Dabashi, Hamid

Assigned: Dabashi, Hamid. From The World of Persian Literary Humanism, from “Conclusion: Literary Humanism as an Alternative Theory to Modernity” (2292-2305). Also read the editors’ introduction (2290-92).

From The World of Persian Literary Humanism (2012)

From Conclusion: Literary Humanism as an Alternative Theory to Modernity

A Cosmopolitan Worldliness

1. On 2292-94 (“How do people become ‘human’…”), Hamid Dabashi writes that his main thesis has to do with “a systematic articulation of a theory of subjection […] embedded in the heart of Persian literary humanism” (2292-93 top). How does he initially describe the phases of the developing subjectivity that is of interest to him? (2293) What four key terms does he set forth in connection with these phases? How did Persia’s encounter with Western Europe become the catalyst for development of what Dabashi calls a “public space” that “it now termed nation and nationalism, in which Persian literary humanism effectively set up its own edifice, finally in its new home, where it belonged” (2294)? According to Dabashi, how is this history obscured when viewed through the lens of “European Orientalism,” “American literary criticism,” or solely within the context of post-colonialism and “ethnic nationalist historiographies” (2294)?

2. On 2294-96 (“The final phase of Persian literary…”), Dabashi describes “The final phase of Persian literary humanism in its encounter with European imperialism” as “a liberating and emancipatory moment in its long and adventurous history” (2294 bottom). How does he explain this emancipatory quality stemming from what he calls the chaos/ashub phase of development? (2295) What does Dabashi apparently mean by the term “Chaos” in the context of literary and artistic responses to European imperialism and the Pahlavi monarchy followed by the Islamic Republic in 1979? How does Persian “literary humanism” respond to all this political turbulence in such a way that “no ruling regime ever would be able to lay any claim to it [i.e., to literary humanism]” (2295 bottom)?

An Alternative Theory to Modernity

3. On 2296-97 (“As both a philosophical predicament…”), why does Dabashi reject the binary opposition of “tradition versus modernity” (2296), and with what intellectual framework does he replace it? How does he deal with the undeniable power of European imperialism in the Middle East? Above all, what pitfalls does he want to avoid as he pursues his project of tracing the development of Persian literary humanism? (2297)

4. On 2297-98 (“In making my case, I have…”), what problem does Dabashi find in Western antihumanism, i.e., post-structuralist criticism and theory, when it is applied globally and to literatures of the sort he is concerned with? What criticism does he level against the prominent Palestinian literary and cultural scholar Edward Said for promoting an increase in the study of “world literature” (2297) in Western English programs? How does Dabashi characterize this concept of and call for world literature in Western universities? (2298)

Literature and Transnational Empires

5. On 2298-2300 (“To come to terms with the…”), Dabashi emphasizes the “cosmopolitan worldliness” (2298) of Persian literary humanism. What criticism does he offer of those who insist on treating the term “Persian” as a racial descriptor instead of as a purely linguistic one? Why, as well, according to Dabashi, is calling Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh or Book of Kings an “Iranian national epic” (2299) inadvisable? Who else, in his view, can lay equal claim to that kind of national epic, and what historical and geographical points does Dabashi bring up to justify his view? What about other poets, too—poets such as Rumi and Nezami? How does one place them within the context of this debate about who is a “Persian” national poet?

6. On 2300-01 (“All of these false problems…”), Dabashi writes that the “false problems” he has been describing appear when “the colonially calibrated postcolonial map of the world” (2300) is wrongly used to categorize and analyze the poets he has been discussing (along with Persian literary humanism itself), poets whose experiences did not fit that map at all. What movement from ethnos to logos to ethos to chaos/ashub does Dabashi thereupon trace in the movement of Persian literary history? How does he describe the irony of the way Western devotees of “European Orientalism” (2301) have miscast the very productive “chaos” phase of development in modern times as racial or ethnic? What criticism does he also level against postmodernist theorists such as Fredric Jameson for their supposedly misguided, biased engagement with “Orientalism”?

7. On 2301-03 (“The problem with nationalist literary…”), how does Dabashi read the passage he quotes from the work of Iranian literary historian Zabihollah Safa as symptomatic of the “anxiety” caused by “forcefully nationalizing a transnational history” (2301)? What similar criticism does he make of the Orientalist scholar Jan Marek? (2302) How does Dabashi sum up the impact of misguided Orientalist writing about Persian literary humanism as being primarily a national and nationalist phenomenon rather than the transnational phenomenon it has long been?

Farewell to Our Orientalists

8. On 2303-05 (“The enduring impact of Orientalism…”), what summation of Orientalism’s impact on the understanding of Persian literature and literary humanism does Dabashi offer by way of concluding The World of Persian Literary Humanism? On the whole, what does he suggest would be a positive direction in which to take the study of this remarkable and broad area of cultural production and expression? How does he describe his own work as a dialogue with other prominent scholars interested in the relevant literatures and cultures?

9. General question: In our selection from The World of Persian Literary Humanism, Hamid Dabashi offers a strong critique of “Orientalist” and postmodern assumptions about Persian literary history and Persian literary humanism. That critique includes the teaching of such complex material under the aegis of “world literature” in American English departments. If you have taken a college course in world literature, how would you describe your intellectual experience in that course? Did you find that literatures other than American and British were dealt with in a manner that truly respected the inadvisability of treating such literatures as either “exotic” or easily subsumable into Western experience? Why or why not?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake