A Style by Any Other Name? Arguments about Lyric Style and Geographical Belonging in Four Early Modern Persian Tazkeres

By Jane Mikkelson
Submitted to Session P4944 (Noticing the Details: Approaches to Close Reading of the Persian Tazkira Tradition, 2017 Annual Meeting
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper will examine four early modern Persian tazkeres – two composed by literary critics from India, and two by Iranians – in order to extrapolate and compare their explicit and implicit arguments about the nature of literary style, the centrality of such figurations as metaphor and ambiguity to the evaluation of poetry, and the connections between style and geographical belonging.

In his "Khezane-ye ?amere" (1762/1763), Gholam ?Ali Azad Belgrami presents an important, path-breaking discussion of approaches to literary criticism. He argues that Persian literary history came to be reconfigured along the lines of an Indian/Iranian divide a century prior to his own time, and locates the origins of this reconceptualization in a specific biographical compendium: Taher Nasrabadi's "Tazkere-ye Nasrabadi"(1672/1673), wherein figures from India were treated independently of those from Iran and Turan. A strong case for an even earlier example of geographically partisan literary criticism can be made for ?Abd al-Nabi Fakhr al-Zamani Qazvini’s "Tazkere-ye Meykhane", completed in 1618. Two important aspects of Fakhr al-Zam?n?’s literary-critical vision will be highlighted: the reliance of his definitions of style on the presence or absence of difficult metaphor, and implicit arguments he makes about geography and literature that betray an anti-Indian bias. Finally, this paper will consider "Mer??t al-khayal", completed around 1690 by Sher ?Ali Khan Lodi, an Indian scholar active during Aurangzeb’s reign. Lodi’s literary-critical approaches to style and geography intersect definitively in his discussion of the Indian Persian poets of his time (including Naser ?Ali Serhendi, Bidel, and others), whose ornate poetic imagination and inclination towards difficult metaphor were so unique that Lodi considers these poets to have launched an “Indian style” of Persian poetry.

Careful reconstruction of emic literary-critical concepts from these four tazkeres has several consequences. First, it becomes clear that the interconnectedness of style and geography in early modern Persian literary criticism predates the contentious split into Indian-vs.-Iranian styles of Persian associated with the later Bazgasht-e Adabi movement (“Literary Return”). Secondly, looking to these early modern tazkeres for guidance can help us navigate certain thorny terminological issues in modern criticism (for instance, the appropriateness and of the very idea of an “Indian style” of Persian poetry, sabk-e Hendi). Finally, recovering those features of literary style deemed to be of pivotal importance by critics in the early modern period allows us to better focus our own analysis of early modern Persian poetry.