This September the city of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina will host the 6th biennial convention of the Association for The Study of Persianate Societies (ASPS). The association publishes research on societies significantly influenced by Persian culture wherever in the world they may be, which is why the gathering is in Sarajevo this year. Under Ottoman rule until 1878, Bosnians still carry the Ottoman high regard for Persian literature and still have institutions dedicated to the study of Persian. Over the centuries, this Eastern European city has produced several poets who wrote in Persian.
This year novelist Mahmoud Dowlatabadi will attend the convention to receive a tribute from ASPS for his lifelong contribution to Persian literature. His monumental novel Kelidar has been widely read in Iran since the first of ten volumes was published in 1977, but one of his novels written during the early 1980s is still at the censor’s office waiting for an approval that may never come. The Colonel is available in German, English, Italian and Hebrew, but not in the original Persian. The reason is that Dowlatabadi has declined to make the revisions required by the censor’s office.
The nature of the required revisions are easy to guess. In its literary treatment of the diverse political groups in Iran’s recent history The Colonel plays no favorites when it comes to the Islamic Republic. Dowlatababdi, however, is just an accidental dissident, he has no agenda other than what his art creates naturally. A long time ago he asked his SAVAK captors why he was being detained. They said they didn’t really know but others who had good reason for being detained had all read his books!
I am curious to know how Bosnian Persophiles feel about Dowlatabadi. The Ottoman fascination with Persian art and culture was due in no small part to the influence of Rumi who has been an accidental collaborator throughout history. In a Rumi inspired society power and wealth are regarded as impediments to attaining the full human potential so that the abuse of power is viewed as a spiritually imprisoning act. In a way the aggressor loses and the victim wins. From a modern perspective this mindset leads to a docile population, but from a historical perspective obedience to the king used to be a sign of a healthy society. Today, artists confronting Iran’s social issues struggle in a no man’s land between the modern narrative of collective power via individual dignity and the sublimely fatalistic narrative of medieval poets whose heritage is still carried by the Iranian reader.
During the tribute to Dowlatabadi the program’s artistic director Ariana Barkeshli will touch on both perspectives by performing Aminolah Hossein’s piano piece Prelude no. 1, a tribute to Omar Khayam, and also a piano piece by Alireza Mashayekhi titled In Search of Lost Time. If this is a reference to the Marcel Proust novel of the same name, the choice of the piece suggests a flattering statement by the artistic director. In addition to sharing with Kelidar the distinction of being one of the longest novels ever written, Proust's In Search of Lost Time is considered by some to be a work that defined the modern novel. Perhaps Dowlatabadi will notice and be amused by the compliment.