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Abstract

This dissertation considers the career and verse of the Iranian Kurdish poet and revolutionary Abū al-Qāsim of Kermanshah, pen-name “Lāhūtī” (1887-1957), as a case study in the transformation of the role of the Persian poet in the early twentieth century. Lāhūtī brought the poetics of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution into the national culture-building projects of the Soviet East (Central Asia and Transcaucasia). As a spokesman for Iran and Tajikistan before the international leftist and anticolonial literary public, he contributed to the construction of institutions for that public: writers’ organizations, congresses, and presses and journals specializing in anthologies of literature in translation. Within this new “literary international,” Lāhūtī became one of the most visible prototypes for a new fusion of functionary and author function: the literary representative. It was in the leftist literary international that imperial European world literature, in which classical texts functioned as the East’s authoritative voice, was supplanted by postcolonial world literature, in which literary representatives interpreted both national cultures and nationalized classical canons before a Western public. Persian poetry and its authorized spokesman Lāhūtī played a pivotal role in this shift because of the centrality of the Persianate legacy to Soviet cultural internationalism between the domestic and foreign East. The introduction provides a sketch of the relationship between the Soviet multinational literary system and the broader history of ideas and practices of world literature. Chapter 1 defines the role of the “literary representative” in relation to theoretical frameworks for the relationship between political and aesthetic representation. It considers Lāhūtī’s development of a program of literary representation-work through a series of Constitution-era and early Soviet experiments—agitational verse, revolutionary manifestos, and bureaucratic forms. The four remaining chapters show how the functions of the literary representative developed, as they were reflected in canon debates, in new uses for classical occasional genres, and in translation practices. Chapter 2 argues that canon-building projects in the Soviet East emerged from the tactics and concerns of Persianate modernizers in Constitution-era Iran and the late Ottoman Empire. They trace Persianate canon debates from Lāhūtī’s writings in post-World War I Istanbul to the “Eastern” literary community of early Soviet Moscow. Chapter 3 follows Persianate canon-building into the cultural institutions of Soviet Central Asia. A survey of debates about language, script, and education reform in the early Stalin period reveals how early critiques of the Persianate literary canon as an elite institution gave way to concerns about equal representation of nationalities within a world literary canon. Chapter 4 examines Lāhūtī’s poetic contributions to multinational and international occasions of the 1930s. By placing the Stalinist gift economy and panegyric discourse in the context of specific classical Persianate genres, the chapter shows how Lāhūtī acted as a literary representative in authoritarian literary-political transactions shaped equally by classical poetics and mass politics. Chapter 5 foregrounds the role of translation as the medium of representation: from the 1930s “Lāhūtī” was the single persona of two poets: the Iranian émigré and his wife Tsetsiliia Banu, a Jewish orientalist who was also his most important translator. Their joint translation projects, dealing with both their own verse and world classics such as Pushkin, Shakespeare, and Firdawsī, provide a vantage point from which to evaluate the reciprocities and asymmetries of the Soviet translation system. The conclusion surveys the adoption of Soviet multinational literary institutions as models in the anticolonial second and third world during the early Cold War. It closes with one of Lāhūtī’s afterlives, in the performances of the Afghan rock musician Aḥmad Ẓāhir.

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