Tazkirah to Chrestomathy: Persian Classics between National Literary Historiographies

By Samuel Hodgkin
Submitted to Session P4944 (Noticing the Details: Approaches to Close Reading of the Persian Tazkira Tradition, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
The Persian canon shared by writers and readers throughout the Persianate cosmopolis was apportioned and contested by national historiographies of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Scholars have emphasized the rupture of this process, and of the methodological shift from tazkirah to anthology, textbook, and chrestomathy.

The anthologies produced within the multinational Soviet literary system complicate this narrative of division and rupture with their appeal to a Persianate basis for institutions of world literature. This paper traces the lineages that connected Stalinist anthologies of Tajik literature to antecedents and contemporaneous undertakings around the Persianate world. An examination of the sources and methods of Sadr al-Din ‘Ayni’s 1926 Sampler of Tajik Literature (Namunah-i adabiyat-i Tajik) and Khaliq Mirza-zadah’s 1940 Samples of Tajik Literature (Namunah’ha-yi adabiyat-i Tajik) reveals how interconnected national literary projects were.

Through the international circulation of historiographical narratives and methods, a traditional canon of texts and literary practices gave way to a neoclassical pantheon of heroic writers. In the anthologies that produced this transformation, Iranian Bazgasht critics, Lahore publishers, late Ottoman encyclopedists, and Baku Constitutionalists jostle with Jadid language reformers, young Bolshevik Uzbek folklorists, and Firdawsi Jubilee planners. In early Kemalist Turkey, Pahlavi Iran, and Soviet Transcaucasia and Central Asia, radical critics challenged the very idea of a classical literary canon as a form of elite cultural capital, but from the 1930s to the 1950s, this critique gave way to concerns about equal representation of Persianate national literatures in world literature. By mid-century, from these polemics came an eclectic synthesis enshrined in state school literature textbooks.