A Tale of Two tazkirahs: Reading Nasrabadi and Sarkhvush as Literary History

By Shaahin Pishbin
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;
Until recently, tazkirahs have been predominantly utilised by scholars in the field of Persian literary studies as encyclopaedia-like repositories of information, to be mined for facts regarding the lives and poetry of individual poets. My paper will build on the work of recent scholarship, reading two tazkirahs as literary-historical projects, indicative of their local and wider literary cultures, and constituting an important stage in the formation of the Persian literary canon.

The contemporaneous tazkirahs of Muhammad Tahir Nasrabadi (Tazkirah-i Nasrabadi, Isfahan, 1672-1680) and Muhammad Afzal Sarkhvush (Kalimat al-Shu'ara', Delhi, 1682), each, somewhat unusually, focusing on the work of their contemporaries, offer us a unique snapshot of the priorities, practices, participants, and trends in two important political and literary centres in the second half of the 17th century. In addition to highlighting the major points of divergence between these two important literary projects, I will discuss the treatment of some of the more prominent literary figures of the day included by each writer (such as Sa’ib, Kalim, and Bidil), in order to illuminate to what extent Safavid and Mughal "sukhan sanjan" (“evaluators of speech”) had a shared perspective on good style and literary celebrities in this period. This comparative reading will help to further contextualise the historic bifurcation of the Persian literary tradition along “Iranian” and “Indian” lines. Situating my analysis of Nasrabadi and Sarkhvush’s tazkirahs in the historical and political moment in which they wrote, I will conclude with some remarks regarding the consequences and effectiveness of their respective strategies of memorialisation.