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and the screening of Iranian past and present for the audiences, cinema became a forum for registering and projecting aspirations for sovereignty. During the same period, cinema also became a medium for Pahlavi state nationalism, as the government commissioned the making of films that portrayed an advanced country or the Iranian ancient glorious past. The popular film industry that emerged in the late 1940s was arguably an actualisation of earlier aspirations for national and cinematic sovereignty in a sustained cinematic form. While painting films with an Iranian colour, these popular films drew on global mainstream film narratives, tropes, and characters, and engendered an entertaining cosmopolitan film enterprise. Unlike what has been commonly argued, these films unraveled Iranian negotiations with rapid modernisation and provided a social commentary on national changes from the 1950s to 1970s.  The pre-revolutionary alternative cinematic movement, also known as the New Wave, which solidified in the 1960s, continued Iranian popular cinema’s tradition of social criticism, albeit in a realist and arthouse cinematic form; this cinema which spoke to left-leaning international critics and cinematic movements gained attention from global film circles. The emergent alternative movement set the conditions for a cinematic revolution which happened prior to the political revolution of 1979.  The Iranian Revolution of 1979 arguably changed the conditions of filmmaking in Iran. Despite the radical changes, however, Iranian cinema has continued its tradition of mediating social criticisms and national debates. Because of its realism and social commitment, in the last three decades, the post-revolutionary alternative cinema has once again gained the attention of international film critics and found a unique place for itself in film festivals.

No other scholar has examined the history of Iranian cinema, from pre-revolutionary to post-revolutionary Iran, as extensively as Hamid Naficy. Taking a personal interest in cinema and multi-media visual culture from an early age, Naficy has come to be known as one of the authoritative voices on the history of Iranian cinema and television, both national and exilic. Considering his meticulous early work on documentary filmmaking in Iran, literature on Iranian and global exilic television and film production, and his seminal four-volume work on the social history of Iranian cinema, it is impossible – and I speak from personal experience – to be a student and researcher of cinema and not engage with Naficy’s scholarship. Naficy’s work, nevertheless, is not limited to Iranian cinema. Over the years, it has found much relevance in fields outside Film Studies namely, in Communication Studies, Media Studies, Post-colonial Studies, Sociology, and Anthropology. The special issue at hand, dedicated to Naficy, is a reflection of his rich, diverse, and theoretically-rigorous career. It has been put together to recognise and celebrate Naficy’s work and influence on cinema, media studies, and culture in general. Each contribution either attends to his academic scholarship, builds upon it, or tackles his artistic creations. One aspect that connects all the contributions in this issue, is the inter/transdisciplinary nature of Naficy’s work that has made his oeuvre a crucial foundation in interdisciplinary studies of visual culture.

Shadowed by his academic contributions to the field of Cinema Studies, Naficy’s early film production and artistic work has not gained much scholarly attention. In this volume, Simran Bhalla, examines Naficy’s experimentation with video technologies in the 1960s and 1970s. Bhalla argues that Naficy’s films as a Master of Fine Arts student at the University of California, Los Angeles, capitalized on the possibilities granted by new technologies and functioned as media critiques that contributed to the counterculture of the period. His films were recently restored and screened at Northwestern University. By highlighting Naficy’s authority outside Cinema Studies, Mehdi Semati explores his transdisciplinary scholarship on International Communication. Drawing connections between his various scholarly works, Semati specifically attends to Naficy’s contribution to the problematisation of borders, politics of Otherness and belonging, and the more general relationship between culture and power. Being at the intersection of Cultural Studies, post-colonial theory, and media theory, Naficy’s oeuvre, according to Semati, is the epitome of trans/interdisciplinary scholarship, perhaps reflecting his character and upbringing.

Another confirmation of this transdisciplinarity can perhaps be found in Michael Fischer’s commentary on Naficy’s caricatures of academics which he captured during public academic addresses. Regarding his simple line drawings as a window into Naficy’s self, Fischer looks for the evolution of a signature style. Asking, “What does the line reveal that the natural eye does not see?”, Fischer encourages the reader and viewer to cross the lines of the drawings and commentaries, to interpret them in good humour, and re-decipher them through their own lens. In a search for a deeper look into Naficy’s life, mind, and career, Kaveh Askari has contributed a revealing and thought-provoking interview with Hamid Naficy, as part of The Fieldnotes project for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Aside from exploring Naficy’s memories about his childhood, pre- and post-secondary student years, and his fascination and experimentation with multi-media visual culture, the interview also discloses valuable information about the institutional and production history of cinema, and some historical actors involved in the development of the industry, particularly in pre-revolutionary Iran.

Mazyar Lotfalian’s article also attests to the transdisciplinary malleability of Naficy’s scholarship.  Drawing on Naficy’s conceptualisation of transnational art production, Accented Cinema, and Third Cinema, Lotfalian investigates the relationship between art and anthropology. Examining Iranian diasporic paintings, installation art projects, performances, and photography after 9/11, an era that the author considers as exemplifying a new Cold War involving the US and Iran, Lotfalian demonstrates how Iranian visual culture has engendered a landscape for communication and critique. Lotfalian considers such endeavours as a form of active agency on the part of artists to create a different world in transnational settings.

Sara Saljoughi’s contribution in this issue further attests to the centrality of interdisciplinarity to new studies of Iranian cinema. Questioning what is commonly considered as “Iranian Cinema,” Saljoughi uses new interdisciplinary paradigms to challenge conventional conceptions of the phenomenon. An homage to Abbas Kiarostami’s Ten (Dah, 2003), the article uses ten theses to tackle grand narratives that overlook historical discontinuities and collapse aesthetic and political specificities in Iranian cinema. Ten proves to be a useful film in this endeavour as it draws on Kiarostami’s past cinematic signatures and expresses the future of Iranian cinema, reflected in its digital mode of filmmaking and focus on women’s experiences.

Mohammad Shahba’s article in Persian attends to challenges associated with the translation of English scholarship on Iranian cinema into Persian for the use of Persian speaking world. Having translated the first volume of Hamid Naficy’s A Social History of Iranian Cinema: The Artisanal Era, 1897-1941 (2011) to Persian in 2016, Shahba uses the translated volume as a case study to comment on essential methodologies for translation including a close rapport between the author and translator, and extensive research on the part of the translator. In identifying guidelines for translation, the author also alludes to the necessity of such translated volumes in interdisciplinary fields and for the fostering of a global dialogue on Iranian cinema.

The contributions in the issue at hand, dedicated to Hamid Naficy, not only engage with and build on Naficy’s scholarship and artistic works, but they attest to the necessity of an interdisciplinary examination of Iranian visual media culture. The articles in this issue beg for a rethinking of conventional histories of Iranian cinema, rejection of grand narratives, and highlighting of particularities in visual culture; in other words, they offer new avenues for the future studies of Iranian cinema and media. We hope that the readers will enjoy perusing these articles in the same light.

A Tree Atop the Mountain: Mobad Manikan and the Elusive Promises of Masculinity


Look! Have you ever seen, or heard from any wise man, such deeds
As Ramin has done to me time and again? He’s wearied my heart of sweet life!
By the hands of Vis, her Nurse, and my brother, I forever burn in fire;
Confounded by these three sorcerers, no salve can ease this pain I’m in.
Indifferent to chains and the brig, they fear neither Hell nor God;
What should one do with three demons, who know not fear or shame,
Who brashly do whatever they want, who do not fear to be disgraced?
Though I am king of world-kings, I know no one more wretched than me.
What use this rule and lordship, when my days are black as pitch?
I dispense justice to all, but I’ve a hundred plaints against my lot:
Men at war have seen my tyranny, but now a woman has become my tyrant. ([I] 60.31–41)[1]

These are the words of one of the most enigmatic men in Persian literature: Mobad Manīkān, lord of Marv, king of Iran and Turan, sovereign of all lands from China to Kairouan.[2] Despite these lofty titles, it is clear from his lament that all is not well back at home. Mobad’s wife, Vis, has rendered him impotent with a magic talisman, and is now having an affair with his younger brother, the dashing Prince Ramin. As Mobad complains here to his minister, Zard, this turn of events has “bound” much more than his physical body: for a man whose symbolic authority stems from his connection to the law—the right to command, and the power to punish those who disobey—the scandal has brought the limits of his sovereignty into open view. Faced with these lovers who not only flout the law but laugh in the face of its adjudicator, Mobad stands to lose not only his bride but the right and authority to claim her; no wonder, then, that he calls the lovers’ actions demonic.

I begin with this passage because it brings us straight to the crux of Mobad’s authority and the site of its crisis: sexual power over women and political power over other men. Typically, one would expect these two dynamics, both classic emblems of patriarchal power, to complement and reinforce the other, but I will argue that this is not the case with Mobad. Indeed, it is the very tension between his dual role as man and king that lies at the root of his predicament, in that the demands of masculine honor impede him from carrying out his kingly duties, even as the exigencies of kingship undermine his status and position as a man. I hope in this reading to bring new insights into the complex negotiations of love, gender, and power at work in the tale of Vis & Ramin, and to offer an example against which we may consider this topic in the story’s generic neighbors and relatives. Vis & Ramin reminds us that these dynamic relationships are neither as simple nor as stable as they may first appear, and must never be taken for granted.

On genre and gender

To provide a few words of context, Vis & Ramin is a narrative mas̱navī of about 9,000 verses, composed in Isfahan by Fakhr al-Dīn Gurgānī around the year 446/1054 under the aegis of the Seljuk Turks, who had wrested the area from Buyid control only a few years prior. The poem participates in a genre I would broadly call the romance—a story that recounts the adventures of two lovers who are forced apart by the hand of fate and its various deputies, only to be reunited (either in death or in marriage) at the end.[3] Texts that engage with or invoke this model in some way or another include the “ideal” Greek novels of the Imperial period, such as Callirhoe and Leucippe & Clitophon, the Arabic akhbār about Majnūn and other ʿudhrī lovers, and European cycles like Floris & Blancheflor, Aucassin & Nicolette, and Tristan & Isolde. Iranians, for their part, seem to have told stories of this kind as far back as our documentation allows us to see: Chares of Mitylene, who accompanied Alexander the Great on his march to Persepolis, relates the popular “barbarian” tale of Odatis and Zariadres, who fell in love when they beheld each other in a dream.[4] Vis & Ramin, like its famous cousin Bīzhan & Manīzhah, is part of this pre-Islamic Iranian tradition of love-stories; its roots go back to Parthian Iran of the first century ce, and it is one of the few medieval texts extant that was possibly rendered into New Persian from a Middle Persian source.[5] Although Vis & Ramin follows the basic structure of initial love, separation, and union that is common across this genre, it brings many unexpected twists to the convention, not least in the psychological attention it gives to the ostensible villain of the story, Mobad.

In terms of generic expectations, Mobad easily falls into the recognizable role of the “rival” or “obstacle” who stands between the hero and heroine.[6] This is an ubiquitous figure in the romance genre; for example, ʿAyyūqī’s Varqah & Gulshāh (w. ca. 420/1030), a romance that incorporates both Arabic and Helleno-Iranian narrative patterns, features two such characters: first Rabīʿ b. ʿAdnān, who abducts Gulshāh on her wedding-night, then the King of Syria, who uses his immense fortune to bribe Gulshāh’s mother into marrying her daughter to him instead of Varqah.[7] Despite the generic nature of this role, it nevertheless bears curious implications for those who play it, for it generates a character who is both necessary for the story to take place and necessarily tangential in its denouement. Mobad’s job, in other words, is to activate a story about the separation of two lovers; the plot cannot be set into motion until he intervenes, and it will not end until his claim has been neutralized in some manner, in this case with his emasculation, humiliation, and death. Mobad exists to be nullified—his job is to fail—for the minute he dies, the union of Vis and Ramin becomes legitimate and achievable, signaling the end of the story. What is fascinating and I daresay unique about this case is that, unlike Rabīʿ b. ʿAdnān or the King of Syria, Mobad seems acutely aware of the constraints that his role as a stock figure has placed upon his political autonomy. This is not to say that he has a meta-knowledge of himself as a fictional character, but rather that his story is all the more powerful precisely because he is forced to confront his innate contingency and grapple with the mysterious reasons behind it. He can sense, though he cannot fully explain why, that the obstacles that lie between him and his happiness, unlike those faced by Vis and Ramin, are necessarily and forever insurmountable for reasons somehow intrinsic to his own person, yet outside of his ability to control: Though I am king of world-kings, I know no one more wretched than me. Realizing his inherent and fundamental limitations—the condition of being “bound”—throws the givens of his masculine and kingly self into a state of existential crisis.

This bittersweet mixture of power and poverty in Mobad expresses itself on a number of levels, most pointedly in terms of the way it runs against the basic expectations of his male identity. As we saw above, Mobad identifies a direct correspondence between his private failure to control his wife and his public failure to rule his kingdom. Both forms of domination, the sexual and the political, are linguistically connected to the fundamental identity of being a man (mard) and its associated codes and practices—mardī and mardumī, similar to the link between vir and virtus in Latin.[8] Mobad makes the same equivalence between the sexual and political spheres in another passage: “My troops, be they rank and file or high command, all call me a ‘non-man’—and if they do, I deserve it! What man am I, who cannot overcome [lit., ‘come on top of’] a woman?” (sipāh-am gar kihān u gar mihān-and • hamah yaksar marā nā-mard khwānand / agar nā-mard khwānand-am sazāyam • chi mard-am man ki bā zan bar nayāyam, 68.26–27). It is crucial to recognize that Mobad experiences and expresses his lack of autonomy in terms of his gender, that he has in some way failed at being a man—and most critics of the poem, we shall see, will concur with his assessment. What is not so simple, however, is to reverse-engineer the proposition, and ask ourselves what would a successful practice of mardumī look like in this situation? What would Mobad need to do to succeed in this story that requires him to fail?

Unfortunately for the king, the answer is bleak: there is no “right” kind of manliness that could have saved him. Indeed, it is manhood itself—the property that promises dominion and autonomy to those who possess it—that forges the bars of his jail, trapping him inside social and institutional structures that curtail his ability to act, such that “the skin on his body was like a prison” (chu zindān būd guftī bar tan-ash pūst, 38.60), as the narrator says in a telling simile. In this way, we encounter an uncanny parallel between the story’s norms of genre and gender: just as Mobad keeps stumbling against his innate limitations as a figure paradoxically central and superfluous to the narrative, so too is he emasculated, paradoxically again, by his intrinsic power as man and king.

In search of an ideal

These are the considerations that lead me to describe Mobad as an “enigmatic” figure, not only to express the innate ironies and paradoxes of his character, but to emphasize the genuine murkiness and confusion that surrounds the question of who he is and what he is supposed to be. We find a fair range of answers on this front in the critical scholarship on Vis & Ramin. Interestingly enough, the first studies of the poem written in European languages, such as those of Graf and von Stackleberg in the late nineteenth century, were inclined to view Mobad as the tragic hero of the story, a noble king brought low by a single, fatal flaw; they were indeed rather put out by his humiliating demise at the hands of the conniving lovers, who not only dodge retribution, but are rewarded for their sins with a happy ending.[9] Moving into the twentieth century (and as cultural attitudes changed), the king came to be seen as more deserving of scorn than sympathy. Critics now wholeheartedly agreed with Mobad’s self-assessment—that his success as a king could not but reflect his worthiness as a man (and vice versa)—and armed with this circular definition, they arrived at the conclusion that he is a failure on both accounts, equally inept in bed and the battlefield. Gabrieli was nonplussed by Mobad’s gullibility (dabbenaggine) as he wavered between hatred and love for his wife and brother; Minorsky found the king both “brutal” and “weak”; and Rypka opined that “the old man is a ridiculous, pitiful figure in the hands of the two lovers.”[10] Southgate echoes these pronouncements a decade later, writing that Mobad “is often pitiful in his rage and despair” as he fulminates against Vis’s repeated infidelities.[11] In contrast, Bürgel sees in Mobad not an excess of passion but a lack of it: he describes the king as “a cold moralist, always presuming on his seemingly legal claim, […] completely incapable of loving her [Vis].”[12] Common to all of these readings of the king, however, whether as tragic hero, mercurial fool, or reptilian tyrant, or is that there is something defective, something wrong about him that inevitably leads to his moral and political collapse.

This theme of defectiveness or incapacity plays out in interesting ways in Meisami’s landmark study of the poem in Medieval Persian Court Poetry. Emphasizing the social context in which Persian romances were produced and circulated, Meisami argues that the themes and concerns of this genre overlap to a considerable extent with other courtly forms, particularly the qaṣīdah. Just as the interplay of lyric and panegyric in the qaṣīdah can collapse the poem’s beloved and the poet’s patron into the same figure, so too does the romance explore the qualities of a good ruler through the figure of a good lover. Thus:

The protagonist’s conduct as lover reveals his fitness, or unfitness, for kingship; this aspect of his qualitative, or ethical, identity depends directly on his capacity to be guided by love and to understand its nature correctly as encompassing, not merely private passion, but public order.[13]

This hermeneutic leads Meisami to draw perfect parallels between the private and public lives of the male characters in the Persian romance: a bad lover will be a bad king, while a man who learns to love properly will also rule properly. It is not surprising, then, that Mobad’s public disgrace must reflect his unworthiness as a lover, made manifest in his bodily emasculation: “Mowbad’s physical impotence with Vis (magically induced by a talisman) figures his moral incapacity, as it identifies his confusion of love, and of the lover’s goal, with concupiscence.”[14] From this perspective, Mobad’s failures are not limited to the physical nor even the political arenas, but amount to a fundamentally moral inadequacy on his part (the poor guy can’t get a break!). Although I will offer an alternative explanation for this outcome, Meisami’s point is well-taken that Mobad’s impotence and cuckoldry are tightly bound to his position at the head of a social and political hierarchy;[15] her work makes it clear that his case is a complicated one, caught up in the intertwined webs of power, gender, and love.

To respond to Meisami, the major drawback I see with her reading is that it continues the legacy of seeing the king as a relatively static figure whose chief significance lies in his place within a clearly defined symbolic order of ideal kingship. I suggest that when we read his story through the medium of his own speech, consider the specific circumstances surrounding his actions, and trace the processes that eventually lead to his demise, the certainties of his ideal roles begin to turn upon themselves, undermining their categorical stability. This is not to say that Mobad does not invoke the ideal equivalence between King, Lover, and (Perfect) Man that Meisami describes—that he certainly does—but that the difficulties he faces in attempting to embody all three figures at the same time render this equation far more problematic than the math would suggest. I imagine that, had he been able to read Meisami’s diagnosis, Mobad might have been tempted to ask her what she expected him to do to restore his authority and win Vis’s love; how could he have walked the path of Niẓāmī’s Bahrām Gūr and transitioned from “kingship by will” to “kingship by law”?[16] Unfortunately, Meisami does not see a way out for him, for, as she writes, the rotten core of his story is ultimately rooted not in his behavior, which can be adjusted through education and refinement, but in his person as “an inappropriate (not to say unnatural) partner for Vis.”[17] Mobad’s dilemma, then, goes back to something intrinsic about him, to the fact that he is Mobad: there is no way he can “possess” Vis in love or in marriage—as his social position tells him he has the authority to do—that does not ruin that authority in the process.

Thus, we are brought back to the underlying quandary of our powerless monarch, “whose hopeless psychological situation,” Davis writes, “flickers wearily from patience to self-assertion to fury and back again.”[18] Henri Massé, who translated Vis & Ramin into French, was also struck by the pathos of this predicament, stuck in a love that is “physically impossible and morally reprehensible”:

The poet has well noted the tragic nature of the love that has enslaved this old man to a woman too young [for him], as we read in his desperate speeches, his bitter reproaches to Vis, and his admonishments enlivened by a tender sadness; at the piteous cries of Vis’s mother, believing that her daughter is dead, Mobad responds with a certainty that is as dejected as it is passionate, a dialogue that counts among the best parts of the work.[19]

Here, both critics land upon what to my mind might be the most interesting question raised by our hapless king: what if the poem is not simply giving us a negative example of how not to be a successful man/king/lover, but in fact asks us to consider what it means to inhabit such roles, especially if one is condemned to perpetual failure? The psychological complexity of Mobad’s character has been occasionally addressed; an interesting example of this is found in a short comparative essay that highlights his knack at self-diagnosis and “guilt at being stirred by a daughter’s beauty.”[20] In addition, there are two studies of Vis & Ramin in Persian that utilize psychoanalytic theory in their analysis of the king. Zamān’zādah reads him, the father figure, as a symbol of the id, and concludes that the poem celebrates the victory of love over sin by killing off the sexually repressed Mobad and replacing him with the uninhibited Ramin; while Kahdūnī and Buḥrānī, drawing from Jung, argue that Mobad’s anima prevents him from connecting with his fully-formed masculine self, trapping him in a state of permanent immaturity in which he is prone to anger, anxiety, fear, self-sabotage, illogical behavior, effeminacy, and vulnerability to womanly tricks.[21] Although these readings employ new approaches to the study of Mobad, they arrive at the same conclusions we have seen before, infantilizing him as a defective man or reducing his character to a purely symbolic existence; my own questions about what he might tell us about masculinity itself remain to be answered.

This, in brief, is my take on the matter, which I will explicate in the following pages: the tale of Mobad offers us a profound glimpse into the anxious interior of normative power and authority, rooted in the male body and the symbolic orders it claims to inhabit. Yet Mobad encounters a glitch, so to speak: the normative “grammar” of masculinity, with all its givens, expectations, and promises, turns upon itself and collapses under the weight of its own (il)logic. Trapped inside a role that both promises him autonomy and blocks him from realizing it, Mobad is thus forced to gaze into the void of his own irrelevance, contemplating the ideological forces that unmake his persona even as they construct it.

A royal position

If a reader with no prior knowledge were to pick up Vis & Ramin and start from the beginning, it would be quite natural for them to assume, as Graf and von Stackleberg did, that Mobad is the main protagonist of the story. The poem’s opening lines place the King of Kings at front and center of the narrative stage:

Among the evening-tales and reports, I have found it written from the chroniclers’ words:
That there was once a king, blessed and successful in kingship.
All kings were slaves to him; they lived in the world for his sake. ([II] 8.1–3)

This claim is illustrated by the splendid springtime banquet that immediately follows, confirming in its pomp and pageantry Mobad’s position as the undisputed ruler of all lands. During this feast, the king’s gaze falls upon Shahru of Media, the fairest of his vassals, and, taken by her beauty, he invites her to become his consort, “whether as wife or as lover” (yā juft yā dūst, 10.6). When Shahru declines the offer on account of her advanced age, Mobad presses the issue, suggesting that, if she is too old for love, let him have her daughter—should she ever have one—for “she would be fair of skin, like you” (buvad dukht-i tū mis̱l-i tū saman-bar, 10.40); to this Shahru readily agrees, and the two exchange oaths to seal their pact. The narrator of the poem leaves us in no doubt that this is the moment when the seeds of Mobad’s (and Shahru’s) troubles are sown, as he cries out at the end of the scene, “Look what hardships they fell into, giving an unborn child into wedlock!” (nigar tā dar chi sakhtī ūftādand • ki nā-zādah ʿarūsī rā bidādand, 10.54). We might detect the same message in the subtext of Shahru’s rejection of Mobad’s advances, when she tells him, “Shame and disgrace will grow in the world of any old person who plays at being young” (har ān pīrī ki burnāʾī namāyad • jahān-ash nang u rusvāʾī fazāyad, 10.29). Although she is ostensibly speaking of herself, this could well be a veiled critique of Mobad’s interest in love, despite his mature age and exalted rank.[22] If this anxiety is present, however, it is not enough to spark a challenge to Mobad’s authority; as the King of Kings—the alpha male, so to speak—he seems to be acting within his socially accepted rights to initiate and agree upon a marriage proposal.[23] Thus this scene, in addition to laying the groundwork for the future conflict, also uncovers a point of tension latent within the established norms of male power and the potentially self-destructive implications of its assertion.

Years later, Shahru indeed gives birth to a daughter, Vis; but, either forgetting or ignoring her vow, she instead marries Vis to her (Vis’s) brother, Viru, and just at this moment, Mobad’s deputy Zard arrives at the court to fetch the king’s new bride. Vis is horrified at the thought of marrying an old man and publicly rejects the proposition, saying, “I should mix with my brother like milk and wine; I don’t want Old Mobad in some foreign land!” (bisāzam bā barādar chūn may u shīr • nakhwāham dar gharībī mobad-i pīr, 16.39). However vocal in her protests, Vis cannot deny—nor can Mobad forget—the contract made so many years ago. This contract gives Mobad the right to press his claim on Vis, but it also puts him under a great deal of pressure, for as king and guarantor of the law, it is his formal duty to see that such contracts (especially those made with him personally) are upheld; to ignore such a violation would have serious consequences for his credibility. That he understands the implications of Vis’s defiance is immediately evident when he first hears the news from Zard: “So much sweat poured from his face, you’d say his body had melted in the heat of his fury” (zi bas khūy k-az sar u rūy-ash hamī tākht • tan-ash guftī zi tāb-i khashm bigudākht, 18.3). The personal insult is bad enough, but there looms a larger danger, as Zard continues:

Viru has crowned himself rūḥā and surrendered his heart to Ahriman along the way.
All say “king” before his name and know no other king save him.
They do not count you among the kings—some don’t consider you a man! ([III] 17.45–48)[24]

Such is Zard’s report; but we, who were privy to the scene, have good reason to doubt its veracity. It was Vis, and not her brother Viru, who refused Mobad’s summons, and her reasons were far from political. Nonetheless, Zard reads her rejection as an explicit declaration of war on the part of the Medes, which he announces publicly in front of Mobad’s court. Both Mobad’s personal honor and his political authority have now been compromised, and regardless of however he might wish to act, he is institutionally obliged to respond to the crisis. His lack of autonomy is underscored when we observe the reaction of his court nobles; it is clear that in their eyes, Mobad’s love-life is no longer a private issue (if it ever was), but a matter of concern for the kingdom at large:

The nobles in the king’s presence gnashed their teeth and said,
“Why would Shahru, our ally, give the king’s wife to another man?
How could Viru have dared to court a woman betrothed to our king?”
And then they said, “From now on, our king will bring ruin upon the land of Media! […]
Fate has sounded the death-knell for all who live there, now that she who was one’s is now another’s!” ([IV] 18.22–25, 31)

At the risk of belaboring the point, it is worth reflecting on the choices available to the king at this juncture. Within this context of sedition and personal affront, one is hard pressed to imagine any other response from Mobad that could both save face and preserve his authority; were he to relinquish his claim on Vis now that his men are clamoring for blood, he would lose both Media and his credibility at home in a single stroke. This works against his chances as Vis’s suitor, however, for if he can only possess his bride by violence, he ensures that he will never win her affections: as Ramin will say to him later, “If you stay with her against her wishes, forget it; you’ll not enjoy her!” (v-agar bī kām-i ū bā ū nishīnī • zi dil dar kun k-az ū shādī nabīnī, 26.29).[25] Aware of this double-bind, Mobad is loath to respond as he knows he must; his first move is to ask Zard, “Did you see this with your own eyes, or did you hear it somewhere?” (bipursīd az barādar k-īn tū dīdī • bi chashm-i khwīsh yā jāʾī shinīdī, 18.5), perhaps hoping against hope that it was all just a rumor. Zard glibly reaffirms his tale, concluding with a conspicuous request for orders: “I’ve told you what I saw, and now you know best, for you are the one to give orders, and I’m the one to obey” (man ān guftam ki dīdam pas tū bih dān • ki tū farmān dihī man bandah farmān, 18.19). Thus, willing or no, Mobad must march off to make war on his own subjects. Needless to say, this does not endear him to the local population, and it marks the beginning of a political collapse that was engendered through the exercise and defense of his own royal prerogative in laying claim to Vis.

As the claims on Vis’s body increase, Mobad’s position grows ever more precarious. After a protracted battle against Viru that gets him nowhere, the king eventually manages to “persuade” Shahru, with gold and the threats of divine punishment for breaking her sacred vow (the meaning of his name, “Mazdean priest,” seems suggestive here),[26] into surrendering Vis, with whom he returns to Marv in triumph. But as Ramin predicted, there is no joy in victory; his furious bride retaliates by having her Nurse curse him with the charm of impotence, and Ramin swoops in and takes his brother’s place as her lover. When Mobad first discovers the affair, he attempts to resolve the issue discretely, sensitive to the damage this latest scandal could have on his reputation; but when negotiations fail, with Vis declaring she will only stay with him insofar as it allows her to continue seeing Ramin (turā az bahr-i rāmīn mī-parastam, 48.27), Mobad exiles her to the home of her mother and brother, still evidently hoping to end the affair by separating the lovers, rather than punishing or killing them. This, too, does not resolve his problem, for Ramin defies his brother’s warning and takes up residence with Vis in Media. The threat to Mobad’s authority has thus shifted from the enemy without (Viru) to the enemy within (Ramin), and as before, the frustrated king sees no other choice but to annihilate this danger, even if it means killing his own brother. As he asks his mother:

“Can this be right? No sensible man would allow
Ramin to court destruction with my wife and dishonor my royal position!
How can two brothers share one woman? What in the world could be worse than this shame? […]
I must kill him for this, though it grieves me, for your eyes will shed tears like the springtime cloud. ([V] 51.7–9, 13)

Although he invokes the moral outrage of being cuckolded by his own kin, Mobad is careful to present this decision as a product of reason, not of anger. He does not want to kill his brother, but he must; the threat that Ramin poses to his authority is so great that this is the only reasonable thing to do. In other words, it is not Mobad who is acting, but his “royal position”; by this means the burden of fratricide shifts from the officeholder to the office itself. His mother, however, raises an equally convincing argument as to why he, or rather his “royal position,” should not act in this way. With Mobad impotent and childless, Ramin is the only one who will carry on the family line: “No sensible man,” she retorts, “would cut off his own two hands” (hargiz • dū dast-i khwad naburrad hīch gurbiz, 51.16)—a metaphor certainly evocative of self-castration. Mobad is thus left with two perfectly contrary routes that a “sensible man” in his place would (not) take, leaving him in the unenviable position that no matter how he acts, he will commit a senseless deed that will harm himself and undermine his royal line. The only escape from this quandary lies in the chance that perhaps someone other than Ramin is the real culprit here, a possibility that Mobad’s mother is quick to seize upon. It is Vis and Viru of Media, she says, who are to blame; in her eyes, Vis has seduced both Mobad and Ramin and turned brother against brother. Her advice for her son, then, is to renounce Vis, reconcile with Ramin, and punish Viru for his treachery. Mobad immediately grasps at this straw and composes a letter full of rancor and vitriol to Viru, deriding his lineage, sneering at his martial prowess, and promising an imminent and merciless retribution—an exemplary display of male posturing:

As long as you’re in your palace and harem, you display well the skills of brave men;
But when you meet warriors on the field, you flee like women before men! […]
I’ll make a field of the bodies of your dead, and drive a Tigris of blood through it!
I’ll bring out Vis without shoes or veil and parade her before the army like a dog.
I’ll so humiliate her that none will ever again oppose the noble! ([VI] 51.65–66, 85–87)

Despite their bluster, these threats cannot hide the systemic failure of Mobad’s attempt to salvage his authority; though he is willing to redirect his ire from Viru to Ramin and back again (at the end of the day, it is not important who his enemy is, just so long as that enemy can be identified and destroyed), he cannot give up his claim to Vis; for as we recall, the conflict is rooted in the matter of his right to possess her, a claim that his position in society both entitles him to and demands that he uphold. With this claim now contested, the possession of Vis has become an indispensable pillar of Mobad’s sovereignty. We thus miss the point if we read his threats as a reflection of a cruel or violent personality; rather, I would suggest that this is an example of Mobad doing exactly what is required and expected of him if he hopes to maintain his increasingly tenuous claim to male authority, in which the power and right to dominate plays a functional and foundational role. He thus fills the air with threats of violent retribution in a mimicry of kingship that arises from and attempts to hide the anxiety of not knowing what to do; this deep unease is apparent in the opening of his letter, in which he reveals his desperation to locate a concrete enemy against whom he may unleash his righteous anger: “Will you not say who commanded you to seek power and iniquity over me? Who gives you refuge? Who’s your support?” (bidū guft īn ki farmūd-at nagūʾī • ki bar man bīshī va bīdād jūʾī / panāh-at kī-st yā pusht-at kudām ast, 51.48). It is as though Mobad himself cannot believe—as much as he would like to—that the seemingly omnipresent threat to his kingship is reducible to a single individual.

These paranoid accusations only contribute to the growing confusion that spreads like a fog throughout the story’s atmosphere. When he receives the letter, Viru has no idea what crime it is that Mobad could be talking about, and is forced to wonder aloud: who is doing wrong to whom?

He said, “What strange words are these? Against whom is his anger directed?
He sat my sister within his harem, then kicked her out in the middle of winter.
It was he who struck, then he who cried foul: thus he has done two kinds of injustice. […]
He’s the one who sinned, and now he wants to punish us; such is one who has retreated from justice. ([VII] 52.9–11, 14)

As we can see, Mobad and Viru are equally confused about the other’s intentions. The normative logic of masculinity—which originally led Zard to interpret Vis’s rejection as Viru’s rebellion—has turned upon its actors, forcing them to defend their honor from slights that were only possible within that logic. Now, with this latest (perceived) affront, Mobad and his allies are convinced that Media has staged a full rebellion, while as far as the Medes are concerned, the king has lost his marbles. The only thing certain in this game of blind man’s buff is that Mobad’s every attempt to shore up his rule only succeeds in further destabilizing it; ironically, his suspicions that a revolt is brewing under his nose may instigate a real one. Viru, no less a participant in this masculine performance, insinuates as much in his response to the letter, challenging Mobad to prove the truth of his spurious accusations by appearing on the battlefield. His reply bristles with ad hominem attacks, not only on Mobad’s right to rule, but indeed his manhood:

If we come out to the plain of battle, you’ll see for yourself how I’ll deal with you.
I’ll wash your noble line with the quicksilver of my sword; I’ll be a man in deeds, not words.
Neither lineage nor eloquence bear any value in the battlefield, where heroes show their fury!
Bring only your manhood (mardi), not words, for today only manhood will aid us! ([VIII] 53.37–40)

Viru’s retort, daring Mobad to show the power he claims to have, is of course the one thing that forces the king to stop: “When the king read out this heart-wrenching reply, he halted his endeavors” (chu shāh ān pāsukh-i dilgīr bar khwānd • az ān pāsukh bi kār-i khwīsh dar mānd, 53.44). Mobad’s bluff has been called; after their last scuffle, the king knows he cannot beat Viru in battle, and so he is forced to recant his accusation with the sheepish excuse that his nobles had goaded him into it (53.48). With this latest setback, Mobad has lost all outlets to the necessary step of exacting revenge and reclaiming his honor; now, regardless of whom he identifies as the wrongdoer, Rāmin or Viru, it will paradoxically be he who does wrong in punishing him. The enforcement of justice, that keystone of kingly authority, transforms into an intrinsically unjust act.

This paradox will plague the king to the end of his days. The codes of masculine honor demand a swift and decisive response, but the choices are grim: either punish his brother and doom the family line, deflect the punishment to an innocent third party and undermine his legitimacy, or do nothing and watch his authority go up in smoke. I am reminded of a wonderful line in Béroul’s Tristan, in which King Mark complains that the only way he can make his barons fear him is by driving them out, and with them the backbone of his authority: Que nes enchaz fors de ma terre / Li fel ne criement mais ma gerre [Unless I expel them from my land, the villains will no longer fear my power]; in a similar vein, Mobad is caught in a position where the only way he can prove his power is by destroying it.[27] Despite his repeated efforts to perform the roles demanded of him by his “position” as a powerful man, Mobad has somehow found himself in the bizarre situation of having no one but himself to blame for his disgrace—the consequence of occupying a position where all reasonable action becomes intrinsically unreasonable.

As the reality of this Catch-22 settles in, we begin to see a curious unwillingness on Mobad’s part to fully acknowledge the affair—the engine that both upholds and undermines his rule—even though it dominates his every waking moment. The king’s refusal to believe Zard’s news, or his misidentification of Viru as his rival (despite Vis’s explicit statements to the contrary) are examples of this; in the same manner, he will play along in later escapades that continue to erode his status and dignity.[28] Attributing this to sheer naiveté, as some critics have (see above), would almost be a blessing at this point—at least in ignorance there is bliss—but it seems that Mobad is quite aware of his torturous charade. When Ramin invents an excuse to visit Vis, “he knew that his words were false” (bidānist ū ki guftār-ash durūgh ast, 49.73), but lets him go anyway; when Ramin arranges a tryst with Vis in his presence, “he heard those whispered words, but manfully kept his heart in check” (shanīdah kard bar khwad nā-shanīdah • bi mardī dāsht dil rā āramīdah, 59.50). Mobad is not fooled by these tricks, but he is forced to buy into their ambiguity as the only means of preserving his position. He needs Vis with him to maintain the appearance of sovereignty, but with Vis comes Ramin, breaking it down from within: as Mobad remarks in a poignant monologue, this dilemma forces him down a double path of knowing and not knowing, of forever seeking evidence of the affair but unable to accept it when it is found: “Before I became a lover, I was capable, wise, and perceptive in my affairs; now that I am in love, I have become so helpless that when I see, I cannot comprehend” (zi pīsh-i ʿāshiqī būdam tavānā • bi kār-i khwīshtan bīnā va dānā / kunūn dar ʿāshiqī bas nātavān-am • chunīn gashtam ki gar bīnam, nadānam, 56.33–34). Clear in this lament is the fact that Mobad’s fundamental identity has changed in some way; his becoming a lover marks a turning point in his story. We will revisit this important statement later on, but first, let us consider further what a normative application of kingship would entail in the first place, and why it could not but work against the purpose it is intended to realize.

Violence and authority

Mobad’s structural inability to act stands in direct contrast to the ideal of absolute and unchecked power claimed by the monarchs of the Islamic Middle Period, and, more broadly, the norms of masculinity itself. Lest we think that this ideal is absent from Vis & Ramin, we are presented with such a figure in the poem’s prologue, a panegyric to the Seljuk sultan Ṭughril Beg (r. 431/1040–455/1063). The story of Ṭughril’s rise to power is peppered with tough marches through difficult terrain, tenacious battles against fierce enemies, and effusive generosity when rewarding his friends—all testaments to his indomitable masculinity. It is this quality, to cite the text, that distinguishes Ṭughril from his predecessors: “He is not like other kings, always in their cups,” effuses the narrator; “he seeks his name in toil and struggle!” (na chūn shāhān-i dīgar jām-jūy ast • ki az ranj-āzmūdan nām-jūy ast, 3.29). For Ṭughril, manliness (mardumī) is an end unto itself: “He desires nothing of this world save manliness; he fears God, but not any man” (murād-ash z-īn jahān juz mardumī na • zi yazdān tarsad u az ādamī na, 3.91). The authority to forgive and the capacity to punish—both managed by the threat of violence—lies at the foundation of mardumī; in his account of Ṭughril’s conquest of Buyid Isfahan, the poet invokes both aspects of this quality:

Were the King not supremely just—so kind-hearted at the time of love and forgiveness—
Not two bricks of Isfahan would remain stacked; none would have tilled its fields for a hundred years.
But he took the way of men (mardumī) and forgave both townsman and soldier,
He crushed their crimes below his heel, so that nobody complained of his wrath. […]
An entrusted group had slandered the populace in the tax records;
By his command, their tongues were cut out, their eyes, pierced with red-hot needles. ([IX] 5.4–7, 18–19)

Thus Ṭughril, the subject of Gurgānī’s panegyric, exhibits a kind of kingship in which effective rule is a product of inner manliness, girded by the threat of violence. Mobad’s speeches and behavior invoke this same time-honored model as his own ideal, but his attempts to enact it, to claim it as his own, complicates and questions its efficacy, showing how it comes laden with internal limitations. In theory, as long as the king sticks to his guns and adheres to (masculine) virtue, he will be successful; this is borne out by texts such as the Shāhnāmah, where kings usually fail out of an inner moral collapse, causing the farr to flee their visage and portending their imminent doom. In Vis & Ramin, however, the king is placed in a situation in which the application of justice will only undermine his right to adjudicate; he is therefore only able to mime the violence that he is expected to perform, to make his threats fully aware that he cannot enforce them. For example, when he first learns of Vis’s adultery, he does not punish her himself, but rather asks that her brother do the dirty work for him, claiming that his justice, were he to mete it out, would be too terrible to behold:

If I had to discipline them, I would do them harm above all measure:
I would burn Vis’s eyes with fire; I’d crucify her nurse.
I’d drive Ramin from my city, and never speak his name again.
I’d empty this world of disgrace, and cleanse my soul of the shame they have brought upon me. ([X] 47.38–41)

It is striking how these threats mirror the tortures inflicted by Ṭughril Beg on the ne’er-do-wells of Isfahan, but, as we saw in the case of Viru, Mobad dare not implement them, lest he destroy the very authority that requires him to act. His position in life is the symbolic embodiment of masculine power and authority; yet at every turn, it is precisely this symbolic, one might say overdetermined body of his, that gets in the way, preventing him from enacting the agency he supposedly has and driving him inexorably towards the margins of the story.

The consequences of implementing a Ṭughrilian form of control over his rebellious subjects are made all too clear in the one and only scene when Mobad physically punishes his wife for her adultery. The episode begins (fittingly enough) with another assault on his kingdom: the Roman emperor has invaded the western border, and Mobad must ride out to meet him in battle. Hoping to keep his domestic troubles quiet, he orders Ramin to accompany him on the campaign, while Vis shall stay behind, guarded under lock and key in a distant fortress. Initially, the plan is a success. The king returns victorious, and it seems like he is a new man, his old prestige restored; “Having placed the kings of the world in fetters, he cried in triumph, ‘I am king of all kings!’” (bi band āvardah shāhān-i jahān rābi pīrūzī ki man shāh-am shahān rā, 64.8). But no sooner does he arrive at his capital than he learns that his brother has slipped away and joined Vis in her prison. Fuming and furious, he mobilizes his army to march on the fortress and put the traitor to death. Amidst the thundering war-drums, we see for the first time the army start to grouse under Mobad’s increasingly erratic rule:

Half of his army had not yet arrived from the march; they had labored for a year on that difficult road.
The other half hadn’t loosened their belts; their travel-hats were still atop their heads.
Against their will, they marched with him on the road to the Devils’ Grotto [the name of the fortress].
One said, “Our road’s not over—all this march is now about Ramin!”
Another said, “We’re always on the road, just to keep Ramin away from Vis!”
Another said, “Vis at home is worse for the king than a hundred Khaqans and Caesars.” ([XI] 64.18–23)

Mobad will not be deterred, however: roaring, growling, and bellowing in animal fury, he drives his exhausted soldiers straight to the castle and bursts into Vis’s chambers, where he is confronted by a scene painful to behold. Though Ramin has just fled the coop, the evidence of his stay is obvious: a rope fashioned out of silken garments dangles out the window, and Vis has torn her clothes, scratched her face, and poured dust on her head in grief. This is the moment when Mobad must take in the full reality of his situation and confront his helplessness. No social norm, no religious interdiction, no threat of violence can affect his basic problem, that Vis will never be his, that Vis will never love him. Meanwhile, his honor is ruined, his army mutinous, and all the prestige he has won fighting the Romans is gone up in smoke. Confounded by this knowledge, the king can only ask his wife (in a final irony) what it is he should do:

The king cried, “Vis! Demon-spawn! May the curse of both worlds be upon you!
You fear neither men nor God, nor do you shrink from fetters and prison!
My advice and counsel are like spells to you, just as my chains and prisons are nothing in your eyes!
Tell me—what must I do with you? What can I do but kill you? Speak!” ([XII] 64.135–38)

Brought to this state, the only recourse left to Mobad is violence—no longer rationalized in the language of justice and order, but a blind and primal fury at the futility of his attempts to govern his life. He seizes Vis by the hair, drags her along the ground, binds her limbs, and whips her, “over and over, upon her back, her haunches, her breasts and thighs, until her limbs split open like a pomegranate, and blood dripped from her like pomegranate seeds” (pas āngah tāzīyānah zad-ash chandān • abar pusht u surīn u sīnah va rān / ki andām-ash chu nārī shud kafīdah • v-az ū chu nār-dānah khūn chakīdah, 64.175–76). He then turns on Vis’s nurse with even more violence (z-ān bīshtar zad, 64.181), thrashing them both until they fall senseless, then slams the door of the room and leaves them for dead.

In his version of the Tristan story, Gottfried von Strassburg tells us that when King Mark finally beheld the horrible truth of his wife’s infidelity, he was thrown out of the safe haven of doubt and ambivalence into a permanent state of “living death”;[29] the brutality of the king’s actions, so extreme that “a world was heartbroken” by the pain he caused those two (jahānī dil bi dard-i har dū khastah, 64.187), similarly marks the death of Mobad as a sympathetic character. Up to this point, his repeated efforts to maintain order and dignity are conveyed with a certain amount of pathos, given the inherent impossibility of his situation, and his many monologues, in which he wonders out loud what on earth he can do to deliver himself from his predicament, are some of the most profound ruminations on choice and agency we see in the story as a whole. But with this furious assault, spilling blood from Vis’s body as though deflowering her the only way he can, Mobad has stepped into the character by which he is ultimately remembered (and which the story needs him to be): the raging, impotent obstacle-king who stands in the way of the love of Vis and Ramin.[30] As the narrator brings this climax to a close, he steps back from the bloody scene to reflect on how Mobad’s story should serve as a warning to all lovers:

May no lover be rash and proud, for his fury will cast him into the fire.
When a lover lacks patience, he will see no joy in pursuing love.
Why would a lover show anger, when he cannot bear a moment away from his beloved?
He loves the faults of his beloved, because through them he can forgive her. ([XIII] 64.198–201)

“He who is not a lover is not a man”

The lines quoted above raise a crucial aspect of Mobad’s story, namely the intertwined roles of man, king, and lover in his character. As we recall, Meisami identifies the three roles as close analogues to one another: drawing from philosophers like the Ikhwān al-Ṣafā and Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī, she argues that the “perfect man” (al-insān al-kāmil), through his knowledge of love, will ascend to temporal and spiritual supremacy. There are many passages in Vis & Ramin that affirm this idea, of which some are (notably) invoked in the context of Mobad, rather than his brother, the ostensible hero of the story. For example, when Ramin advises Mobad against loving Vis, the narrator embarks on a discursus on the nature of love and the role that strife (sitīz) and reprimand (malāmat) play in its occurrence. The heroic disregard of the advice of friends and the abuse of enemies is a pervasive theme in Arabic and Persian love poetry, signaling the purity of the lover’s devotion and his manly fortitude in the face of adversity:

Strife is the start of a man’s love; it warms the coldest of hearts.
And if a cloud rises up and rains stones instead of admonitions,
The lover fears not this stony rain, even if the stones were javelins.
All that gives rise to reprimand is a fault—save the practice of love, which is noble.
Nothing a naysayer could say will wash the passion from a lover’s heart.
What is a blaming scorpion to love? He who is not a lover is not a man. ([XIV] 26.47–52)

True to the old adage, love is depicted in this passage as a kind of war, where taunts and reprimands fall and wound like a shower of spears. To persevere in such adversity requires an array of masculine virtues; he who cannot bear the suffering he is sure to experience as a lover should not get involved, no more than a coward should engage in battle, for failure on either front will reveal to the world his deficient masculinity. Conversely, those with the courage to engage in these pursuits will be ennobled by their efforts; the trials of public shame and disgrace are badges of honor for the lover. This martial presentation of love ties the work of the lover very closely to that of the king, for both are engaged in a kind of combat that requires an inexhaustible reserve of courage and fortitude to succeed (or die with honor in the attempt). It is curious, then, that this speech is applied to—or at least mentioned in the context of—Mobad’s connection with Vis. Even though he is, from a generic perspective, barred from inhabiting the role of the poem’s “hero” (that is, the lover), Mobad seems at times awfully close to stepping into it. For example, when Vis and Ramin escape his palace, Mobad is beside himself with grief; he quits his throne and begins to wander the countryside, calling out Vis’s name: “He sought a sign of Vis everywhere he went, but he neither saw her nor heard any news. […] For five months, he traversed mountains, forests, plains, and deserts, like a man out of his wits” (nishān-i vīs har jāʾī bipursīd • na khwad dīd u na az kas nīz bishnīd […] / bi kūh u bīshah va hāmūn u daryā • hamī shud panj māh chūn mard-i shaydā, 56.7, 10). This image of the wandering madman naturally calls to mind Majnūn, the greatest of all lovers in Islamicate lore, who shuns all human company and roams the wilderness repeating Laylī’s name as though it were a sacred mantra. It seems that Mobad has given up his role as king and taken up the way of the lover; yet, as we can glean from his lament, he cannot quite divorce himself from his old persona:

He cried out, “Alas, for my fate! My countless soldiers, treasures, and belongings
Have been scattered to the winds for the sake of my heart, and now I am bereft of both lordship and love. […]
Why must I love with such sorrow? It’s better for an old man not to love.
A child would age under such duress—look how wretched an old man has become!
I chose a paradise from the world, and in her absence, I only see hell.
Whenever I recall her cruel tyranny, my love and loyalty only increase.
My state grows worse when I count her faults; you’d say I love her imperfections!
My heart has grown blind in love, and sees no pleasure in this world.
Before I became a lover, I was capable, wise, and perspicacious;
Now I am helpless in this state: I see, but cannot comprehend. ([XV] 56.19–20, 27–34)

It is worth noting that Mobad here exhibits many of the characteristics the narrator had invoked in his description of the ideal lover: he loves his beloved’s faults; his love grows all the more for his suffering; he has given up everything for her sake. We find, moreover, that Mobad is willing on numerous occasions to forgive both Vis and Ramin for their transgressions, for example when he says: “I’ll forgive her past sins, and never again mention them to her. For Ramin, too, I have only goodwill; he’s my brother, support, and refuge” (gunāh-i raftah rā andar guẕāram • digar hargiz bi rūy-i ū nayāram / bi rāmīn nīz juz nīkī nakhwāham • barādar bāshad u pusht u panāh-am, 58.21–22).[31] None of these actions would be consistent with the image of a ruler who demonstrates his authority and right to rule through the application of violence; in such a scenario, the adulterous Vis would have been blinded and tortured, the treacherous Ramin exiled (as Mobad had once threatened to do). By abstaining from these actions, Mobad presents himself as one willing to do what lovers do, exercising the stoic fortitude that the poet claims is necessary for all lovers to show their manhood (we might recall the line cited earlier, where Mobad manfully keeps his heart in check). Yet, in so doing, Mobad’s royal authority has suffered beyond repair—he is now a gross parody of the universal monarch, allowing himself to be cuckolded and led around the world by the lovers, unable to mete out justice, his orders bearing no more weight than the air that carries them. In this way, he is his own worst enemy: as much as he tries to embody both the figure of king and lover, as the text itself tells him he should be able to do, he fails at both and disgraces himself in the process. This is not because of any flaw in his ethics or moral character, but in those aspects that are intrinsically linked with his position as a literary figure who is plugged into multiple modalities of manhood. His story disrupts the fantasy of ennobling love, the promise that virtuous action in his personal life will automatically reflect upon his public status. As his brother Zard explains to him, these two sides of his personality are caught in a destructive loop, in which any action he takes as king can only harm his status as lover, and vice versa; as a result, his heroic but futile efforts to reconcile the two roles have left him paralyzed, and the kingdom battered:

I saw how you were in love, when Vis took her lovely face away from you:
Sometimes you were with the gazelles in the desert, sometimes with the fish in the sea,
Sometimes with the onagers in the plain, sometimes with the lions in the reedbeds.
Have you forgotten that pain and torment that came to you—and us—from your love?[32]
You suffered from her, and we from you; how much anguish we endured!
Remember the treaties and oaths you swore before the Creator!
Don’t break your vows, O king; that would not become you, and one day it will sting your soul. […]
If you plunge your dagger into lovely Vis, your pain from that wound will only increase! ([XVI] 68.123–29, 139)

Despite the logical truth of Zard’s advice (like that of Mobad’s mother), it pulls the king back into a quicksand from which he cannot free himself. He can’t live with Vis, he can’t live without her; the only “sensible action” left is to delay the inevitable as long as he can. Mobad’s inability to resolve his crisis, regardless of what he tries, reveals the underlying impotency of his person and position: these two idealized figures of lover and king, presented as an overlapping set of practices and performances grounded in a bedrock of timeless masculine virtues, end up collapsing under their own weight. Disentangling these ideals from one another reveals masculinity as a variable and at times self-defeating constellation of practices, which may generate different logical frameworks for action depending on the hero’s self-image of man-as-lover or man-as-ruler. The rupture of this homogeneous ethical core into multiple and mutually negating practices engenders a profound subjective crisis for the one whose subjectivity is wrapped inside an idealized, inflated, and larger-than-life projection of masculinity, that elusive “perfect man”; Mobad’s inability to support these pressures in the end is finally made manifest in that most simple and yet most terrifying threat to manhood itself: impotence, a state in which the mind wills something of its body and the body cannot rise to the task. It is thus not just Mobad, but the symbolic image of “man” in which his person is invested, that cannot make good on his promises, leaving the king with no option but to fill the void with an empty performance of the role, all the time staring in the face of its (and his own) falsehood. This portrait is remarkably sensitive to the psychology of despair, that moment when even the loftiest of men must confront the fundamental contingencies of their identity, realizing that they are no more in control of their fortunes than those over whom they claim to rule. They are as trees perched upon mountains: towering above all, yet helplessly rooted to the edifice that raised them there.

A tree atop the mountain

I borrow this metaphor from a scene in Vis & Ramin itself, the penultimate time that Mobad makes a major appearance.[33] This scene brings us full circle back to the springtime feast where his story began: once again, the king assembles the major characters of the story together in his palace gardens and entertains them with a banquet. He commands the court minstrel to sing; the minstrel bows and recites:

I saw a grown tree atop the mountain, a tree that scours the rust from anxious hearts;
A tree whose head was raised to Saturn, who had taken in its shadow the whole of the world.
Its beauty was like the sun’s, and the world was hopeful of its leaves and fruit.
Below it ran a limpid spring, with nectar for water and pearls for sand.
Tulips and roses were in flower by its side, and violets, mallow, and hyacinth had bloomed.
A Gilani bull grazed by its bank; at times it drank the water, at times it champed the flowers.
May the water of this spring be forever flowing! May its tree be ever fruitful! May its bull be ever young! ([XVII] 69.17–23)

The song, of course, is a metaphor for the tale of Mobad: a great king of limitless power and boundless dominion, yet unable to do anything but watch as Ramin, the Gilani bull, munches contentedly in his garden.[34] The final line of the song, a wry parody of the duʿā that typically marks the conclusion of a qaṣīdah, wishes Mobad a long and helpless life as Ramin happily consumes what is his. In this allegory within the allegory of the garden-as-kingdom, the rise and fall of Mobad becomes clear: if the garden was once a site where Mobad’s glory was confirmed, it has now become a carnival where all the conventions of courtly panegyric can be openly twisted to mock the king to his own face, in his own court, and by his own minstrels.

This is the final straw: furious and humiliated, Mobad leaps to his feet, draws his dagger, and demands that Ramin forswear all further relations with Vis. It is a final test of his personal and kingly authority: no letters, no intermediaries, no room to wiggle out or back down—just a direct order from king to subject, from one man to another. The gambit does not end well:

Nimble Ramin seized the king’s two hands; you’d have said a male lion had seized a fox!
He gleefully threw him into the dust and snatched the Indian dagger from his hand.
The king was drunk and senseless from wine, his perception broken, his power gone.
He could not realize what Ramin had done; he had no memory of Ramin’s cruelty.
Many kinds of trouble and torpor arise from love and drunkenness, affecting reason;
If these two burdens had not weighed on Mobad, no sort of evil would have befallen him. ([XVIII] 69.51–56)

Thus concludes Mobad’s effective reign, to quote the famous verse: not with a bang but a whimper. Although he will play a small part in the poem’s conclusion, he comes across entirely as the cardboard character the critics have made him out to be, either petty and cruel, delighting in Vis’s suffering at the hands of Ramin, or grim and ruthless, prepared to fight to the death when word reaches him of Ramin’s usurpation of his throne. But in truth, his fate had been sealed long ago, and his symbolic deposition now is merely the confirmation of a secret long unspoken but obvious to all. Though his physical death is yet to come, it might be said that Mobad’s character, like Gottfried’s Mark, who fell at last into a “living death,” is essentially killed off here, in a state that neatly captures the trajectory of his story: a once-mighty king now broken and senseless, hurled to the ground by a force he cannot fully identify or comprehend, still wondering where it all went wrong.

Through the figure of Mobad, Vis & Ramin contributes to a broader discussion around love, power, and masculinity in unique and provocative ways. Unlike Jamshīd of the Shāhnāmah, whose decline and fall is readily ascribed to a collapse of his inner virtue, or the lover-kings of Niẓāmī’s romances, who succeed (Bahrām), fail (Khusraw), or a combination of both (Majnūn) in realizing the ideal symmetry between man, lover, and ruler, the story of Mobad Manīkān raises serious problems about the internal coherence of normative masculinity in the first place. In Mobad, we learn that the practice of being a man, mardumī, can paradoxically unman its practitioners, thanks in no small part to the overdetermination of its idealized self-projections. In attempting to adopting the simultaneous positions of king and lover—both of which are presented in the text as paragons of masculinity—Mobad blows their synchronicity apart; although his narrative suggests a steady march of self-sabotage and self-destruction, I hope to have shown that these processes are actually driven by imagined and socially constructed selfhoods far bigger and beyond his physical self, proclaiming his agency even as their shackles wind ever tighter around his body. If Mobad’s narrative function is to act as the catalyst of a love story that inexorably pushes his own body towards the abyss, this same action is replicated in the unstable dynamics of his masculinity that set off its collapse from within. Vis & Ramin provides us with a fascinating example in Persian literature where these inherent vulnerabilities are allowed to show through, challenging the myth of the ideal man: no master of his domain, but a prisoner of his skin.



([I] 60.31–41)

نگر تا تو چنین کردار دیدی • و یا از هیچ داننده شنیدی
که چندین بار با من کرد رامین • دلم را سیر کرد از جانِ شیرین
همه‌ساله همی سوزم بر آذر • ز دستِ دایه و ویس و برادر
بماندستم به دستِ این سه جادو • برین دردم نیفتد هیچ دارو
نه از بند و نه از زندان بترسند • نه از دوزخ نه از یزدان بترسند
چه شاید کرد با سه دیوِ دُژخیم • که نَز شرم آگهی دارند و نَز بیم
کند بی‌شرم هر کاری که خواهد • نترسد زانکه آبِ او بکاهد
اگرچه شاهِ شاهانِ جهانم • ز خود بیچاره‌تر کس را ندانم
چه سودست این خداوندی و شاهی • که روزم همچو قیرست از سیاهی
همه کس را به گیتی من دهم داد • مرا از بختِ خود صدگونه فریاد
ستم‌دیده ز من مردانِ صف‌در • کنون گشته زنی بر من ستمگر

([II] 8.1–3)

نوشته یافتم اندر سمرها • ز گفتِ راویان اندر خبرها
که بود اندر زمانه شهریاری • به شاهی کامگاری بختیاری
همه شاهان مرو را بنده بودند • ز بهرِ او به گیتی زنده بودند

([III] 17.45–48)

لقب کردست روحا خویشتن را • به دل در راه داده اهرمن را
به نام او را همه کس شاه خوانند • جز او شاهِ دگر باشد ندانند
ترا نز شهریاران می‌شمارند • گروهی خود به مردت می‌ندارند

([IV] 18.22–25, 31)

بزرگان که پیشِ شاه بودند • همه دندان به دندان بر بسودند
که شهرو این چرا یارست کردن • زنِ شه را به دیگر کس سپردن
چه زَهره بود ویرو را که می‌خواست • زنی را کاو زنِ شاهنشهِ ماست
همی گفتند ازین پس کامِ بدخواه • برآرد شاهِ ما از کشورِ ماه‪
منادی زد قضا بر هرچه آنجاست • که چیزِ آن فلان اکنون فلان راست

([V] 51.7–9, 13)

مرو را گفت نیکو باشد این کار • نگه کن تا پسنند هیچ هشیار
که رامین با زنم جوید تباهی • کند بدنام بر من گاهِ شاهی
یکی زن چون بُوَد با دو برادر • چه باشد در جهان زین ننگ بدتر
که من زان سان کُشم او را به زاری • که گردد چشمِ تو ابرِ بهاری

([VI] 51.65–66, 85–87)

همی تا در شبستان و سرایی • هنرهای یلان نیکو نمایی
چو در میدان شوی با هم‌نبردان • گریزی چون زنان از پیشِ مردان
کنم از کشتگانِ کشورت هامون • به هامون بر برانم دجلهٔ خون
بیارم ویس را بی‌کفش و چادر • پیاده چون سگان در پیشِ لشکر
چنان رسوا کنم وی را کزین پس • نجوید دشمنی با مهتران کس

([VII] 52.9–11, 14)

همی گفت ای عجب چندین سخن چیشت • مرو را این همه پرخاش با کیست
نشانده خواهرم را در شبستان • برون کرده به دی ماهِ زمستان
هم او زد پس همو برداشت فریاد • بدان تا باشد از دو گونه بیداد
گناه او کرد و بر ما کینه‌ور گشت • چنین باشد کسی کز داد برگشت

([VIII] 53.37–40)

اگر پیش آییم بر دشتِ پیگار • تو خود بینی که با تو چون کنم کار
به آبِ تیغ گوهر را بشویم • کنم مردی به کردار و نگویم
چه گوهر چه سخن‌دانگی نیرزند • در آن میدان که گردان کینه ورزند
به یک سو نه سخن مردی بیاور • که ما را مردی است امروز یاور

([IX] 5.4–7, 18–19)

اگر نه شاه بودی سخت عادل • به گاهِ مهر و بخشایش نکو دل
صفاهان را نماندی خشت بر خشت • نکردی کس به صدسال اندرو کشت
ولیکن مردمی را کار فرمود • به شهری و سپاهی بر ببخشود
گنهشان زیرِ پا اندر بمالید • چنان کز خشمِ او یک تن ننالید
گروهی را که مردم می‌سپردند • رعیّت را به دیوان غَمز کردند
به فرمانش زبان‌هاشان بریدند • به دیده میلِ سوزان در کشیدند

([X] 47.38–41)

اگر فرهنگشان من کرد بایم • گزند افزون ز اندازه نمایم
دو چشمِ ویس با آتش بسوزم • وزان پس دایه را بر دار دوزم
ز شهرِ خویش رامین را برانم • دگر هرگز به نامش برنخوانم
بپردازم ز رسوایی جهان را • ز ننگِ هر سه بزدایم روان را

([XI] 64.18–23)

سپاهش نیمی از ره نارسیده • به سختی راهِ یکساله بریده
دگر نیمه کمرها ناگشاده • کلاهِ راه از سر نانهاده
به ناکامی همه با وی برفتند • رهِ اشکفتِ دیوان برگرفتند
یکی گفتی که ره‌مان ناتمامست • کنون این ره تمامی راهِ رامست
یکی گفتی همیشه راهواریم • که رامین را ز ویسه باز داریم
یکی گفتی که شه را ویس بدتر • به خان اندر ز صد خاقان و قیصر

([XII] 64.135–38)

شهنه گفت ویسا دیوزادا • که نفرینِ دو گیتی بر تو بادا
نه از مردم بترسی نه ز یزدان • نه نیز از بند بشکوهی و زندان
فسوس آید ترا اندرز و پندم • چو خوار آید ترا زندان و بندم
نگویی تا چه باید کرد با تو • بجز کشتن چه شاید کرد بر گو

([XIII] 64.198–201)

مبادا هیچ عاشق تند و سرکش • که تندی افگند او را در آتش
چو عاشق را نباشد بردباری • نبیند خرمی از مهرکاری
چرا تندی نماید مهربانی • که از دلدار نشکیبد زمانی
گناهِ دوست عاشق دوست دارد • ز بهرِ آنکه تا زو درگذارد

([XIV] 26.47–52)

ستیز آغازِ عشقِ مرد باشد • بتفسد زو دل ارچه سرد باشد
وگر میغی ز گیتی سربرآرد • به جای سرزنش زو سنگ بارد
نترسد عاشق از بارانِ سنگین • وگر باشد به جای سنگ ژوبین
هرآنچ از وی ملامت خیزد آهوست • مگر از عشق‌ورزیدن که نیکوست
به گفتاری که بدگویی بگوید • هوا را از دلِ عاشق نشوید
چه باشد عشق را بدگوی گژدم • هر آنک او نیست عاشق نیست مردم

([XV] 56.19–20, 27–34)

همی گفتی دریغا روزگارم • سپاه و گنج و رختِ بی‌شمارم
ز بهرِ دل سراسر برفشاندم • کنون بی‌شاهی و بی‌دل بماندم
به پیری گر نبودی عشق شایست • مرا این عشق با این غم چه بایست
بدین غم طفل گردد پیرِ دلگیر • نگر چون زار گردد مردم پیر
بهشتی را ز گیتی برگزیدم • که با هجرانِ او دوزخ بدیدم
چو یاد آرم به دل جور و جفایش • بیفزاید مرا مهر و وفایش
بتر گردم چو عیبش برشمارم • تو گویی عیبِ او را دوست دارم
دلِ من کور گشت از مهربانی • نبیند هیچ کامِ این جهانی
ز پیش ار عاشقی بودم توانا • به کارِ خویشتن بینا و دانا
کنون در عاشقی بس ناتوانم • چنان گشتم که گر بینم ندانم

([XVI] 68.123–29, 139)

چو او از تو ببرد این خوب چهرش • ترا دیدم که چون بودی ز مهرش
گهی با آهوان بودی به صحرا • گهی با ماهیان بودی به دریا
گهی با گور بودی در بیابان • گهی با شیر بودی در نیستان
فرامش کردی آن درد و بلا را • که از مهرش ترا بودست و ما را
ترا زو بود و ما را از تو آزار • چه مایه ما و تو خوردیم تیمار
از آن پیمان و زان سوگند یاد آر • کجا کردی و خوردی پیشِ دادار
مخور زنهار شاها کِت نباید • یکی روز این خورش جان را گزاید
گر این خنجر زنی بر ویسِ دلبر • شود زان زخم دردِ تو فزون‌تر

([XVII] 69.17–23)

درختی رسته دیدم بر سرِ کوه • که از دل‌ها زداید زنگِ اندوه
درختی سرکشیده تا به کیوان • گرفته زیرِ سایه نیم گیهان
به زیبایی همی ماند به خورشید • جهان در برگ و بارش بسته امید
به زیرش سخت روشن چشمهٔ آب • که آبش نوش و ریگش درّ خوشاب
شکفته بر کنارش لاله و گل • بنفشه رُسته و خیری و سنبل
چرنده گاوِ گیلی بر کنارش • گهی آبش خورد گه نوبهارش
همیشه آبِ این چشمه روان‌باد • درختش بارور گاوش جوان باد

([XVIII] 69.51–56)

سبک رامین دو دستِ شاه بگرفت • تو گفتی شیرِ نر روباه بگفرت
ز شادروان به خاک اندر فگندش • ز دستش بستد آن هندی پرندش
شهنشه مست بود از باده بیهوش • گسسته آگهی و رفته نیروش
نبودش آگهی از کارِ رامین • نماند اندر دلش آزارِ رامین
خرد را چندگونه رنج و سستی • پدید آید همی از عشق و مستی
گر این دو رنج بر موبد نبودی • مرو را هیچ گونه بد نبودی


[1]Citations are from Vīs va Rāmīn, ed. Muḥammad Rawshan (Tehran: Ṣidā-yi Muʿāṣir, 1377), using the shorthand notation (chapter.line). The original Persian passages can be found in the Appendix, identified by Roman numerals; all translations are mine. I transcribe the proper names from this book (Mobad, Ramin, Vis, etc.) without diacritics, as they appear in Dick Davis’s English translation (Penguin, 2009).

[2]For a detailed discussion of Mobad’s dominion and Parthian lineage, see Vladimir Minorsky, “Vīs u Rāmīn: A Parthian Romance,” in Iranica: Twenty Articles (Hertford, Eng.: S. Austin, 1964), 164–65, 180–86.

[3]In conceiving of these generic kinds, I find J. C. Bürgel’s typology of the epic (“heroic” versus “romantic” helpful: see “Die persiche Epik,” in Orientalisches Mittelalter, ed. W. Heinrichs (AULA-Verlag: Wiesbaden, 1990), 301–18; also “The Romance,” in Persian Literature, ed. E. Yarshater (Albany, NY: Bibliotheca Persica, 1988), 161–63.

[4]Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters, ed. and trans. S. Douglas Olson (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006–2012), sec. xiii.575a–f.

[5]This is the view of many scholars, although there is not unanimity on this point; see, for example, Gilbert Lazard, “La source en ‘farsi’ de ‘Vis-o Ramin’,” T’bilisis Universitetis Šromebi 241 (1983): 34–39; François de Blois, Persian Literature: A Bio-Bibliographical Survey, vol. 5: Poetry of the Pre-Mongol Period, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2004), 142 [163]. For a detailed discussion of this issue, see Cameron Cross, “The Poetics of Romantic Love in Vis & Rāmin” (PhD thesis, University of Chicago, 2015), 26–36.

[6]Both Hidāyat and Gabrieli make this observation; see, respectively, “Chand nuktah dar bārah-yi Vīs va Rāmīn,” in Majmūʿah-i nivishtah’hā-yi parākandah-i Ṣādiq Hidāyat (Tehran: Amīr Kabīr, 1344), 487; “Note sul Vīs u Rāmīn di Faḫr ad-Dīn Gurgānī,” Rendiconti della R. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Classe di Scienzi Morali, Storichi e Filologiche, Ser. 6, no. 15 (1939): 382.

[7]It is noteworthy that Mobad subverts Vis’s mother Shahru using the same stratagem; for more on obstacles, abduction, and the possible connections between Greek and Persian romances, see Dick Davis, Panthea’s Children: Hellenistic Novels and Medieval Persian Romances (New York: Bibliotheca Persica, 2002), 50–51 and 72–75.

[8]The concept is similar to other words that denote (masculine) codes of virtue, such as murūvat, futūvat, and javānmardī, in contrast to the more “humane” values of insānīyat it usually means today; see Dihkhudā, Lughat-nāmah, sv. mardumī. While such virtues are not fully dependent on or restricted to biological sex in Vis & Ramin—Ramin, for example, begs the Nurse to have mercy on him out of mardumī (tū nīz az mardumī bar man bibakhshāy, 40.95)—their constitution as essentially male is important to keep in mind for this study.

[9]Karl Heinrich Graf, “Wîs und Râmîn,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 23 (1869): 378; Baron R. von Stackelberg, “Neskol’ko slov o persidskom epose ‘Visa i Ramin’,” Drevnosti Vostochnye 2, no. 1 (1896): 10–23; cf. Minorsky, “Vīs u Rāmīn,” 190–91; Inga Kaladze, “The Georgian Translation of Vis and Rāmin: An Old Specimen of Hermeneutics,” Journal of Persianate Studies 2, no. 2 (2009): 139.

[10]Minorsky, “Vīs u Rāmīn,” 187; Gabrieli, “Note sul Vīs u Rāmīn,” 177; Jan Rypka, History of Iranian Literature, ed. Karl Jahn (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1968), 178.

[11]Minoo S. Southgate, “‘Vīs and Rāmīn’: An Anomaly Among Iranian Courtly Romances,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, no. 1 (1986): 46–47.

[12]J. Christoph Bürgel, “The Romance,” in Persian Literature, ed. Ehsan Yarshater (Albany, NY: Bibliotheca Persica, 1988), 165. For a more detailed explication of this reading, see his “Die Liebesvorstellung im persischen Epos Wis und Ramin,” Asiatische Studien: Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Asiengesellschaft = Études asiatiques: revue de la Societé Suisse-Asie 33 (1979): 75–76, 80–82, 88.

[13]Julie Scott Meisami, Medieval Persian Court Poetry (Princeton University Press, 1987), 182.

[14]Julie Scott Meisami, “Kings and Lovers: Ethical Dimensions of Medieval Persian Romance,” Edebiyât 1, no. 1 (1987): 5; see also Meisami, Medieval Persian Court Poetry, 139.

[15]This perhaps explains why Vis, as a potential symbol of Iran, remains childless (despite a decade-long affair) until after the struggle between Mobad and Ramin to see who is her legitimate lover/ruler comes to an end. See Peggy McCracken, The Romance of Adultery: Queenship and Sexual Transgression in Old French Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998) 26–27 and 119–23 for a discussion of the same phenomenon in medieval French romances.

[16]For a discussion of this concept, see Meisami, Medieval Persian Court Poetry, 198ff; cf. Julie Scott Meisami, “The Theme of the Journey in Niẓāmī’s Haft Paykar,” Edebiyât 4, no. 2 (1993): 164–65.

[17]Meisami, Medieval Persian Court Poetry, 139.

[18]Dick Davis, “VIS O RĀMIN,” in Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2005,

[19]Henri Massé, “Introduction,” in Le Roman de Wîs et Râmîn (Paris: Société d’Édition «Les Belles Lettres», 1959), 16.

[20]Sudhir Kakar and John Munder Ross, Tales of Love, Sex, and Danger (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1987), 108.

[21]Javād Zamān’zādah, Ravānkāvī-i ṣuvar-i ʿishq dar adabīyāt-i fārsī (Bethesda, MD: Iranbooks, 1994), 120–27; Muḥammad-Kāẓim Kahdūnī and Maryam Buḥrānī, “Taḥlīl-i shakhṣīyat-i Mūbad dar Vīs va Rāmīn bar asās-i naẓarīyāt-i Yūng,” Muṭāliʿāt-i Īrānī 15 (1388): 223–38.

[22]Such reservations about pursuing love at a certain stage or position in life are borne out by Kaykāvūs b. Eskandar in his Qābūs-nāmah, as he advises his son: “If you pursue love in your youth, you’ll be all right in the end, for they’ll look and know that you’re excused, saying that you’re young; but strive to never become a lover in old age, for the old man has no excuse. This sort of thing is easier when you’re one of the common people, but don’t even think about it if you’re an old king, and make sure to never publicly attach your heart to someone else; for a king to lose his head in love in old age is very bad indeed.” Qābūs-nāmah, ed. Ghulām Ḥusayn Yūsufī (Tehran: Intishārāt-i ʿIlmī va Farhangī, 1390), 83; cf. A Mirror for Princes: The Qābūs Nāma, trans. Reuben Levy (London: Cresset Press, 1951), 73.

[23] See Massé, “Introduction,” 15.

[24]The meaning of this title rūḥā is uncertain; Minorsky posits a corruption of rūjā, “serenissimus”; Henning suggests wrjā, “powerful”; and Boyce draws our attention to the Mandaean Book of John, which names the “Rūḥā” as a local despot; see “Vīs u Rāmīn,” 176; Vis and Ramin, trans. George Morrison (Columbia University Press, 1972), 38; “The Parthian Gōsān and Iranian Minstrel Tradition,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1957, no. 1/2 (1957): 17.

[25]Mīnuvī suggests the reading zi dil dar kun k-az ū shādī bibīnī, “Get it out of your mind that you’ll enjoy her!” See Vīs va Rāmīn, eds. Magali T’odua and Alek’sandre Gvaxaria (Tehran: Bonyād-e Farhang-e Irān, 1349), 82, fn. 5.

[26]See Bürgel, “The Romance,” 165. A recent study of Mobad’s name and titulature sheds new light on his potential ties with the “false-priest” and “sorcerer-king” figures found in other ancient Iranian texts; see M. Rahim Shayegan, “Old Iranian Motifs in Vīs o Rāmīn,” in Essays in Islamic Philology, History, and Philosophy, eds. Alireza Korangi, W. M. Thackston, Roy Mottahedeh, and William Granara (Berlin; Boston: de Gruyter, 2016), 35–42.

[27]Béroul, The Romance of Tristran, ed. and trans. Norris J. Lacy (New York: Garland, 1989) vv. 3189–90.

[28]Among the more famous of these, we could name the banquet where Vīs and Rāmīn actively collude against Mobad (while the latter pretends not to hear); the “bed-trick” scene when Mobad discovers the Nurse in his bed instead of Vis, but then accepts Vis’s explanation that he was drunk; and when Mobad discovers Vis stark naked in his garden, but allows himself to believe her story that the angel Surūsh carried her there in her sleep.

[29]Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan: With the “Tristan” of Thomas, trans. Arthur Thomas Hatto (Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1967), 281.

[30]By the end of the tale, Mobad is explicitly described as “evil-tempered” (bad-khū), the worst kind of defect that kings could have (v-az īn badtar shahān rā nīst āhū, 122.2). Cf. Southgate, “‘Vīs and Rāmīn’,” 46–47: “The character of Mūbad suffers from an inconsistency towards the end of the romance, where Gurgānī turns the benevolent King into a tyrant to justify Rāmīn’s insurrection against him.”

[31]For other instances of Mobad attempting to reconcile with Vis and Ramin, see vv. 48.12–19 and 58.31–40, 71.

[32]Zard here uses , which Morrison translates as “I,” but I think the word allows for a more general reading as well, perhaps referring to the kingdom at large. The “humble” is rarely used in the poem. See Vis and Ramin, trans. Morrison, 200.

[33]The final time is his death scene.

[34]An engaging analysis of the minstrel’s song and its significance to the poem is found in C.-C. Kappler, “Présence du mazdéisme dans le roman de Gorgâni, Vîs o Râmîn,” Dabireh 1 (1991): 39–54.


Transcending Cinema: Kiarostami’s Approach to Filmmaking

Born and raised in Tehran, Iran, Maryam Ghorbankarimi ( completed her PhD in film studies at the University of Edinburgh and her dissertation was published as a book entitled A Colourful Presence: The Evolution of Women’s Representation in Iranian Cinema. As well as a scholar, Maryam is a filmmaker and has made some award-winning short films in both formats of short documentary and fiction.

As an artist, photographer, and filmmaker, Abbas Kiarostami masterfully continued experimenting with medium, style, and storytelling throughout his long and fruitful career. This paper will look at his film oeuvre as a whole and will focus on his style of filmmaking, which can be characterized by the osmosis of formalist and realist elements and his move beyond the restrictions of genre.

When watching Kiarostami’s films and considering the vast amount of scholarly literature about his work, we come across one unifying theme: the use of realism. He has been described as the master of bridging fact and fiction, walking the thin line between documentary and fiction storytelling.[1] Realism in film can be explained as a style of filmmaking that attempts to duplicate the objective reality by using authentic locations, long shots, and lengthy takes. Some of the most significant elements of realism in cinema evident in Kiarostami’s films are the use of natural lighting, location shooting, employing non-professional actors, and minimal editing, which are all employed in an attempt to convey the illusion that the constructed film world is a mirror image of the real world. His first and most iconic film that commanded the critical analysis of his oeuvre as neo-realist is Where is the Friend’s House? (Khāneh-ye dust kojāst?, 1987), a simple narrative, shot in and around Koker, a small village in northern Iran, employing non-professional actors.[2] This film is the first of three, now known as the Koker trilogy. Kiarostami revisits Koker after the 1990 earthquake in the film Life and Nothing More (Zendegi va digar hich, 1992) in search of the two main actors of the film. Among the characters he visits in Life and Nothing More, Kiarostami spots a blossoming love story, which creates the basis of the third film, Through the Olive Trees (Zir-e Derakhtān-e Zeytun 1994). It is the simple narrative, minimalist structure, and lyrical tone of these three films that confirm Kiarostami’s fascination with the nature of reality.[3]


In opposition to realism, formalism in film can be explained as the style of filmmaking in which aesthetic forms take precedence over the subject matter, as the content’s emphasis is usually placed on symbolism and composition. Formalist works are often lyrical: “formalists stressed a ‘poetic’ use of film analogous to the ‘literary’ use of language they posited for verbal texts…. just as plot is subordinate to rhythm in poetry, […] plot is subordinate to style in cinema.”[4] As Khatereh Sheibani argues, Kiarostami achieves a poetic realism in his films “by employing minimal plots and non-narrative stories, based on lyrical moments set in rural areas.”[5] For instance, the plot in Where is the Friend’s House? is very simple. The protagonist, Ahmad, wants to return his friend’s notebook so that he can do that night’s homework. During his journey to find his friend’s house, Ahmad meets different characters. In between each encounter he is depicted as running along different winding roads and alleys accompanied by non-diegetic music. These memorable sequences work like caesuras separating each chapter in his coming-of-age journey.


At first glance, the principles of realism and formalism may seem contrary to one another and even mutually exclusive. In spite of these differences, however, they still share some common ground, which has paved the way for Kiarostami to retain his control and artistic vision while presenting the audience with a realist film, and venture in and out of both styles or employ both styles at the same time. Throughout his career, he experimented with both form and medium, creating a transcended cinema unique to him, which earned him the title of “author”, and yet is so diverse that his films cannot be easily and exclusively categorized within one genre or another.[6] He also made short and long documentary, fiction, and docu-fiction films. He used both film and digital formats and was one of the pioneer directors who decided to use digital format for the feature-length film Ten (Dah, 2002), having completed his feature-length documentary ABC Africa digitally in 2001.


The sense of time and continuity of action, and creating coherence and meaning by juxtaposing two images, one after the other, is achieved through editing. In film school, one of the first lessons of “conventional” editing we were given was that each shot should run as long as necessary and should cut to the next shot before the viewer feels and realises it is needed, or the edit is too loose. The edit always has to be one step ahead of the viewers and keep them alert or their attention drifts, which would defeat the purpose of editing. This drifting or detachment is, however, the key to innovative “art house” films and when skilfully employed, it can create a masterpiece that urges the audience to participate rather than being a passive observer.


In order to prevent the “death of the audience and the film”, Kiarostami argues for the need for the audience’s creative involvement in the development of the plot and asserts: “a story… requires gaps, empty spaces like in a crossword puzzle, voids that it is up to the audience to fill in.”[7] I would argue that the gaps, empty spaces, and silences that he uses in his narrative structure, and which are commonly attributed to realism, are evidence of his style and formalist approach to filmmaking. Unlike what might be considered as the most distinct element of a formalist film—heavy reliance on editing—Kiarostami’s films often use long takes and very subtle editing. Nevertheless, all these slow cuts and lingering shots are meticulously rendered and juxtaposed with calculated gaps. These planned “crossword-like” scenes keep his films alive and guide the audience’s perception towards a multitude of possible interpretations.


André Bazin believed that realist cinema was a more democratic form of film as it did not manipulate the spectator and allowed them to enjoy “the freedom to scan the multi-planar field of image for its meaning.”[8] Similarly, Kiarostami believed that spectators should not be captives of the filmmaker but rather be active participants. He famously achieved this stylistically in his Koker trilogy by employing long takes and minimal dialogue to give the viewer space and time to fill in the gaps and add to the film through his or her own experience. In Where is the Friend’s House? he introduced scenes and actions into the plot that do not add much to it except a meaningful gap to entice the audience to participate. In between the many scenes following Ahmad up and down the alleys in the village, and entering the shot from one side and leaving from the other, Kiarostami added quasi-subtle pauses. For instance, when Ahmad passes a certain house, a woman on the balcony off screen is hanging her wet laundry and a sheet falls to the ground at his feet. He tries to throw the sheet back up to her a couple of times. The neighbour comes out and says that Ahmad cannot throw it that high and asks him to bring it to the bottom of her balcony instead; she takes the sheet from him to pass it on to her neighbour. At the end of this little delaying interaction Ahmad takes this opportunity once again to ask for his friend’s address; he receives the same unhelpful, repetitive and nonsensical reply that he gets throughout the film.


Kiarostami coined the term “unfinished cinema” for this approach to filmmaking: “a project being created constantly” and a cinema that considers the spectator as a creator, not as created.[9] Bazin’s democratic attribute to realist films is not necessarily in opposition with the formalist’s point of view, and even the purpose of Eisenstein’s montage is not to dictate a special meaning of reality onto the spectator:

In fact, every spectator, in correspondence with his individuality, and in his own way and out of his own experience […] creates an image in accordance with the representational guidance suggested by the author, leading him to understand and experience of the author’s theme. This is the same image that was planned and created by the author, but this image is at the same time created also by the spectator himself.[10]


The sense of realism in Kiarostami’s films is not only achieved through his “documentary” style of filmmaking but also through the use of formal and stylistic techniques that create the illusion of realism. Editing is one of the main tools that Kiarostami employed to convey realism; for example, the car conversation in The Taste of Cherry (Ta’m-e Gilās, 1997) in which the film’s realism is generated by its spontaneous conversations, non-professional actors, and conveying real time.[11] Kiarostami edited the conversations between the driver and the passengers in a way that gives the “illusion of face-to-face encounters.”[12] He filmed each side of the conversation separately and then edited them seamlessly into a conversation creating the illusion of realism, in contrast to his later film Ten in which he placed two cameras, one facing the driver and the other facing the passenger.


In order to understand Kiarostami’s treatment of realism while retaining a formalist style, I chose to adapt the neo-formalist film analysis offered by Kirstin Thompson. According to her, realism is better understood as realistic “motivation” than as style alone. It can either appeal to “our knowledge of everyday life gained by direct interaction with nature and society” or “our awareness of prevailing authentic canons of realism in a given period.”[13] Realism can be “radical and defamiliarizing if the main artistic styles of the time are highly abstract and have become automatized.”[14] Therefore, arguably what is seen as realism at one time is not necessarily perceived as realism at a later time, and as a result, realism in films appears and disappears in a similar way to other styles over time. After employing defamiliarization techniques for some time, what was considered as realistic will become “automatized” through repetition and less realistic qualities will take their place.[15] In each period a new sort of realism will emerge through defamiliarization and employing different devices. For example, it is argued that Italian neo-realism emerged after the Second World War because post-war trauma demanded a new and fresh cinematic language, unlike the established styles commonly employed in the time preceding it.[16]


According to Thompson, neo-formalism also posits the viewers as active participants.[17] As David Bordwell argues, it is the “film form” that guides the audience’s activity and therefore its response or reaction to the film.[18] Through the director’s choice of what to include and what to leave out, he or she can try to make the audience perceive things anew, shaking them out of their accustomed habits and suggesting fresh ways of hearing, seeing, feeling, and thinking.[19] Kiarostami invites the audience to take part in the film and contemplate further by repeating some of the long takes, such as the famous winding roads in Where is the Friend’s House? In a similar way, he leaves the conversation between Makhmalbaf and Sabzian in the closing sequence of Close-up (Kelosāp, Namā-ye Nazdīk, 1990) partly incomplete—admittedly due to initial technical difficulties—and conceals the rest of the conversation by adding non-diegetic music. Another strategy he employed is to leave important plot information out of the narrative structure; for example, in Taste of Cherry he never reveals why Mr Badi’i wants to end his life.


Another literary device for defamiliarization Kiarostami employed in most of his films is the notion of reflexivity, subverting “the assumption that art can be a transparent medium of communication, a window on the world.”[20] As Robert Stam argues, referring to Balzac’s Lost Illusions (1837–1843) and Godard’s Numéro Deux (1975), reflexivity can exist simultaneously along with realism in the sense that they both represent everyday realities while reminding the audience of their constructed nature.[21]


Kiarostami has employed reflexivity in all his films but to different degrees; at times it is more obvious, at others less so. Sometimes the reflexivity is in harmony with the realist approach of the film, and in some instances it is used to subvert the constructed realism. In some of his documentaries the presence of the camera and the crew is felt either because of their location and angle or because the camera and the interviewee are both captured on camera. In the documentary Fellow Citizen (Hamshahri, 1983), he employed the candid camera method, observing the traffic controller’s conversations with passengers of cars pleading and trying to convince him to allow them to enter the traffic-controlled zone without a permit. The zoomed-in shots create a distance from the subjects, and this voyeuristic gaze reminds the audience that it is watching a film. On the other hand, in the documentary Homework (Mashq-e Shab, 1989) the crew, including Kiarostami himself as the interviewer with the sound engineer and the camera operator behind him, is cut back and forth with students and the occasional parent interviewees. The tight shot of just the camera operator behind the camera is sometimes used as the reverse shot cutaway juxtaposed with the tight shot of the interviewee talking on camera, thus making the film overtly reflexive. The static close-up of the camera situates the audience in the same place as the interviewees, turning them from the observer to the observed. Kiarostami employed this reversal of the gaze most notably in his stylistic and formalist film Shirin (2008). Here, we watch the reaction of 114 Iranian actresses and Juliette Binoche watching a theatrical representation of the famous love story of Khosrow and Shirin in a small cinema. In Shirin, he employed a film-within-a-film reflexivity. Butler argues that when the character Shirin is heard saying “listen to me, my sisters” at the beginning and end of the film, apart from the women we hear with her on the soundtrack, she is also addressing the women in the theatre whose faces we see. He also adds that Shirin has adapted the style of storytelling employed in One Thousand and One Nights and that it is possible to turn Shirin into an allegory of the self-reflexive framed storytelling.[22] It is argued by Jean-Luc Nancy, however, that Kiarostami is not only interested in the “mise-en-abyme”[23]; rather, he is investigating the constructed nature of reality, and in the above-mentioned documentaries, he has employed reflexivity to add to the realism of the films.[24]


Kiarostami’s defamiliarization sometimes takes a more Brechtian tone by suddenly revealing the process of the production in the narrative.[25] As was mentioned as an example, the distancing effect was achieved in the final sequence of Close-up when Makhmalbaf picks up Sabzian and they go to Ahankhah’s house. In this continuous shot the crew is in a mobile unit across the street following Makhmalbaf.  Suddenly we hear the voices of Kiarostami and his crew talking about how Makhmalbaf did not hit his mark, which is why the camera does not initially capture him well and they cannot repeat this shot a second time. After this, the audio starts cutting out and we hear them discussing the technical difficulties with old cordless microphones from the 1970s (adding a social commentary about the current state of technological equipment in the 1980s) that resulted in parts of their conversation being left out. This method of revealing the existence of the crew is also used in a scene in Life and Nothing More, where Mr Ruhi cannot open the door to his house; he asks the crew for help, thus acknowledging their existence, and for a moment the script girl walks into the shot. The most effective of these alienation techniques is the closing scene of Taste of Cherry after what the audience assumes is the final scene of the film and Mr Badi’i is lying in the grave in the dark. While we can only hear the sound of the rain on black, the sound of soldiers fades in and the scene cuts to the wide stark video shot of the hill with the small figures of soldiers marching up the hill along a winding road. In the next shot of this concluding video sequence, we see Homayoun Ershadi, the actor portraying Mr Badi’i, walking towards Kiarostami and smoking. Although the long black shot with the sound of rain can be considered as a space he has provided for the audience to write their own ending, the cut to behind-the-scenes video footage really takes the spectator out of the built-up drama of Mr Badi’i’s supposed death. These shots subvert the realism that was achieved by the Kiarostamiesque minimalist narrative, and by revealing the production process they create uncertainty in its realism.[26] According to Mathew Abbott it is also through his signature shots of winding roads, a familiar view in several of his films, that Kiarostami reminds us in a self-reflexive way that we are watching one of his films.[27]


Kiarostami’s forays into digital cinema opened the door for him to develop his interest further and focus on cultural truth and minimalism in the intersection between fact and fiction. The digital format also facilitated much more experimentation with the medium, allowing him to fine-tune his formalist style of filmmaking. Kiarostami did not start experimenting with the medium until after he began to work with digital format; his enthusiasm and willingness to experiment with form and medium are already evident in his early works. He came from a visual arts background and before he began his career in cinema in the 1970s making short films; he made some title sequences and posters, an activity he continued throughout his career. One the most memorable title sequences is for Masud Kimiai’s film, Gheisar (Qeysar, 1969). Lasting 2 minutes and 45 seconds, it consists of high-contrast static close-ups of body parts: arms, shoulders, torsos, etc., each containing black and white body art against a black backdrop. The body art depicts characters and scenes from Shāhnāmeh (Ferdowsi’s Book of Kings), conveying the heroic epic tales that it tells including but not limited to the depiction of the hero Siyāvosh, and the iconic rescue of Zāl by the magical bird, Simorgh. The body art consists of outlined black and white figures coming out of coffeehouse-style paintings and the underlying heroic topos sets the mood of the film very well. The titles appear in the negative space created in juxtaposition with the figures and against the black backdrop. The film’s title appears in the same frame as the scene of a hero holding up the severed head of his defeated enemy. The framing, playing with the contrast of black and white, and the movement created through the curved lines of the edge of the bodies against the black backdrop, are very much reminiscent of Kiarostami’s much later signature photographs and shots of winding roads, hills, and single trees. We can observe today that the visual sensibility evident in this minimalist title sequence is close to his final film projects, and pervades through his other films as well.


Another famous and minimalist title sequence by Kiarostami was created for Reza Mirkarimi’s film, As Simple as hat (Be hamin sādegi, 2008). Kiarostami’s hand is shot from underneath a light box writing out the credits with his unique handwriting superimposed on a textured cream-coloured sheet. Each credit dissolves into the next and when the names are written out, the sound is heard of a pencil on paper under the diegetic sounds of the main character washing dishes and humming a song.


His first venture into the digital world was a documentary film about AIDS, ABC Africa (2001). He shot research footage on location using two digital cameras, with the intention of returning to make his film, but he realized that the intimacy and immediacy of the digital camera was more suited for this project and he edited the film from the research footage.[28] He said about his decision that, “I felt that a 35 mm camera would limit both us and the people there, whereas the video camera displayed truth from every angle and not a forged truth.”[29]


Digital production and post-production techniques due to their low cost and portability added a sense of intimacy and closeness to the subjects, creating a certain “cinematic realism”.[30] The low cost of digital filmmaking gives much more freedom to the filmmaker than the film format. For example, an independent director such as Kiarostami would use a much higher shooting ratio when shooting digitally. A high shooting ratio allows for experimentation and improvisation while shooting. Moreover, the camera and equipment for digital filmmaking are cheaper and much more portable. When making a digital film he often made use of two cameras, providing multiple angles and representation of the same subject. Digital filmmaking has transformed the traditional organizational structure of film production by enabling all stages of production from pre-production to post-production to take place at the same time.[31]


Digital filmmaking provides a platform for the filmmaker to break away from conventional filmmaking and storytelling. As Kiarostami admitted, there is an expectation to tell stories with 35 mm film, while with digital film the viewer is more open to accept new styles of filmmaking.[32] Ten is a great example of the way Kiarostami used this new technology to his advantage. He compared his hands-free experience of directing Ten to managing a football team.[33] The actors in each scene were given the dialogue but they could improvise and individualize it during the performance, creating believable and realistic conversations. The film has a very specific form: it is made up of ten scenes and ten conversations between the main protagonist—the driver Mania—and her passengers, shot through two fixed cameras facing them. At first sight this film is quite different from Kiarostami’s previous narratives, but a close reading reveals many of his prominent traits are also present in this film. Each scene is driven forwards through heavy and at times very deep and emotional conversations, with very few pauses. There is no sign of those gaps and silences that Kiarostami used to employ for the audience to fill in, but he has also kept this film open-ended, and with the limited devices available he has controlled the audience’s access. For instance, for about 16 minutes at the beginning of the film, we only hear Mania while the camera stays on her son the entire time; and in the sequence with the prostitute, the camera for the most part stays with Mania and we barely see the prostitute getting out of the car. Through this kind of unpredictable editing of the conversations, Kiarostami has retained his unique style of filmmaking by leaving out certain key reactions and responses.


Before concluding this paper, it should be mentioned that Kiarostami experimented further with the medium and reduced the narrative structure of his films, giving way to a more formalist structure towards the end of his career. I have yet to see his last film 24 Frames (2017) that was completed posthumously and previewed at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2017, but Geoff Andrew described it as “mementos of the late master’s increasingly minimalist poetics, these short experiments in animating photographs and a painting teem with life’s magic and mysteries.”[34] In similar fashion, Kiarostami’s last short film Take Me Home (2016) is a minimalist and an experimental film using CGI to bring his photographs from southern Italy to life. This 15-minute black and white film with no dialogue begins with a fixed shot of a door at the end of a flight of steps. A young boy holding a football runs up the steps and leaves the ball by the door before disappearing behind it. As soon as he disappears, the ball starts to roll and falls down the steps, one after the other and several at a time. The boy twice comes to collect the ball from the steps but the third time the ball rolls down and takes us on a journey through the static but beautifully composed still photographs. Apart from the animated ball, there are wandering cats that walked into Kiarostami’s frame in some of the static shots, which he must have decided to film after setting up his photographic shot in order to add a layer of constructed reality. The film depicts beautiful Italian alleys and steps and the journey of the animated football through this winding and mysterious terrain is accompanied by music and the sound of the ball hitting the steps. Take Me Home is very reminiscent of the shots from Where is the Friend’s House?, more specifically when Ahmad is walking into the empty shots as he comes down the winding alleys of the village, walking to one side of the shot and disappearing down another alley. Here, Ahmad is replaced by a ball, and the winding alleys of northern Iran are replaced by the alleys and steps of a village in southern Italy. Even the presence of the cats in Take Me Home is a reminder of the chickens or the stranded cow that Ahmad comes across on his way to find his friend’s house. Yet again Kiarostami has constructed a vivid and lively realist world through minimalist, still frames and a computer-animated football; perhaps by naming this film Take Me Home, he has added one more layer of self-reflexivity to his fascinating work.


After watching Seyfolah Samadian’s insightful but unimposing documentary 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami (2016) and witnessing snippets of Kiarostami working behind the scenes over the years on various projects, it is evident that to him the medium is secondary to his vision. This is why, compared to some other filmmakers of his generation, he did not hesitate to make the shift to digital format. We may think of him first and foremost as a filmmaker but he was in the fullest sense of the word an artist, who was constantly creating, irrespective of the medium he used to express his ideas. His choice of medium was based on what he intended to do. In one scene of the documentary, it is touching to witness how Kiarostami drifts from the ongoing conversation in a car driving through the rain, and continues to take photographs through the windscreen and to share his genuine happiness with the other passengers whenever he is satisfied with the results.[35] It is deeply saddening that there will be no more innovations by this true artist who lived to create.


Throughout his career Kiarostami found different ways and devices to reproduce and reinterpret real-life events into his filmic representations. His films often adapt a simple and minimalist narrative and invite the spectator to be an active participant rather than a passive observer. Despite the theme of realism always present in his films and the self-reflexive nature of his oeuvre, he continuously experimented with medium and style. In particular, his foray into the world of digital filmmaking facilitated much more experimentation with different media, allowing him to fine-tune his formalist yet realist style of filmmaking in his own unique way. Although he quite often walks a thin line between documentary and fiction or adapts a documentary style of filmmaking, it is through the subtle use of formalist devices such as editing, the employment of defamiliarization techniques, or simply omitting elements of the narrative structure that he managed to preserve the illusion of realism.


[1]For some of the main discussions on realism in Kiarostami’s work, see Hamid Naficy, A Social History of Iranian Cinema, vol. 4 (Durham, N.C.; Chesham: Duke University Press; Combined Academic 2012) , Richard Tapper, ed. New Iranian Cinema : Politics, Representation and Identity,  (London: I.B. Tauris, 2006), Jean-Luc Nancy, Mojdeh Famili, and Abbas Kiarostami, L’evidence du Film: Abbas Kiarostami (Bruxelles: Y. Gevaert, 2001), Gilberto Perez, “Where Is the Director? Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘Koker Trilogy’ Is Exquisitely Poised between Fiction and Real Life, Opening Film to New Formal Experiences. It’s His Greatest Work, Argues Gilberto Perez,” Sight and Sound, 15, no. 5 (2005).

[2]André Bazin and Bert Cardullo, André Bazin and Italian Neorealism (London: Continuum, 2011), 27.

[3]Hamid Dabashi, Close Up : Iranian Cinema, Past, Present and Future (London: Verso, 2001), 72.

[4]Robert Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing Inc., 2000), 49.

[5]Sheibani Khatereh, “Kiarostami and the Aesthetics of Modern Persian Poetry,” Iranian Studies 39, no. 4 (2006): 531.

[6]For some of the discussions on Kiarostami as an “auteur”, see: Christopher Gow, From Iran to Hollywood and Some Places in Between : Reframing Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema (London:

  1. B. Tauris, 2011), Seung-hoon Jeong and Jeremi Szaniawski, eds.“The Global Auteur : The Politics of Authorship in 21st Century Cinema,” (London: Bloomsbury Academic: 2016), Devin Orgeron, Road Movies from Muybridge and MélièS to Lynch and Kiarostami (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), Yvonne Tasker, Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers (London; New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2002).

[7]Abbas Kiarostami, “An Unfinished Cinema,” text written for the Centenary of Cinema, Paris 1995, and distributed at the Odeon Theatre. Reprinted in the DVD release of The Wind Will Carry Us. For an online reproduction see “An Unfinished Cinema” by Abbas Kiarostami,”,

[8]Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction, 76-77.

[9]Mohammad Jafar Yousefian Kenari and Mostafa Mokhtabad-Amrei, “Kiarostami’s Unfinished Cinema and Its Postmodern Reflections,” The International Journal of Humanities 17, no. 2 (2010): 29.

[10]Sergei Eisenstein, Film Form [and] the Film Sense; Two Complete and Unabridged Works, Meridian Books, Mg10 (New York: Meridian Books, 1957), 33.

[11]M. Gail Hamner, “Abbas Kiarostami: The Face of Modernity; Alienation and Transcendence in Taste of Cherry (1997),” in Imaging Religion in Film: The Politics of Nostalgia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 81.

[12]Hamner, “Abbas Kiarostami: The Face of Modernity,” 73.

[13]Kristin Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor: Neoformalist Film Analysis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2010), 17.

[14]Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor, 198.

[15]Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor, 199.

[16]Laura Mulvey, “Repetition and Return,” Third Text 21, no. 1 (2007): 24.

[17]Thompson, Breaking the Glass Armor, 29.

[18]David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art : An Introduction (Princeton, N.J.: Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, 2007).

[19]Bordwell and Thompson, Film Art : An Introduction, 57.

[20]Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction, 151.

[21]Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction, 152.

[22]Rex Butler, “Abbas Kiarostami,” Angelaki 17, no. 4 (2012): 74.

[23]Nancy, Famili, and Kiarostami, L’evidence du Film : Abbas Kiarostami, 27.

[24]Zsolt Gyenge, “Subjects and Objects of the Embodied Gaze: Abbas Kiarostami and the Real of the Individual Perspective,” in Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Film and Media Studies (2016), 128-29.

[25]Stam, Film Theory: An Introduction, 53.

[26]Mulvey, “Repetition and Return,” 22.

[27]Mathew Abbott, “Kiarostami’s Picture Theory: Cinematic Skepticism in The Wind Will Carry,” SubStance 42 (2013): 165.

[28]Kathryn Millard, Screenwriting in a Digital Era  (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 146.

[29]Scott Krzych, “Auto-Motivations: Digital Cinema and Kiarostami’s Relational Aesthetics,” The Velvet Light Trap 66, no. 1 (2010): 32.

[30]Eliza Hansell, “A New Cinematic Aesthetic: The Effect of the Digital Revolution on the Construction of the ‘Real’,” Journal of Digital Research & Publishing (2010): 131.

[31]Adam Ganz and Lina Khatib, “Digital Cinema: The Transformation of Film Practice and Aesthetics,” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 4, no. 1 (2006): 24.

[32]Ganz and Khatib, “Digital Cinema: The Transformation of Film Practice and Aesthetics,” 29-30.

[33]Ganz and Khatib, “Digital Cinema: The Transformation of Film Practice and Aesthetics,” 32.

[34]Geoff Andrew, “24 Frames Review: Abbas Kiarostami’s Living, Parting Miniatures | Sight & Sound,”  (2017),

[35]I believe two of the photographs taken that day (Rain (23), Rain (27)) have made it to his “Roads and Rain” exhibition in London. See