Language and Literature: The Politics of Writing in Iran: A History of Modern Persian Literature

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The Politics of Writing in Iran: A History of Modern Persian Literature, by Kamran Talattof. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000. xi + 181 pages. Notes to p. 218. Bibl. to p. 233. Index to p. 250. n.p.

Reviewed by Nasrin Rahimieh

The Politics of Writing in Iran is an ambitious and timely undertaking. Although numerous critics have analyzed aspects and phases of modern Persian literature, few have attempted to provide a single paradigm for the history of its development. As Talattof signals in the subtitle of his book, the history he sketches is marked by an inextricable intertwining of ideology and literature. Talattof s approach has certain resemblances to sociological models of literary analysis, but his methodology is also informed by poststructuralist critics such as Jacques Derrida and Gayatri Spivak.

Talattof begins with the premise that ideology underwrites all forms of communication, including literary and artistic. He further argues that from its inception modern Persian literature has been highly ideological in nature and that its history is made up of distinct "episodes" whose character is shaped by the dominant ideology of the time. Despite his assertion that "Persian literary history is not an integrated continuum but a series of distinct episodes distinguishable by their ideology of representation" (p. 3), he allows for some overlaps between episodes and a degree of continuity from one to the other.

The four episodes that for Talattof make up modern Persian history are Persianism, Marxism, Islamism, and feminism. Persianism refers to the turning point in modern Persian prose and poetry that coincided with Iran's encounter with modernity at the turn of the century. The primary preoccupation of this generation of Iranian literati, Talattof points out, "was a struggle against the Qajar Islamic tradition and the influence of Arabic language as manifested in poetry and fiction" (p. 64). Drawing on close readings of Nima Yushij and overviews of the works of Muhammad Ali Jamalzadih, Sadiq Hidayat, and Kusraw Shahani, Talattof illustrates his argument through the analysis of themes and metaphors.

The next chapter in Persian literary history is distinguished by its revolutionary fervor and political commitment. This episode encompasses literary creativity of the period between the American-led coup in 1953 and the 1979 revolution, and shows a great deal of affinity with socialist realism. Tracing the Persian translations of sources as diverse as Bertold Brecht, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maxim Gorky, and Mao Tse-tung, Talattof provides a rich and complex background to the formative influences on Persian literary and intellectual life of this era. …