Reading across Borders
Afghans, Iranians, and Literary Nationalism
264 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 14 b&w photos
Sales Date: April 9, 2024
The dynamic and interconnected ways Afghans and Iranians invented their modern selves through literature.
Contrary to the presumption that literary nationalism in the Global South emerged through contact with Europe alone, Reading across Borders demonstrates how the cultural forms of Iran and Afghanistan as nation-states arose from their shared Persian heritage and cross-cultural exchange in the twentieth century. In this book, Aria Fani charts the individuals, institutions, and conversations that made this exchange possible, detailing the dynamic and interconnected ways Afghans and Iranians invented their modern selves through new ideas about literature.
Fani illustrates how voluntary and state-funded associations of readers helped formulate and propagate "literature" as a recognizable notion, adapting and changing Persian concepts to fit this modern idea. Focusing on early twentieth-century periodicals with readers in Afghan and Iranian cities and their diaspora, Fani exposes how nationalism intensified—rather than severed—cultural contact among two Persian-speaking societies amidst the diverging and competing demands of their respective nation-states. This interconnected history was ultimately forgotten, shaping many of the cultural disputes between Iran and Afghanistan today.
In this fascinating account of the forging of national literatures, Aria Fani focuses on individuals, institutions, and mediums. He introduces us to the likes of the Afghan Sarwar Guyā E‘temādi, who lectured in Pakistan, Iran, and Soviet Central Asia, and the Bombay- and Lausanne-educated Mahmud Afshār, who founded periodicals and literary endowments in Iran. Linking such figures were local literary associations and state-funded universities whose textbooks and journals propagated new tasks for literature within and across national borders. Via what Fani calls his method of ‘East-East comparison,’ this is a milestone study that pushes against the boundaries of Middle Eastern cultural history. ~Nile Green, editor of Afghan History through Afghan Eyes
Reading across Borders is a groundbreaking critique of the very concept of literature in Iranian and Afghan contexts. With an outstanding command of literary history, primary texts, and the appropriate theoretical underpinnings, Aria Fani invites us to question decades of received wisdom that have relied on the constructed exceptionalism and glorification of 'Persian literature.' Through such a radical reassessment, Fani paves the way for a vastly more inclusive and socially responsible way of approaching Persian-language literary production, giving the reader the tools for a long overdue problematization of the myths of national identity and unexamined adages on the canon of Persian literature. ~Leyla Rouhi, Mary A. and William Wirt Warren Professor of Romance Languages, Williams College
- Note on Transliteration
- Preface: Why I Wrote This Book
- Introduction: What Literature? Which World?
- 1. The Formation of a Modern Discourse of Literature (1860–1960)
- 2. Afghan-Iranian Literary Connections and Romantic Nationalism (1920–1944)
- 3. Anjomans and the Proliferation of Adabiyāt in Iran (1916–1947)
- 4. Institutionalizing Persian Literature in Afghanistan (1930–1956)
- Conclusion: National Pilgrims and the Myth of Greater Iran
- Epilogue: Who Needs Literature Today?
- Appendix of Biographies