Aria Fani is an assistant professor of Persian and Iranian Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle. His forthcoming book is under contract with the University of Texas Press and is titled Spaces between Nations: Afghans, Iranians, and Literary Nationalism. Aria serves as the current deputy editor of the Journal of Iranian Studies. In addition to teaching and research, he engages in social advocacy for non-citizen Americans, particularly asylum seekers from Central America.
When and how did the modern idea of literature become thinkable in the Persian literary tradition? This talk illustrates how the term "adabiyāt" acquired its modern meaning as “literature” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Iran and Afghanistan. Fani will specifically focus on the 1900s when adabiyāt found its most cogent expression in the writings of nationalist thinkers in Tehran and Kabul, who articulated its import to the nation in newspapers. Instead of attributing this conceptual realignment to take-for-granted notions of modernization, this talk will foreground the cultural specificity involved in the formation of adabiyat in Persian. It does so in part by analyzing adabiyāt’s enduring ambiguity and semantic ties with adab. Ultimately, in light of such analyses, the category of literature may no longer pose as timeless or universal.