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LAIS PRESS: Transcendent Unity of Human Cultures , Allama Jafari and Russian Literary Thinkers A Book By Seyed Javad Miri

29 November 2013 No Comment
  • By Seyed Javad Miri
  • Published by London Academy of Iranian Studies Press (LAIS Press)
  • London, UK, December 2013
  • ISBN: 978-1-909538-02-3
  • Paperback :105 pages

One of the contemporary Iranian philosophers who have worked upon the relation between philosophical problematiques and literary insights is Allama Jafari. He engaged with literary thinkers in general and Russian Literary thinkers (RLT) such as Leo Tolstoy, Mikhail Lermontov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky and Maxim Gorky, in particular. Very little has been researched by either Russian or Iranian on the importance of Russo-Iranian philosophical engagements. In this book the author has focused on the relevance of this intellectual engagements and its impact on the future of possible Russo-Iranian intellectual dialogue.

Miri-Book

 

  • To order additional copies of this book, contact: philosophy@iranianstudies.org
  • Price: £30.00
  • www.iranianstudies.org
  • To purchase a copy of the book please send a check for £40 (£30 book cost + £10 post and package) for the International Peace Studies Centre to “Unit 121, LAIS, 268 Belsize Rd, London, NW6 4BT, UK” and send an email to philosophy@iranianstudies.org indicating the number of copies required, your name and address and confirming the check being sent.

 

 

 

Contents

Prologue by Dustin J. Byrd ………………………………………………………………………. 1

1 Whispers in the Night ……………………………………………………………………………. 7

Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………. 7

Intellectual Inertia …………………………………………………………………………. 8

Iranian Scholarly Contexts ……………………………………………………………. 10

Style and Forms of Expressions …………………………………………………….. 13

The Iranian Leftists and Russian Literature …………………………………….. 13

Philosophy and Literature …………………………………………………………….. 18

‘We’ and the Decline of the West ………………………………………………….. 19

2 Russo-Iranian Literary Relations Revisited …………………………………………… 23

History of Russo-Iranian Literary Relations ……………………………………. 23

The Russian Classics……………………………………………………………………. 24

The Persian Classics ……………………………………………………………………. 26

Contemporary Iranian Literature and Russia……………………………………. 30

3 Methodenstreit or Methodological Complexities in Studying Conscience …. 31

Methodological issues in human sciences ……………………………………….. 31

Background assumptions in theoretical constructions ……………………….. 34

Anthropological schools in human sciences …………………………………….. 35

4 Reconstructing the Jafarian Narrative on Russian Literary Thinkers ……… 39

Hekmat Reconstructed …………………………………………………………………. 39

Why Russian Literary Thinkers?……………………………………………………. 40

Moral Life and Intelligible Society ………………………………………………… 42

5 Tolstoy and Allama Jafari on Modernism ……………………………………………… 43

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………….. 43

Modernism as a reductionist lifestyle ……………………………………………… 44

Reason and Intellect …………………………………………………………………….. 46

6 Chernyshevsky and Allama Jafari on Inner Peace …………………………………. 51

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………….. 51

Conscience and the Intelligible Life ……………………………………………….. 52

Sanctity of the ‘individual’ …………………………………………………………… 52

Peace and the Constitution of Human Being ……………………………………. 53

7 Dostoevsky and Allama Jafari on Human Will ………………………………………. 57

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………….. 57

Awe and Infinity …………………………………………………………………………. 60

Social Life and the Question of Maturity ………………………………………… 64

Reason and Intellect …………………………………………………………………….. 66

8 Lermontov and Allama Jafari on Human Condition ………………………………. 69

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………….. 69

Self-Realization and the Question of Meaning…………………………………. 70

Innate Ideas ………………………………………………………………………………… 72

9 Gorky and Allama Jafari on Conscience ……………………………………………….. 75

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………….. 75

Paradoxes of Humanities ……………………………………………………………… 76

On Philosophy of Education …………………………………………………………. 78

Epilogue ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 83

Bibliography …………………………………………………………………………………………. 91

Index ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 95

 

Prologue

The Cold War was a period in which the global environment can be described at worst as a era of strategic communication, propaganda, distorted inter-subjectivity, and existential terror; at best it was a period of pervasive failure to enter into an honest discourse with the “other.” Scholars, both religious and secular, turned their backs on the other, ignored their philosophical and political claims, and demonized the motives of the “enemy” peoples. Countries and individuals chose sides, and in doing so became immune to the concerns of the other, who, no matter how they were demonized, shared with them the same human condition. Scholars and politicians talked exclusively to themselves as if it was meaningful – an exercise in self-deception; they sat in round tables with only like-minded individuals; they listened to lectures that reinforced their previously held beliefs, and they described their deeply held prejudices as simple “common sense.” Within the Western nations and their allies, all things Russian were suspected of as being Communist plots to infiltrate and infect democracy and capitalism; all things socialistic were perceived as being naive puppets of Moscow; all things religious were understood to be on the side of the “free” West with its “religious” foundations; and all things Islamic, until the 1979 Iranian Revolution, were understood to be pawns to be used against the “Evil Empire.” The post-WWII generations, throughout the world, grew up with Cold War hysteria and anxiety; never before in human history did instrumental rationality bring us to the point where the entire human population could annihilated; this was the height of authoritarian, as only a few people held the rest of the world’s population hostage to their ideological proclivities. This existential fear, driven by the politics of the powerful, i.e. “red fascism” and “imperialist capitalism,” cancelled the possibility for true international and inter-subjective discourse among peoples.

Yet, in Iran, Allama Jafari defied the “common sense” prejudices that were common among the anti-Communist clerical establishment, who not 2 Prologue

 

only distrusted the communist in Moscow, but had a certain disdain for the communists in Tehran, i.e. the Tudeh party, as well as other Marxist-Leninist inspired intellectuals. Nevertheless, he rejected the opinions of his colleagues that all things Russian harbored within them the germ of Bolshevism, but instead chose to read the Russian texts carefully, being true to their content as opposed to the ideologically colored Persian translations of those already committed to a worldwide communist revolution. It is true, as Seyed Javad Miri points out, that the great Russian literati of the 19th century were often read and translated through the prism of Soviet sensitivities, even though they predated the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Nevertheless, the common experiences of human life, that which bind of all humanity within a shared language, served as the basis for Allama Jafari’s hekmatic investigation into the deep well of Russian life. Those human qualities that are so vividly expressed in Russian literature, the loneliness, frailty, alienation, joy, pain, wisdom, and hopefulness, are not unique only to the Russian lifeworld as expressed by Chekhov, Chernyshevsky, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, Lermontov, and others, but can be universally found wherever humans establish themselves, wherever literature and the arts are allowed to expressed the ocean of human passions, and wherever religion and philosophy are not forgotten for consumerism and idle entertainment. The otherness of the Russians was no obstacle of the Allama Jafari, who understood that yes, Russian civilization was vastly different than Iran, their religion was from a different set of historical figures and dynamics, their cultural norms and expectations were often alien and confusing, but nevertheless, their humanity was of the same substance as that of all peoples. Allama Jafari, as Seyed Javad Miri makes clear, understands that that which binds mankind into a single species-being is more powerful and permanent than that which makes us individuals, groups, nations, and civilizations. The discourse that Allama Jafari calls us to is one of great emancipatory potential; he challenges us, as he did the Shi’a clerical establishment in his own time, to set our culturally bound “common sense” notions of the others in abeyance so that we may ponder, question, and discuss that which binds us together in one humanity. This sense of the “shared,” the primordial roots of our being, in the words of the Roman playwright Terence (Publius Terentius Afer), Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am a human being, I consider nothing human alien to me), can be recovered once we take the first step and shed our Prologue 3

 

predisposition to build walls between the comfortable and unknown, the “we” and the “they,” the East and the West. Even if we can no longer scientifically maintain a literal reading of the Biblical and Qur’anic creation story, the recovery of the Adamic mono-genesis notion of humanity, which expresses in spirit the commonality of all humanity, lies at the heart of a more reconciled future society.

In exploring the great literati of Russia, Allama Jafari and Seyed Javad Miri highlight the condition of modern man: his ever-increasing alienation from himself and others. The modern world, despite its great accomplishments in science, technology, communications, travel, etc., has continued to diminish in its capacity to think rationally – the pathology of reason, the sickness of reason turned destructive, the misplaced instrumental rationality that governs our calculative thought, has been exported to all things primordially human. Just like a mechanic reads his engines for problems, or a physicians reifies the human being in front of him – transforming them into a thing by which to worked upon – we turn to this form of reason as the basis of our daily interactions with others. The colonization of the lifeworld by instrumental reason turns us blind to the plight and predicament, as well as the amazing accomplishments and genius of other cultures. Instead of cultivating a humanistic interest in the neighbor, our language turns into a cold calculation: a strategic manipulation of discourse and conversation. The danger lies in the fact that we begin to instrumentalize those among us – against Kant’s and the prophetic religions’ ban, individuals become a means to an end, and therefore cease to be humans in the fullest sense of their ontology. When the human relationship rooted in communicative reason, the reason of family, unconditional love, community, and inter-subjectivity, devolves into a conversation of manipulation and coercion, human society drains itself of its ability to be human, to act in concert with others, and forsake the being-togetherness of true human relations. Through their tales of the trials of human life, the Russian literati rescued the spirit of the Russian peoples from the onslaught of modern communicative rationality. This plague, of which man was hardly aware that he was plagued with, increasingly infected the body-politic of nations, creating false barriers and false conceptions about who and what we are, let alone who and what the “other” is. Allama Jafari, through his study of these authors, could recognize himself in the struggles, joys, and passions that they 4 Prologue

 

articulated; these experiences were not alien to him. Yet, he knew this was not simply a matter of common experiences between himself and the characters within the Russian novels, but clearly perceived them to be a particular Russian articulation of our common humanity. The experience of love, loss, alienation, grief, joy, and hope was equally as applicable to the highest of clerics, to the lowest of manual laborers, from the bazaaris to the mystics, from the intellectuals and to the peasants.

Allama Jafari sensed that the modern period had increasingly become a time of meaninglessness, as law, power, and blind authoritarianism, whether it be way of government, neo-liberal economics, or the pervasive secularity, has colonized man’s inner life, and left him/her a spiritual dwarf; the richness of human flourishing, the deep scarlet glow of human passion and love, has run aground in the sea of thoughtlessness, socio-pathology, and spiritless “having.” The “being” of human life, that which emphasizes the cultivation of human kindness, compassion, and beauty, which acknowledging the trials and tribulations of human frailty and finitude, was too often replaced by a sense of “ownership” as the greatest of human achievements. Those Russian authors that Allama Jafari chose to explore, rescued and preserved in their timeless stories the potential for recovering that “being” in the face of “having.” The authors understood the purposivity of human existence not to be in the accumulation of dead things (necrophilia): they vehemently rejected the idea that we are meant to be homo consumens, as the critical social psychologist Erich Fromm formulated, but are meant to be beings of thought, feelings, emotions, as well as reason. The great promise of consumer society, that we can find our meaning in life within the properties we own and consume, stands naked and ashamed within the writings of the 19th century Russian literati, who often write about those who have nothing, but are creatures of immense “being.” Those authors saw no future in this distorted way-of-being-in-the-world, but rather chose to creatively demonstrate that another existence is possible, even if that alternative is replete with existential landmines and ontological ambushes surrounded by a society that kills its own Socrates, its Prophets, and its wisdom traditions. The possibility of living a life that expresses the most primordial and meaningful essences of human being is disclosed to us through their words. It is this notion of a return to a Prologue 5

 

life worth living that Allama Jafari and Seyed Javad Miri attempt to defend, preserve, and further in their works.

When Allama Jafari embarked on his study of Russian literature, he was already creating a geography by which later generations of scholars and authors could engage in a meaningful discourse. He planted and nurtured a garden of opportunity that is still bearing fruit – it is this intellectual and spiritual fruit that this book explores. Miri skillfully articulates that which binds the Iranian people with their northern neighbors, focusing on the commonality of the daily existence of human beings within these two nations within the hekmatic tradition of Allama Jafari. The temporary politics of the day are set aside so that the bridge of discourse and understanding can be brought to the forefront of the discussion between the Russian authors and the spiritually eclectic and ecumenical Allama Jafari. Jafari’s work succeeds in disclose the pitfalls of the ghettoization of nations – when nations, religious communities, and races return into themselves as a defensive mechanism against that which they perceive to be a threat. This collapsive retreat into the self, denying the possibility and imperative to learn about and from the other, can have an apocalyptical effect in a modern world that is defined by our ability to bring destruction onto others and ourselves through the most destructive weapons ever devised by man. It is from Jafari’s entrenched love for humanity, his sincere desire to see the complete flourishing of human potentials within the bounds of mutual respect and solidarity, that drove him to probe deeply into the history and being of Russian literature. He did not study the Russian classics to somehow gain entry into the Russian social character as a means of manipulating a perceived enemy. On the contrary, he was impelled by a deep seated wish for the betterment of his society, a belief that he, in the best of the humanist and religious traditions, wished also for others, regardless of their historical and national background. The state of antagonism between states during the Cold War was not allowed to negate his concern for health and wellbeing of humanity. Allama Jafari, in the mode of the Prophet Muhammad’s hikma (wisdom), expressed his sincere commitment to humanity by refusing to cut a segment of that humanity off because it was politically expedient; he refused to arrogantly dismiss the great intellectual achievements of others because they might humanize those who were politically dehumanized; he rejected the ideology of “us and them,” 6 Prologue

 

instead emphasized the commonality of all humanity. This was his prophetic stance.

Seyed Javad Miri’s book is a great contribution to the inter-civilizational discourse that is truly needed in our time of social, political, and economic antagonism – a state of affairs that has not abated since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, but have may only increased in a world dominated by a single superpower and global economic liberalism. As Russians begin to look anew at their literary geniuses with fresh eyes, and as the capitalist West begins to become of aware of what’s missing within their secular-consumerist society of techné, it is voices like Allama Jafari and Seyed Javad Miri that can help point us in the right direction. The humanist core of Russian literature can once again become the basis of our inter-subjective discourse. Yet, as Allama Jafari knew, the literature is not the object we are most concerned with, it is us.

Dustin J. Byrd

Olivet College

USA

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