4.1 The Present State of Comparative Literature in Iran: A Critical Study
Adineh Khojastehpour & Behnam Mirzababazadeh Fomeshi
The origin of comparative literature in Iranian academia goes back to Fatimah Sayyah1 (1902-1947), whose early death at the age of forty-five brought an end to an era. Ali Akbar Siyasi (1895-1990), the former chancellor of Tehran University, closed the comparative literature program of the University, since he could not find someone to fill her position. After Sayyah, many professors tried to restore the discipline of comparative literature in Iran, but their scattered activities did not produce the desired result (Anushiravani 485). The seeds of the discipline remained dormant until the beginning of the new millennium, when a narrow nationalistic idea of comparative literature supported Iranian policy makers’ hope that the discipline would justify the cultural superiority of their home country over the world, especially the West. In the new period, several comparative literature journals have been circulated, university programs started, books published, conferences held, and a department and national association of comparative literature founded. Such activities, while quite promising, also suffer from some shortcomings. The present piece is a critical study of these activities and seeks to provide readers with a general picture of the discipline in Iran.
In 2001, University of Tehran started admitting Ph.D. students in French literature with a focus on comparative studies. In this case, “comparative” referred mainly to French-Persian literary influences and analogies. Over the past few years, Iran has experienced an unexpectedly rapid growth in comparative literature programs in some universities. In 2009, Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman was the first institution to admit M.A. students in comparative literature, concentrating on Persian-Arabic literary influences and analogies. The Department of Persian Language and Literature was in charge of the program and collaborated closely with the Department of Arabic Language and Literature (Anushiravani 488). Following Kerman University, several other universities launched the same program. One of the reasons behind establishing these programs was the 1400-year history of cultural, historical, religious, and literary exchanges and relations between Persian and Arabic languages and literatures. The program included courses such as the comparative study of Persian and Arabic grammar, comparative study of Persian and Arabic prose and poetry, comparative literary history, and comparative Persian-Arabic translation. The main textbooks were either Arabic books on comparative literature or the same books translated into Persian. Tarbiat Modarres University2 and Islamic Azad University3 are also trying to start Ph.D. programs. There are some problems with these programs. The professors are experts in either Persian or Arabic language and literature, with no academic training in comparative literature. A glance at the courses offered testifies to the insufficiency of the professors’ knowledge. The textbooks are not up to date with recent trends in the discipline. They mainly focus on mutual borrowings and similarities between Persian and Arabic literary traditions. Interdisciplinary studies are entirely neglected.
During recent years, a few comparative literature journals have been published by different universities and academic centres in Iran: (1) Comparative Literature Quarterly (published by the Islamic Azad University, Jiroft Branch since spring 2007), (2) Journal of Comparative Literature (published by Kerman University since fall 2009), (3) Comparative Literature (published by the Academy of Persian Language and Literature since spring 2010), (4) Comparative Criticism and Literature Quarterly (published by Razi University since spring 2011), and (5) Comparative Literature Research (published by Tarbiat Modarres University since spring 2013). The first two journals along with journal no. 4 are almost entirely limited to traditional Persian-Arabic similarity studies. The scope of the third journal is more comprehensive. The editorial of its first issue declares this comprehensiveness:
The Journal . . . is committed to publish research papers in all fields of comparative literature including literary relations and influences, literary movements, genres, literary themes, translation studies, world literature, literature and other branches of humanities (with emphasis on film and media studies, music, social sciences, cultural studies, popular culture, philosophy, and religious studies) and sciences, and, most importantly, new theoretical trends in comparative literature. (Anushiravani 4)
The papers in the fifth journal indicate some familiarity with the new trends of comparative literature, but their concern is not as theoretically oriented as that of Comparative Literature. The journal published by the Academy pays attention to neglected subjects, publishing papers on new areas of research in comparative literature such as translation studies, interdisciplinary studies, New Comparative Literature and world literature. Furthermore, it also publishes Persian translations of scholarly works by René Wellek, Henry Remak, Amiya Dev, Susan Bassnett, Hussam al-Khateeb, Ferial Ghazoul, and David Damrosch, among others. It also provides readers with book reviews and reports that inform them of new developments in comparative literature around the world.4
In addition to the aforementioned journals, there are some other journals that publish comparative literature papers. Traditional binary influence studies dominate the papers, which are rife with theoretical misinterpretations and outdated approaches. For instance, the weak application of theory almost ruined the paper “Analysis of Shamlou's and Eliot's Poetry and Thought Based on Characteristics of Modernity” (Khojastehpour 179) and in another case Sabbagh’s and Beyad’s lack of familiarity with the development of comparative literature has weakened the paper “A Study of the Potentialities of Archetypal Criticism in Comparative Literary Studies” (Fomeshi 180). In order to raise the profile and prestige of Iranian comparative literature work, these journals should foreground the theoretical issues of comparative literature, such as definitions, functions, developments, theories, and methodology. A greater emphasis upon interdisciplinary studies could also contribute to emergence of creativity and innovation in these journals.
Iranian Comparative Literature Association was founded in 2009. Since its founding, it has held a series of meetings in collaboration with other institutions. In 2012, it held a conference at Razi University. In the same year, it held its first annual conference, “Comparative Literature in the Present Decade and its Perspectives.” Its second annual conference, “Comparative Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies,” was held in the spring of 2014. It is not a member of the International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA). It publishes no journal, bulletin, or newsletter. It is very difficult to follow and contribute to the association’s activities; it has no office or webpage to which people can refer in order to become a member of the Association. Researchers have waited long for Association to be founded and years have passed since its foundation. But it has not achieved its true place as a national organization.
In recent years, several books by Arab comparatists have been translated into Persian. Among them are the works by Taha Nada, Muhammad Ghonaymi Hilal, and Abdulsalam Kafafi. Translation of these Arab authors, all of whom are followers of the French school, has introduced comparative literature as the study of literary influences and international literary history. Tahmoreth Sajedi has also translated Yves Chevrel’s La littérature comparée into Persian. John Yohannan’s Persian Poetry in England and America: A 200-Year History was translated by Ahmad Tamimdari. Hasan Javadi is translating his Persian Literary Influence on English Literature: With Special Reference to the Nineteenth Century into Persian. Elmira Dadvar, a professor of French literature at Tehran University, has written Initiation a la littérature comparée. The Theoretical Bases of Comparative Literature (Persian-Arabic) has been written by Ebrahim Mohammadi. Its objective is to introduce some of the discipline’s theoretical and methodological bases, but what is lacking in the book is the inclusion of recent sources, particularly those written in English (Khojastehpour 218). In the introduction of Comparative Literature in Iran, Ahmad Ezzatiparvar defines comparative literature as a branch of the “history of literature.” Hassan Foroughi has translated Simon Jeune’s Littérature générale et littérature comparée. Almost all of the books translated or authored in Iran have ignored the recent trends of comparative literature; they deal mainly with French school and in a few instances may touch upon recent issues such as globalization, multiculturalism, translation studies, etc. To bridge the gap, Alireza Anushiravani is writing Comparative Literature: Theory and Methodologies in Persian. It is aimed at introducing the new trends of comparative literature studies to Iranian audience. Anushiravani and Mostafa Hosseini have also translated S. S. Prawer’s Comparative Literary Studies: An Introduction into Persian.
Each year a few conferences in the field are held. A glance at some call for papers indicates the organizers’ lack of knowledge. The following topics were proposed in one of these CFPs: interaction of Persian and Arabic languages, grammar and syntax, and calligraphy and literary genres. The same CFP announced that priority was given to papers that study the influence of Persian language and literature on Arabic language and literature. This example was, of course, terrible. There are some conferences that show more familiarity with recent trends. The “Comparative Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies” conference, held by the Iranian Comparative Literature Association, was one of them. While a few conferences include up-to-date topics, it is unfortunate that the majority of the papers presented are introducing or applying obsolete theories.
The Department of Comparative Literature at the Academy of Persian Language and Literature is the only independent department of comparative literature in Iran. It was founded in 2000, but it remained inactive until 2004, when it was restarted. Its main objectives are to introduce comparative literature to Iranian society, to analyze the development of the discipline in the world, and to encourage the study of new theories. The members of this department have worked on the M.A. program in Comparative Literature in Iran and will continue with the forthcoming Ph.D. program in order to bring them up to date. It has published a journal since spring 2010. There are some research projects undertaken in the department. A two-day workshop on comparative literature theory and methodology was also held in the department. David Damrosch, a professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard University, was invited to the department to give a lecture on World Literature.
One witnesses a rapid growth of comparative literature studies in Iran in recent years. Academic institutions in Iran have published comparative literature journals, founded the National Association, undertaken research projects, translated and written textbooks, held conferences, launched programs in Universities, and founded the Department of Comparative Literature in the Academy of Persian Language and Literature. The recent growth of comparative literature in Iran is a challenge, which can be either an opportunity or a threat. Comparative literature has no firm grounding in Iranian academia because academic research is sporadic and unsystematic. In the Department of Comparative Literature at the Academy of Persian Language, the common belief is that the “development of Comparative Literature in Iran needs a strategic and long-term plan” (Anushiravani 3). The department encourages the preparation of a strategic plan to develop the discipline, working hard to achieve this goal. This strategic plan should cover the following vital issues: bridging the theoretical and methodological gap, establishing criteria for launching comparative literature programs in post-secondary institutions, namely qualifications for teachers of comparative literature, qualifications of the applicants, academic abilities of the graduates and finally textbooks in Persian (Anushiravani 3). To develop comparative literature in Iran, it is necessary to devise a long-term strategic plan. The implementation of the plan, in turn, needs the collaboration not only of professors in national and foreign literatures, but also of those in humanities and arts. Iranian scholars of comparative literature working all around the world can contribute significantly to the process. No single group can realize this national goal.
Anushiravani, Alireza. “Comparative Literature in Iran.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 32.3 (2012): 484-91. Print.
---. “The Necessity of Strategic Planning for Comparative Literature in Iran.” Comparative Literature Journal of the Academy of Persian Language and Literature 2.2 (2011): 2-5. Print.
---. “Editorial.” Comparative Literature Journal of the Academy of Persian Language and Literature 1.1 (2010): 2-5. Print.
Fomeshi, Behnam M. “A Review of ‘A Study of the Potentialities of Archetypal Criticism in Comparative Literary Studies.’” Literary Criticism Quartertly 4.4 (2011): 177-81. Print.
Khojastehpour, Adineh. “A Review of ‘Analysis of Shamlou’s and Eliot’s Poetry and Thought Based on Characteristics of Modernity.’” Literary Criticism Quartertly 6.2 (2013): 173-81. Print.
---. “A Review of The Theoretical Bases of Comparative Literature (Persian-Arabic).” Comparative Literature Journal of the Academy of Persian Language and Literature 3.2 (2013): 209-18. Print.
Adineh Khojastehpour is a doctoral candidate of English Literature at Shiraz University. Her doctoral dissertation focuses on Mehrjui’s adaptations of world literature. Her works have been published in Literature-Film Quarterly, Comparative Literature Journal of the Academy of Persian Language and Literature, Literary Criticism Quarterly, Journal of Iranian Academy of Arts and Journal of Comparative Literature.
Behnam Mirzababazadeh Fomeshi is a doctoral candidate of English Literature at Shiraz University. In his doctoral dissertation he is investigating the relation between sociopolitical and literary contexts of the nineteenth-century America and that of the constitutional Iran and the literary changes those situations brought about in each society. His works have been published in Comparative Literature Journal of the Academy of Persian Language and Literature, Literary Criticism Quarterly, CLA Journal, 3L and k@ta.
1. For more information on Sayyah’s contribution to comparative literature see “Comparative Literature in Iran.”
4. Alireza Anushiravani, the editor of this journal, is an academically trained comparatist. This characteristic distinguishes the journal from other journals in the field.