MESA Banner
In Honor of Franklin Lewis II: Persian and Other Literatures: Multilingualism and Translation

Panel IV-20, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
The sheer breadth of Franklin Lewis’s scholarship opened up new vistas for comparative literary scholars to study the relationship between Persian and other literary traditions of the Islamicate world and beyond. Lewis’s translations and his scholarly engagement with the problem of translation, as well as his sensitivity for literary traditions beyond Persian will have a lasting impact on the development of Persianate literary studies writ large. The presenters on the second panel in honor of his legacy at the MESA Annual Meeting will analyze various facets of this Persianate multilingual universe, offering snapshots of how different genres of Persian informed or were informed by engagement with other literary and linguistic traditions, such as Arabic, Turkic, Urdu, Greek, Armenian, and Mongolian on the one hand, and modern English translation, on the other hand. We will seek to rethink such broad phenomena as influence, linguistic identities, the politics of language, the place of literary genres of premodern origins in discourses about modernity, the theoretical and practical implications of translation, literary reception, etc. The first paper discusses the longue durée story of how different renderings of the Kalila and Dimna story form a multilingual matrix of paraphrases in Arabic and Persian, at times obviating the need to find out which version influenced which; the second paper discusses how Rumi’s multilingual macaronic poetry serves to both separate and connect different communal, linguistic, or confessional identities; the third paper sheds light on the extent and limitations of Turkophone literati's integration into Safavid imperial culture and Persianate cosmopolitanism as it was manifested in Safavid Turkic poets’ experimentation with the “Fresh Style” known from Persian poetry; the fourth paper investigates how Urdu and Persian ghazals formed a space of ambiguity in Muhammad Iqbal’s oeuvre to negotiate between colonial modernity and Persianate Muslim tradition; while the fifth and last paper discusses the political and pedagogical implications of different approaches to translating Rumi’s ghazals with a special focus on Lewis’s paradigmatic translations.
  • As part of a larger project about Turkic literature in early modern Iran, the paper discusses the position and innovative aesthetics of the so-called shiva-yi taza, “Fresh Style”—better known in Persian literature as the sabk-i hindi, “Indian Style”—in Turkic poetry in the Safavid period (1501-1722). It focuses on the Turkic verses of Vahid-i Qazvini (d. 1700), otherwise well known as a prolific Persian poet, a prominent chronicler, as well as well as grand vizier under Shah Sulayman (r. 1666-1694) and Shah Sultan Husayn (1694-1722). Through the close reading of select ghazals that display features of the “Fresh Style,” I will explore connections between Vahid’s Turkic poetry, his own Persian poetry, and other representatives of this style who wrote in Persian, such as Sa’ib-i Tabrizi. The “Fresh Style” does not characterize all of Vahid’s Turkic lyric output, just as much as it does not characterize all his Persian ghazals, either; nevertheless, its presence in his Turkic pieces signifies that Safavid Turkophone poetry was very much part of a larger literary conversation that sought to introduce a new epistemology to the poetic language. I will also demonstrate that in his experimentation with the complex and surprising features of the “Fresh Style” as adopted from Persian, Vahid also wrote paraphrases of the poetry of Fuzuli (d. 1556), one of the most paradigmatic Turkophone poets for both Ottoman and Iranian Turkic poetry. I will argue that, on the one hand, Turkophone poets’ engagement with both the Turkic literary past and the cutting-edge poetic developments of the age taking place in Persian was part of their cultural, religious, and political integration in Safavid imperial culture, and on the other hand, the relative scarcity of the “Fresh Style” in Safavid Turkic poetry shows the limits of this integration. At the same time, I will also demonstrate how in a premodern multilingual setting like Safavid Iran, literary identity was negotiated in a way that saw literary languages—in this case, Turkic and Persian—as connected and separated by porous boundaries, and as different linguistic realizations of a shared Persianate literary tradition.
  • "Kalila and Dimna" was a famous book in every major literary tradition of the medieval and early modern Near East. Several different versions of the text were produced, for example, in *each* of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. One of the curiosities of "Kalila and Dimna" is that it remained so current, and new translations and adaptations appeared with such regularity, that the lines of influence among languages and literary traditions cannot be viewed as unidirectional. The Arabic version attributed to Ibn al-Muqaffa' (d. ca. 139/757) inspired translations in Persian, which achieved sufficient fame in their own right that at least one of them was subsequently re-adapted in Arabic. The Persian "Kalila and Dimna" tradition -- especially the "Anvar-i suhayli" of Husayn Va'iz Kashifi (d. 910/1504-5) -- also became the basis for translations into Ottoman Turkish from the tenth/sixteenth century. It is not always straightforward to identify the origins of various passages that were added to "Kalila and Dimna" over the generations. Material was being shared continuously, the text ever in flux; and there are long periods for which we lack extant manuscript witnesses. Perhaps the quintessential example of this problem is the so-called "'Ali ibn al-Shah" preface to "Kalila and Dimna" -- a passage that appears in some Arabic manuscripts, as well as in a Persian versification of the fables by Qani'i Tusi (mid seventh/thirteenth century). My aim in this paper is to review the surviving evidence relating to the transmission of the "'Ali ibn al-Shah" preface in a more comprehensive manner than has been attempted to date. Studying different manifestations of this passage from the seventh/thirteenth and eighth/fourteenth centuries -- the period in which it seems to emerge -- does support the idea of a generally Iranian or Persianate origin. It is more difficult, however, to posit a Persian text that was at some point translated into Arabic. As far as can be determined from extant manuscripts, the "'Ali ibn al-Shah" material appeared effectively simultaneously in the two languages.
  • As part of a larger translation and analyses project of Jalaluddin Rumi’s (1207-1273 CE) multilingual poems, this paper will discuss the formal elements of close to one hundred poems, about a thousand verses, in Rumi’s Diwan, better known as the Diwan-i-Shams. Muslim literary critics termed such multilingual poetic compositions mulamma’at, whereas Western literary critical works label them macaronic. Rumi’s mulamma’at embody a composite of Arabic, Persian, some Turkish and Greek, a couple of Armenian phrases, a few Mongolian locutions, old Persian phrases from the Khurāsānī dialects, and various Arabic and Persian colloquialisms, mixed together in single poems. These do not include the hundreds, even thousands, of quotations from, and allusions to the Qurʾān, as well as to the sayings of the Prophet Muḥammad, the Ḥadīth. I will demonstrate the formal features of some of these poems through visual representations. Closer attention to the linguistic and formal aspects of these poems will also open doors to questions of intentionality and purpose within what appears to be a largely spontaneous demonstration of virtuosity that sometimes may seem to end up muddled. A discussion of the formal elements should not only assist in developing an appreciation of the considerable skill required in crafting a successful multilingual poem, but also allow us to probe deeper into the possible reasons for such multilingual compositions. I propose to read these multilingual poems as a highly unique and generative form of apophatic discourse, which linguistically and visually perform the very negation.
  • The ghazal form exists in dozens of languages, deeply associated with both popular and esoteric Sufi traditions. While the ghazal’s formal qualities and thematic parameters inextricably link it to its Islamic heritage, those same structures also resist religious identification. Much ink has been spilled, especially in the modern period, on debating whether or not these poems are meant to be read as “sacred” or “profane,” “metaphorical” or “literal”; such debates, however, miss the mark. In this paper, I argue that the ghazal not only presents these paradoxical orientations, but creates them at the level of form and meaning, setting forth the tools for its own interpretation and offering us a poetic method. This method is exemplified, perhaps paradoxically, by the ghazals of Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938), the poet, philosopher, and political thinker whose legacy is largely considered in terms of the creation of the nation-state of Pakistan. For Iqbal, I argue, the ghazal's performances of ambiguity, paradox, and textual instability work as a method for negotiating between Islamic poetic tradition and the demands of colonial modernity, modeling how to think beyond binary terms of inquiry through subverting them. These features, which will be analyzed through close readings of select Persian and Urdu ghazals of Iqbal, allow for a reconsideration of the importance of uncertainty for a thinker who has always been characterized as the epitome of certitude.
  • As part of this panel's goal of honoring Franklin Lewis's contributions to the fields of Rumi studies and Persian-to-English translation, this paper situates Lewis's translations of the Divan-e Shams, contained within his 2007 volume Swallowing the Sun, within the larger history of translating Rumi's lyric poetry into English, ranging from the work of R. A. Nicholson (1898) to Haleh Liza Gafori (2022). Through this survey, the paper explores the ways different translators have grappled with the distinctive aspects of form, sonority, content, and allusion in Rumi's verse, as well as the perennial question of "whole" vs. "partial" representations of the ghazal. It emerges that one of Lewis's most enduring contributions to these challenges is his radical approach to iconicity, using the possibilities of the printed book to reproduce Rumi's dense sonic patterning in a visual rather than sonic manner. This shift, of course, speaks to the completely different context in which poetry is encountered "as poetry" in modern English, in comparison with Rumi's milieu. The paper concludes with a discussion of the political and pedagogical implications of this shift—visible not only in Lewis's, but in other modern translations—in which students primarily encounter Rumi through their eyes, rather than their ears.