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Chapter 3-A


Nature as an Ideological Device


1. The Principle of Nature in Retrospect


From the time of the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, there have been many catch words, such as man, nature, reason, individual, progress, and equality, which have dominated European texts and discourse in which the rising middle class expressed its world views against the clergy and monarchy. Through these discourses, the new ideologues cleared the ground for a free market economy and body politic to replace feudalism and theocracy, and in turn, the development of capitalism and democracy lent new ideas to the language, style, imagery, and content of literature and poetry. Specifically, the discourse of nature made itself manifest: in law and politics as the concepts of “natural right” and “human nature”, in science and philosophy as “natural law”, and in art and literature as “naturalness”. For example, Francis Bacon in 1620 in his book Novum Organum establishes the strategy of science towards nature:


     Man, being the servant and interpreter, of nature can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature: beyond this neither he knows anything nor can do anything.


In 1690 John Locke in Two Treatises on Civil Government mentions the natural rights of individuals in regards to law and government:


     To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state all men are naturally in, and that is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Social Contracts prescribes a “social contract” which mirrors the natural state of men:


...So completely must this be the case that, should the social compact be violated, each associated individual would at once resume all the rights which once were his, and regain his natural liberty.


William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Wordsworth wrote a preface for it in 1800, which is considered the first manifesto of romanticism in English poetry:


  Humble and rustic life was generally chosen because in that situation the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that condition of life our elementary feelings co-exist in a state of greater simplicity, and, consequently, may be more accurately contemplated and more forcibly communicated; because the manners of rural life germinate from those elementary feelings; and from the necessary character of rural occupations, are more easily comprehended and are more durable; and lastly, because in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature.


Prior to the Constitutional Revolution, thanks to translations of works by French encyclopedists and to writers like Mirzâ Malkom Khân who published a liberal Persian-language magazine in London called Qânun (Law), the Iranian intelligentsia became familiar with “natural rights” in human society and “natural law” in nature. The first edition of Qânun was published in February 1890 and it continued for some forty issues, and bore on its masthead the motto “consensus, justice, progress” (ettefâq, ‘edâlat, taraqqi).


In the works of Mirzâ Malkom Khân, the discourse of nature does not appear. Nevertheless, he reaches the same results that other ideologues of Modernism in Iran advocated. In fact, in his famous treatise Daftarche-ye gheibi (“The Underground Pamphlet”), which he wrote anonymously to Moshir od-Dowleh, the then chancellor, he argues that Europeans went forward not because of their “wisdom”, since Iranians are not short of it, rather what made their progress possible was their industrial, and more importantly, their social institutions (kârkhânejât-e ensâni). Of these institutions, the most important is bureaucracy (dastgâh-e divâni) which implements law (qânun). Iranians have to learn this science of “social institutions”,


    If we want to re-create these kinds of institutions on our own, that would be like wanting to reinvent the fire carriage [locomotive] from scratch all by ourselves.


This is a science which cannot be attained simply through natural wisdom (‘aql-e tabi‘i). However, in the list of regulations that Malkom Khân has added to his treatise, are principles such as “equality before the law”, which Western philosophers usually arrive at using the discourse of natural laws. For example, in the third chapter of these regulations, regarding national rights, we read,


Item 1:The law in the whole land of Iran shall be equal for all individuals and subjects of Iran.

Item 2:No occupation and no state office shall be heritable.

Item 3:All Iranian subjects shall have an equal right to attain state offices.

Item 4:No thing shall be taken from an Iranian subject except as prescribed by law.

Item 5:No Iranian subject shall be incarcerated except as prescribed by law.

Item 6:Forceful entry into the home of any Iranian subject shall not be permitted, except as prescribed by law.

Item 7:The Iranian people shall be free in their opinions.

Item 8:Annual taxation shall be collected according to specific regulations.


In a piece called “The Party of Warped Minds”, he criticizes superstition and the artificial style of writing, prevalent in his time:


   ...We went, and he took me among a few strange parties, all of which were from the warped mind clan. However, each was partisan to a specific madness. Some wanted to remedy the bodily diseases with numerology (jafr), some fooled themselves for years into thinking that they could discern people's destiny from the alignment of the planets. One group also believed that the purpose of language was not to convey meaning, but to compose rhymed prose (saj‘) and kill time.


At the same time, writers like آkhunzâdeh and Tâlebof, who were influenced by revolutionary and democratic movements against despotic regimes in Azerbayjan, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia, and especially, the social democratic movement in the Caucasus, propagated deistic and even atheistic ideas and glorified nature as the supreme being.


In his book Correspondence, which consists of letters between two imaginary Indian and Iranian princes, آkhunzâdeh, a playwright and essayist, who lived most of his life in Tbilisi in the service of the Tsarist government, demotes religions to the mere status of an ethical basis for society. In a short story called “The Tale of King Yusof, the Saddle-Maker”, he weaves a fantastic story based on an event in the life of the shah Abbas I, the most famous of the Safavi kings. Eight years after his coronation, shah Abbas I was informed by astrologers that some calamity would befall whomever was monarch because of the appearance of a comet and that to escape this fate he must, therefore, relinquish his throne to someone else. As a result, a saddle-maker named Yusof, belonging to an extremist Shiite sect and sentenced to death, ends up ruling the country in the king's stead for three days and is eventually executed. In this story, آkhunzâdeh depicts Yusof as a social reformer who fights against despotism and endeavors to introduce the rule of law and economic progress.


Faridun آdamiyat, who has written extensively on the Iranian Constitutional Revolution and its ideologues, says about آkhunzâdeh,


   The political thought of Mirzâ Fath‘ali is based upon social and natural laws, laws which establish the foundation of modern political philosophy in the West. We begin with the laws of liberty. He writes: each individual who steps into the living world “according to common sense, must benefit from the bounty of total liberty. Total liberty is of two types: spiritual and physical.” The first is called in French liberté morale and the second liberté physique.


In Ahmad's Book (Ketâb-e Ahmad), Tâlebof talks with his imaginary son, Ahmad, and describes to him, in very simple terms, the new discoveries and the progress being made in the scientific world. For example, in the first conversation, he describes pencils and paper, and how each are made. Indeed, he sees educating children as the most effective means of changing his society:


    In this age in which the lights of knowledge have covered the earth, except for our dear homeland, which unfortunately, due to some unspeakable reasons, has become deprived of this blessing, and the gates of elementary education have also shut the minds of our children to any question, only out of patriotism, I sincerely desired to create a book in the form of questions and answers including the fundamental scientific issues, modern technology, correct information, and ancient heritage in the language of children.


On the first page of this book, he sets out his philosophical premise, reminiscent of John Locke's, that the nature of humans is to seek explanation:


    God has created man's nature in such a way that he must always attain the cause of things and move his tongue to ask about everything. For this reason, it is only human beings, by virtue of the fact that they look for a cause and strive to discover the truth of things, who are differentiated from wild beasts and are subject to religious duties.


Elsewhere, in a discussion of death, he argues that God acts through natural forces:


   With death, all abilities and expertise end in human beings. However, there is no harm in this for them. Death is not God's wrath; it is His law for all of nature, and the general qualities of nature, whatever they may be, are nothing but wisdom and beauty. Therefore, death is not bad for human beings, because it is neither a personal flaw or the individual's own will, neither is it harmful to public happiness. On the contrary, death is good, because it is a means for nature's reproduction.


2. Afsâneh: A Romantic Love


The year 1921 is important in Persian literature, because in that year were published both the first collection of short stories Once Upon a Time (Yeki bud-o yeki nabud) by M. A. Jamâlzâdeh and the poem Afsâneh by Nimâ, considered to be the first example of modern poetry in Persian. Jamâlzâdeh's book consists of six short stories, of which the first and best-known is called “Persian Is Sugar”. In this story, the writer deals with the fundamental question of contemporary Iran: Which way to progress? A return to the religious tradition and pan-Islamism, or rejection of national identity and assimilation into Western civilization? The narrator, who is an Iranian student returning from abroad, is detained by customs officials and put into prison. There, he encounters an ordinary Iranian fellow, named Ramazân, who is caught between a clergyman who speaks a Persian riddled with Arabisms and a dandy who peppers his speech with French locutions, both of them rendering their speech unintelligible to the ordinary man. By using a language simple and comprehensible to the people, Jamâlzâdeh finds a third path for Iranian modernization, neither pan-Islamist nor Westernizing:


     When Ramazân saw that I really understood, that I could really speak Persian to him, he took my hand and kissed it, more than a few times, and became as passionate as if he had been granted the world. He went on incessantly saying, “God bless your pretty mouth! Swear to God, you're an angel! God has sent you Himself to rescue me.”


The language of the story itself is very simple and the style of writing is modern. Furthermore, the gap between the language of speaking and writing in “Persian is Sugar” is narrow.


For the first time, part of the poem Afsâneh was published in a magazine called Qarn-e bistom (The Twentieth Century), edited by Mirzâdeh ‘Eshqi, a radical poet and journalist who was assassinated by the agents of the future king, Rezâ Khân, in 1924. In this long narrative poem, which consists of more than twenty pages, Nimâ employs a liberal form of the old Persian prosody called tarkib band, in which after every stanza comes a couplet with a new rhyme pattern, but this should not be mistaken for a similar form called tarji‘ band, in which after every stanza a couplet comes as a refrain. Moreover, the poet has modified the classical form in two ways: First, after each stanza which consists of two couplets, he adds only one line and not one couplet; second, contrary to the traditional rhyme pattern, which goes ABAA, he employs a more lenient scheme, that is ABCB. The other innovative poetical device that he uses in Afsâneh is the use of dialog; whenever deemed necessary, the poet has broken a line into halves, dedicating some of it to what ‘آsheq (the lover) says, and the rest to Afsâneh, so as to distance himself from a similar classical device called goftâ goftam (“(s)he said—I said”), in which each conversation consists of at least one line, usually imposing unnecessary filler on the poem. Nimâ, himself, in the introduction written to Afsâneh, mentions,


   This structure welcomes the characters of your story the way you want. Because it leaves them free to talk at their will and in a natural way in just one or more lines or one or two words; they finish their question or response wherever they wish without being forced or limited by the mathnawi form which forces you to add a few words to those of your characters in order to fill out the meter. In fact, in this structure, it is the characters who do the talking, and not all of the formalities of the mathnawi form, which bound the classic poets, and not all those repetitions of “(s)he said” and “I said” which made poems longer.


Before turning to the motifs and message of Afsâneh, two more items should be added to Nimâ's innovation in this well-known poem, namely, new poetic diction and imagery. Not only does he use a simple language close to the spoken tongue, but he also incorporates words from the local Tabari language into his poems such as korgevij (a wild plant with yellow flowers) and shammâleh (a kind of torch), so that the poem finds an idyllic tone suitable to the story:


[The wind] told me, “You dejected child!

Why are you separated from your home?

What have you lost in this place?

Child! A korgevij in this narrow valley

Has bloomed enchanting!”       


and also:


The tribe was migrating with us.

We were together, shammâleh in hand,

Mountains like hero rebels

Were lifting their heads with frowning faces

Our flock has gone ahead.       


Similarly, the imagery is fresh, and natural scenery is depicted very vividly, as the following excerpt exemplifies,


A fleeting deer there

Stripped a bough of its leaves...

Then the other sounds appeared...

And the conic shape of a single house...

A few flocks of goats in the meadow...       


The same is true in this natural description of the forest:


When the wild pear tree 

Has cast its shadow calmly on a rock

In the faraway forest the caecal 

Are singing together in harmony

As if only one of them were singing.       


This description of the advent of spring conceives elation:


The heap of snow was split in two

The mountain peak turns black and white

The shepherd man came out of his den

He laughed with joy and pride

For the grazing season is here.       


And the wolf shares the joy of spring:


LOVER: In Sarihâ, on the way to Varâzun,

The wolf pokes his head out like a thief

AFSÂNEH:Oh, lover, what are these words? 

Now, the wolf, he will not stay there long

It is because of spring that he dances so >>> Chapter 3-B


To be continued