Some of these articles are perhaps a little dated, but they are interesting nonetheless:
A Nowruz Dedicated to the Iraqi People, 10 Years Later: “The difference between an Iraqi and an Iranian held little weight in any of this, and my self-professed Christian faith was meaningless in the face of my apparent sympathies for the enemy cause. Perhaps this is the strangest part of discussing my own experiences of Islamophobic bullying growing up– as a child who believed passionately that he was a Christian, it was hard to understand how quickly I was racialized into a Muslim other in the eyes of my classmates.”
Polish Shi’ite Showbiz: Slavs and Tatars on Solidarność & the ’79 Revolution: “In a historiographic version of Whac-a-Mole, our comparative look at the Iranian Revolution and Solidarność revealed several unexpected episodes of common heritage and cultural affinities. These include the exodus of 200,000 Polish refugees from Siberia and Kazakhstan to Iran during World War II as told in Khosrow Sinai’s touching documentary The Lost Requiem or the curious case of 16-17th century Sarmatism, when the Polish nobility believed itself to be descendants of a long-lost Iranic tribe from the Black Sea.”
Ahmadinejad Criticized for Welcoming Pre-Islamic New Year: “The Iranian president has once again upset religious leaders in Iran. Earlier in the week Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his controversial aid Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei participated in a ceremony of welcoming Norouz, the Persian New year, which falls on March 20.…Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi asked “how can welcoming Norouz be Islamic? Isn’t music and dancing […] that occurred at this ceremony against sacred Islamic laws?” He continued, “they are mocking the commandments of Islam and showing irreverence.”
Internet Censorship in Iran: An infographic showing just how complex the structure of internet censorship is in Iran, from the University of Pennsylvania.
Obama Misses Target with Nowruz Message: “Obama’s message indicated that he remains uncertain about his audience. If the target is the Iranian people, he demonstrates a lack of awareness of how sanctions are being felt and interpreted. If it is the Iranian leadership, then attributing the current sanctions to their “unwillingness” to alleviate Western concerns, the most recent message is one step forward and two steps back.”
We’ll Make You Regret Everything (PDF): “This report summarises a study conducted by Freedom from Torture of 50 Iranian torture cases documented by clinicians in our Medico Legal Report Service. The cases all involve torture perpetrated in the lead up to and in the weeks, months and years following Iran’s presidential elections held on 12 June 2009. Together they provide an alarming insight into the brutal methods used by the Iranian authorities to terrorise those individuals – and their family members – engaged in grassroots organising prior to the elections and in the protests relating to the disputed outcome and the human rights abuses that followed.”
When I was a teenager and thought I wanted to be a rabbi, I took great comfort in the fact that the god of the Jewish people did not have a body. It was, of course, confusing to me that we nonetheless referred to this god as “he” or “our king” or even as “our father,” as in the prayer “Avinu Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King), which Jews recite every year on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. I wanted so very much to believe in that god, however, and to be good in “his” eyes, that I accepted without question the explanation I was given: that these references to God’s maleness were just metaphors of convenience, that, in fact, the Jewish god had neither sex nor gender, which was one of the things that made “him” – it did seem wrong to say “it”– so much better than the gods of polytheistic traditions.
Whether or not a bodiless, omniscient, omnipotent, and therefore completely transcendent god is indeed “better” than other kinds of gods, whatever “better” might mean, is no longer clear to me, and it’s been a long time since I was naïve enough to believe any metaphor can ever be, simply, “of convenience,” but back then that explanation made sense to me. Or, more accurately, it allowed me not to think too carefully about the question of God’s gender and to focus instead on the hope a genderless god seemed to hold out: that if I followed “his” rules, I could live my life in a way that rendered pretty much irrelevant the masculinity at which I felt myself to be so miserably failing. Most especially, I thought, in the eyes of a genderless god, sex would be just sex, for both procreation and pleasure, but without all the unnecessary baggage that questions of gender forced it to carry.
To put it plainly, I was afraid of sex, of my own sexuality. As I’ve written many times before, I was sexually abused by two different men at two different times during my teens, once quite violently. One of the things that experience made it very difficult for me to deal with was the expectation that, because I was the man, I had to be the one to make the first move in sexual situations. Since the only kind of “first move” I knew was the kind that my abusers had used with me, whenever I thought about initiating sex with someone, the only thing I could imagine myself doing was something like what those men had done, and that was the last thing I wanted to do. If God was indeed genderless, it seemed to me, then perhaps the sex he’d given me, that he’d commanded me to have — because both reproduction and sex-for-pleasure (to satisfy one’s wife) are religious obligations for men in orthodox Judaism — might also be genderless, in the sense that it didn’t matter who made the first move, among other things. Perhaps the life this genderless god wanted me to lead would lead me to a different way of being male and sexual than those men had shown me.
I was, of course, wrong about a lot of that thinking, and, to be honest, I haven’t thought about my struggle with the question of God’s gender in a very long time, but reading Attar’s The Conference of the Birds has brought it back to me, not just because the gender of Attar’s god is so unambiguously male, but because the path to oneness with that god is unambiguously male as well. Not that there aren’t sufi women, and even women whom the sufis revere as saints, but of those women Attar says, in his Memories of God’s Friends: Lives and Sayings of Sufis, speaking specifically of perhaps the best known female saint, Raba-ye Adaviya, “When a woman is a man on the path of the Lord most high, she cannot be called woman.” In Elahi Nameh, the book of Attar’s that I am currently translating, the first story is about such a woman, and I will write about that story another time. What I am interested in now is how Attar talks about the relationship between men and the masculine nature of the sufi path. Here, for example, is a story from The Conference of the Birds in which the connection between a sufi’s manhood and his spiritual commitment is used to shame two sufis who just don’t measure up:
One day two dressed as wandering sufis came
Before the courts to lodge a legal claim.
The judge took them aside. “This can’t be right
For sufis to provoke a legal fight,“
He said. “You wear the robes of resignation,
So what have you to do with litigation?
If you’re the men to pay a lawyer’s fee,
Off with your sufi clothes immediately!
And if you’re sufis as at first I thought,
It’s ignorance the brings you to this court.
I’m just a judge, unversed in your affair,
But I’m ashamed to see the clothes you wear;
You should wear women’s veils – that would be less
Dishonest than your present holy dress.” (94)
These two sufis, by bringing their differences to court, have demonstrated their investment in the material world, in standards of right and wrong that sufis are supposed to aspire to transcend. In the judge’s estimation, this feminizes them, and so he tells them it would be better to hide their maleness behind women’s clothing than to use the clothing of “high heroic maleness,” their sufi robes, to hide the lack of manliness their presence in court represents. For Attar, in other words, to be a man is to be a man of God. Anything else is, at one and the same time, a betrayal of both manhood and the divine. Yet it is not only insufficiently committed sufis who fail to live up to the standards of this spiritual masculinity. Attar’s hoopoe also tells the following story about Shebli, an important Sufi master:
Shebli would disappear at times; no one
In all Baghdad could guess where he had gone–
At last they found him where the town enjoys
The sexual services of man and boys,
Sitting among the catamites; his eye
Was moist and humid, and his lips bone-dry.
One asked: “What brings you here, to such a place?
Is this where pilgrims come to look for grace?“
He answered: “In the world’s way these you see
Aren’t men or women; so it is with me–
For in the way of Faith I’m neither man
Nor woman, but ambiguous courtesan–
Unmanliness reproaches me, then blame
For my virility fills me with shame.” (93)
Shebli is caught in a spiritual double bind. On the one hand, the “unmanliness” represented by his faults and failures stands as a constant reproach to him as he walks his path towards God; but on the other hand, his virility – meaning his conscious commitment to that path – shames him, since the oneness with God to which he aspires requires that he shed precisely the self-consciousness of that commitment. This predicament gives rise to the question the hoopoe asks next, “How will you solve love’s secret lore if you – /Not man, not woman – glide between the two?” (94). To be on the path to God, in other words, is by definition to make a choice. You’re either on the road or you’re not. If not, then as the judge advises the sufis who came to his court, you are better off being honest and living in the material world, hiding your true, masculine self, behind the veil that world is, while, if you are like Shebli, caught in the double bind that committing to the path inescapably entails, then you have no choice but to surrender. Or, as the hoopoe puts it:
If on its path love forces you to yield,
Then do so gladly, throw away your shield;
Resist and you will die, your soul is dead–
To ward off your defeat bow down your head! (94)
When I read these lines, I had to stop and read them again; and then I read them again. How are they not, I asked myself, a description of spiritual rape? Writing out of a very different religious tradition, John Donne articulates a similar relationship with the divine in “Batter My Heart Three Person’d God:”
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Donne wants desperately to let his god in, but he can’t, and so he asks, demands, really, that his god ravish him. I suppose that fact, i.e. that Donne asks, is what prevents the scenario he describes from being an actual spiritual rape, even though it uses rape as a metaphor. Attar, I think, would have recognized Donne’s dilemma very easily. Indeed, throughout The Conference of the Birds Attar writes about all the ways those who travel the path keep their god out, despite the fact that they want desperately to let him in. Yet, whether or not what Donne and Attar describe qualifies as spiritual rape per se, the idea that it is human nature to resist God, making it necessary for him to violate us so that he can enter us fully — that, in other words, we need to be forced to surrender to him — sounds an awful lot to me like a spiritualized and, especially in Attar’s case, homoeroticized version of rape culture.
Writing that last sentence set all kinds of ideas swirling around in my head. It’s not hard to find the misogyny in the idea that women sometimes need to be forced to surrender themselves to men in order to realize their true, feminine selves; nor is it difficult to see that replacing men in that sentence with God, when God is understood to be male, does not necessarily remove the misogyny; but what does it mean if that same spiritual act is defined not as hateful, but as loving, when God commits it against a man? What are the repercussions for how the men who believe in that god understand themselves spiritually in relation to the divine and ethically, morally, especially when it comes to questions of love, in relation to other human beings? These seem to me important questions to ask.
“A Contrast” from Knot Series (Yazd 2011), by Jalal Sepehr
Iran’s Web Censors vs. Google Reader: In the wake of Google’s announcement that it’s going to kill Reader, a fascinating article about the role Reader played in helping Iranians circumvent government censors.
Searching for Shahrzad: Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran: An excerpt from the introduction to Professor Kamran Talattof’s book. “In other words, in a relatively short time, a woman who, perhaps due to the Shah’s modernization projects, was able to excel in several areas of artistic and professional activities was also agonized in prison, confined in a hospital, and left homeless in the streets of Tehran. How is it possible? Why did it happen? Why Shahrzad?”
Iran’s Basij Militia Builds a “Resistance Economy”: From Al-Monitor.com, an article about the role the Basij militia – whom most people in the states probably know from their role in suppressing the demonstrations following Iran’s 2009 contested elections – are playing in the Iranian governments efforts to combat economic sanctions.
On Iranians, Drinking Wine, and Cultural Stereotyping: “…Iranian irrationality remains a topos in Western culture. A striking recent example comes in the 2009 movie by Bill Maher, Religulous, in which as soon as Iranians are mentioned, there is a scene of a party and people drinking alcohol out of the bottle in a frenzy.”
President Obama’s Norouz message to the Iranian people:
The reaction of Iran’s media to that message: From one source: “even though in the beginning of his message he focused on the need to solve the issue of Iran’s nuclear program through negotiations, at the end of his message he contradicted himself by speaking with a threatening tone about the continuation of pressure on the people!” And from another: “[The president’s message was] “more than an address to the Iranian people; it was a negative answer to the Zionist régime’s demands that Washington intensify their hostilities against Tehran.”
Reaction of Ex-Hostages to Argo’s Oscar: “Laingen, who was the senior U.S. diplomat in Iran on Nov. 4, 1979, when students overran the U.S. Embassy to protest U.S. admission of the deposed shah for medical treatment, said he could not have imagined that American representation in Iran would still be lacking three decades later. ‘We should be there representing the United States of America,’ Laingen said. ‘We have zilch and that’s not a very good basis on which to have any kind of relationship.’”
‘Cyrus Cylinder’ a Reminder Of Persian Legacy of Tolerance: “On loan from the British Museum, the cylinder is more than 26 centuries old and was discovered near Babylon in what is now Iraq in 1879. It recounts the capture of Babylon by the Persian King Cyrus and his proclamation of freedom for religious minorities, including those who had been brought as slaves to Babylon.”
Post-Punk, Post-Tehran: Yellow Dogs Perform in Williamsburg: Obash describes the situation in Iran [for bands] through an anecdote he likes to tell about two bands who had thrown an open-air concert in an out-of-the-way area of the city for an audience of some 600 people. “The cops came and arrested 200 of them,” he explains, including the band members, who spent the next three weeks in jail.
It is a tradition in Iran to use the works of the 14th century poet Hafez to tell fortunes. People open a copy of his divan, his collected works, and take the first line of poetry their eye falls on to be an omen of what is to come. In the spirit of Norooz, here is an animation of some of Hafez’ poetry by Jila Peacock. I hope your year is as beautiful as this work of art:
We went to see Argo last night, the new movie starring Ben Affleck that is based on Antonio Mendez’ book about his mission to rescue six Americans during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 – 1980. I went expecting to see a Hollywood thriller, and I was not disappointed. I was also pleased that there was no Iran-bashing in the film. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer:
Ultimately, however, while the movie is very well-made, it left me cold, and not just because I knew the ending. (I have a vague memory of watching TV when the announcement was made that the six Americans had gotten out safely.)
I have both a personal and a professional interest in how Iran is represented in American culture. My wife is from Iran, which means my son is half Iranian, and so I care very deeply that the portrayal is accurate, that however it may be slanted politically – because all portrayals are slanted politically – it does not do an injustice to Iranian anything. Also, I am a translator of classical Persian poetry and so the question of how to present the history, culture and ideas of another nation, another people is one that I think about quite a lot. As I said above, I was happy that Argo did not engage in the Iran– and Muslim-bashing that is all too common in the United States these days, but I was very disappointed in the prologue that is supposed to provide a historical and political context for the film.
Granted, the movie is a fictionalized version of actual events, not a documentary, and so it is not fair to expect a nuanced account of what caused the Iranian Revolution. Still, there was one moment in the prologue, which is given as a series of storyboards, that I found truly disturbing. The prologue sets up the events of the movie by presenting, more or less, the Islamic Republic’s version of why the revolution happened. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is described as a corrupt and decadent ruler, completely detached from the suffering of his people. The narrator of the prologue talks about the meals he had flown in from Europe, for example, and also about how it was rumored that his wife, Farah Diba, bathed herself in milk. Whether or not this is true, the storyboard accompanying this rumor is a prime example of orientalism at its worst. The queen is shown in profile, beautiful and naked, standing in a tub full of milk, while her serving women, all wearing head scarves, wait on her. The image epitomizes every sexualized stereotype about the Muslim world that you can name and, to the degree that it is supposed to provide context for the film’s narrative, it does an injustice, frankly, to both pre– and post-revolutionary Iran. The image made me angry, but it was pretty much the only misstep in portraying Iran that I saw.
What left me cold about the movie, ultimately, is that it was nothing more than a suspense-filled version of a story I already knew the ending to. Aside from learning details of what happened that I could not have known at the time – and I have no idea which parts of the movie are true to the facts and which are not – I did not learn why I should care about this story other than that Antonio Mendez saved the lives of these six people. It is, of course, wonderful that he did, but the situation in which they found themselves was, and frankly still is, so full of opportunities for deepening our understanding of Iran and of ourselves, that I though it was a shame the movie stayed on the surface of the narrative the way it did. The Iranians in the film are not much more than two-dimensional characters, foils for Mendez’ ingenuity in executing his scheme; and with the exception of one brief scene, the Westerners in Iran engage in no introspection about the revolution that is happening around them and what their role, as representatives of this country, might have been in bringing it about. Obviously, this was not the movie Affleck wanted to make, which is fine; but the movie he did make is not one that I will carry with me as anything other than a wonderfully made, but essentially mindless entertainment.
I’m glad to see reporting coming out of Iran (here and here, both by Nicholas Kristoff) that is based on a journalist’s first-hand encounters with ordinary Iranians. It’s not just that it’s important for readers in the United States to discover that – gasp! – Iranians are indeed ordinary people, essentially no different than we are; it’s also that this kind of coverage seems to me a fundamental sign of respect. I recognize that the Iranian government itself makes it nearly impossible for Western, and perhaps particularly American, journalists to gather the information that makes these kinds of columns possible, and so it is not journalists’ fault that they are, generally, unable to write them. At the same time, however, the media in the United States is at fault for presenting coverage on Iran that not only does not acknowledge the gaps in their coverage, and therefore in their knowledge, but that also allows those gaps to stand for something other than the absence they are: an assertion by omission that the coverage we are getting from our media is also, somehow, coverage of ordinary Iranians. Kristof’s columns are a necessary and long-overdue correction.
Eid Moborak! Norouz Pirouz! I am a little late this year in putting up a post for Norouz. Here is a lovely video of translations of poems by Hafez, one of Iran’s most important poets, that I found on The Poetry Channel. The video is really cool and the translations are gorgeous. Enjoy!
Life in Iran is split in halves: the half lived in the open and the half lived behind closed doors. And this duality goes deep: every man and woman in Iran leads two lives, an external life that conforms to the pressures and norms of the society and an internal life governed by the wants and needs of the person.
This is a continuation of the ways of traditional Iranian society, which has evolved into a modern, complex form of duality present at every level of social activity. At the core of the old Iranian way of living were houses that were split into andarouni (literally, “internal,” and commonly confused with harem, a section of an aristocrat’s castle), in which people relaxed far from public scrutiny — women were not obliged to wear hejab, and singing and dancing was allowed. Outside this safe haven, life changed — women were expected to be chador-clad and demure; men, formal and rigid.
The ritual of a domestic visit was a layered one; you would start at the door, which was the farthest that street vendors, gypsies, and fortune tellers could come. The next step was the hashti, an octagonal room filled with seats, where most visitors were greeted and entertained. If a person was to be allowed in further, a call was made inside the house, usually something like “Ya Allah,” still common today when a stranger enters a residence. The call meant that the home’s inner sanctum was about to be breached and everyone assumed the roles assigned to them by social norms; again women were clad in hejab and men became formal. The lucky guests who were allowed further than the hashti were guided to the panjdari or talar, a large room specifically designed for entertaining guests. But that was the furthest any outsider could penetrate the layers of the house; still further, behind closed doors, was the living room, centerpiece of the andarouni.
The whole piece is worth reading for one person’s insight into a central fact of Iranian culture, the necessity of leading a dual life under the current régime. The comments section is also worth reading./p
Aria Fani has published on Tehran Bureau a review of my book, The Teller of Tales, which is a translation of the first five stories of Shahnameh, The Book of Kings, also known as the Persian (or Iranian) national epic. Fani calls my translation “delightful to read,” but what I like most about the review is that he places the book in the context of how the Shahnameh has “dominated and shaped the national psyche of Iranian;” and he gets the through-line of the stories I chose to translate, pointing out that “the nature of the social order is the central theme” of the book.
I didn’t do much to promote the book when it came out in April because my life simply did not permit it, but I will be starting to get the word out little by little. You can order the book from the publisher, Junction Press, and if you’re interested in my giving a reading/talk on my translation, you can contact me here. The Shahnameh is a book that would be of interest in the context of a wide range of artistic, scholarly, intellectual and even political concerns.
I’ve posted a little bit about the Shahnameh already. (Here, here and here.)
So I found out yesterday that I was not elected secretary of my union. I ran not because I was eager to get into union work per se, but because there is serious work that needs to be done on my campus – we are facing a real budget crisis and an administration that has been unambiguously hostile – and I thought the executive committee needed the skills I would have brought to the job. Clearly, my colleagues thought otherwise, since I lost by a margin that could comfortably be described as a land slide. While I’m disappointed not to have won, of course, I don’t begrudge my opponent the win; she is eminently qualified, and, to be honest, I am also a little bit relieved, since winning would have meant I’d have even less time than I do now to devote to writing, and writing is what I really want to be doing when I am not teaching, grading papers, having an intellectual life, a family life, a marriage, a social life – not to mention being co-chair of the union’s Crisis Committee and manager of the Google Group we set up so faculty could communicate with each other away from the college email servers. (See, I am still pretty heavily involved in union work even though I did not get elected.)
My life, in other words, is already plenty crowded enough. The problem is that my writing life is also crowded. There are at least five projects scattered in files around my office and on my hard drive, each of which deserves my attention. I am, for one, finally writing poems again; there are drafts of essays on writing that I’d like to complete; drafts of the essays I’ve been building from the Fragments of Evolving Manhood series I started posting a while back; the beginnings of a one man show based on my book of poems The Silence of Men that a director is interested in working on with me (I would perform the show, which would be very cool); there is the next book of translations, Ilahi Nama, by Farid al-Din Attar, which I have written about here, here and here; and there is the recent email I received from someone interested in turning my Selections from Saadi’s Gulistan, which is out of print, into an ebook. (This last project is not as simple as it sounds, since I do not own the copyright to the book and I would need to jump through a couple of hoops in order to make sure that the rights to the version that gets turned into an ebook are entirely mine.) The one thing that simplifies choosing which project to work on is the fact that I am eligible to apply for a sabbatical in the 2012 – 2013 academic year, and the most obviously sabbatical-worthy project among those I just mentioned is Ilahi Nama, primarily because a university press has expressed interest in seeing the manuscript once I am finished.
Because I would not have been able to take a sabbatical if I’d won the election, and the first draft of the application was due before the election results would be in, I handed in to the committee in my department which reviews and approves (or does not approve) sabbatical applications a very rough draft, comprised mostly of passages from both the last sabbatical application I submitted, which was for a different book of translations, and unsuccessful grant applications I submitted last year for funding my work on Ilahi Nama. Now that I’ve lost the election, I’ve gone back to look at my draft application to start figuring out how to revise it, and I’ve been pondering whether or not to follow a specific piece of my committee’s advice. They want me to cut entirely, or scale back significantly, the section I had to write the last time I applied explaining that the literary translation of poetry is often done by poets who are neither fluent nor literate in the source language – Ezra Pound, W. S. Merwin, and Adrienne Rich are three very well known examples. I wrote this section because the first time I submitted my previous sabbatical application it was rejected; the members of the college-wide Sabbatical Committee simply did not believe that I could produce the translations I said I was going to produce without being fluent and/or literate in Persian. (Interestingly, there were people from my own department on that committee who teach some of Ezra Pound’s translations from the Chinese in their literature classes and they did not know he made them based on someone else’s literal translations and notes.)
Reading over again the section I wrote to respond to that doubt and disbelief started me thinking about the reactions I’ve received from people in the Iranian community, literary and otherwise, and how they reveal the politics that are at stake in the work I’ve done – in terms both specific to the translation of classical Iranian poetry and to the project of translation in general. I’m going to list some of those reactions here, without comment, but there are a couple of things you should know before you read them. First, my wife is from Iran; second, while I am not literate in Persian, I understand the spoken language at what I would call an intermediate level and I can speak it as well, though not quite as well as I understand it.
“Really,” she says after finding out that I’ve just published Selections from Saadi’s Gulistan, “you monolingual Westerners ought finally to get out of the way and let us bilingual Persians translate our own literature. Haven’t you done enough damage?”
“Why do you call it Iranian literature?” he lectures me accusingly. “It’s written in Persian, and Persian literature was written in countries other than Iran, like India.”
“Calling it Persian literature,” he wrote, “only perpetuates both British imperialism and its Orientalist perspective. The name of the country was and is Iran, and the Persian ethnic group in Iran is not the only one to produce Iranian literature. So Iranian literature is what you should call it.”
For two years, every time she introduced me to her friends at a conference or a reading, she would say, “…and this is Richard Jeffrey Newman, who translates Persian literature even though he does not speak Persian.”
I am not suggesting he doesn’t belong on our panel,” he writes in a pre-conference email exchange, “but if he doesn’t know Persian is he really a translator? I mean, can we call translation what people like Richard and Coleman Barks do?”
“Let me tell you why I trust your translations and why I use them in my class,” she says. “Because you’re honest about what you’re doing, that you’re not fluent in Persian, that this limits the kind of research you can do. Neither Coleman Barks nor a Daniel Ladinsky are up front like that.
“I know Golestan-e Saadi by heart,” he says after a reading, referring to my Selections from Saadi’s Gulistan. “I learned it from my father and I’ve been studying it my whole life. It’s remarkable how close your translations are [to the original], and you’re not Iranian and you’re not fluent in Persian. How did you do that?”
“You’ve done important work. No one will dispute that,” he says after I’ve given a talk about Saadi, “but if you’re not Iranian, you can’t really understand Saadi.”
“I used to be suspicious,” she wrote in an email, “of your love of all things Persian [referring in part to the fact that my wife is Iranian], but now that I’ve read what you’ve done [as editor of an Iranian literature special issue of Arte East Quarterly Magazine], I see there’s nothing to be suspicious about.”
He is reading the list of the literary organization’s advisory board members. My name is on it. He asks the executive director who I am, and when she reminds him that we’ve met, that I have translated Saadi, he says, “Him? He’s on your board? The one who gets translation help from his wife?”