The Shadow-Texts of National History: Poetic Participation in Iran and Afghanistan

In: Philological Encounters
Aria Fani Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures, University of Washington Seattle, Washington USA

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This article analyzes a little-known practice called iqtirāḥ—“test of poetic talent” or “poetic competition”—that proliferated in twentieth-century Persian-language periodicals. It examines two case studies: one in Tehran in 1928, which mythologized Nādir Shah (r. 1736–1747), a Turko-Persian monarch, as a national hero, and one in Kabul in 1932, which eulogized Muḥammad Nādir Shah (r. 1920–1933), a ruling monarch at the time, for restoring an Afghan homeland imagined as unified. The article frames iqtirāḥ as an afterlife of Persianate modes of sociability that were reconfigured by modern periodicals to serve the demands of romantic nationalism in the twentieth century. By critically examining the ways in which poetic composition interacts with the formation of a national historiography, this article also shows that any clear-cut distinction between the two is arbitrary.

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