Levi Thompson is an Assistant Professor of Arabic at the University of Colorado, Boulder and a MULOSIGE Critical Friend. He has published in Transnational Literature, The Routledge Handbook of Arabic Translation, (eds. Sameh F. Hanna, Hanem El-Farahaty and Abdel Wahab Khalifa) and Persian Literatures as World Literature, Literatures as World Literature (ed. Thomas Oliver Beebee).

Levi Thompson, University of Colorado

Re-Orienting Modernism: Mapping East-East Exchanges Between Arabic and Persian Poetry

Reading List Description:

Professor Levi Thompson argues for a new direction in comparative literary studies by analyzing close formal and thematic links between Arabic and Persian modernist poetry. In this reading list, he provides resources that help us not only to re-map the history of modernist poetic development between two Eastern traditions but also to argue for a re-orientation of modernist studies more broadly. We might name this re-orientation with an Arabic neologism: iʿādat al-tashrīq, that is, a “remaking” or a “return to being Eastern.”

Thompson takes a “planetary” approach to the growth of modernism inspired by Susan Stanford Friedman’s Planetary Modernisms (2015) as well as Aamir Mufti’s Forget English! (2016) and Itamar Even-Zohar’s theory of the literary polysystem. While accounting for the role Western modernism played in the changes Arab and Persian poets introduced to their respective projects, Thompson also gestures to readings that highlight foundational modernist innovations that occurred beyond the reach of Western influence. These innovations include the retention of several elements of premodern poetic form based in the Arabic prosodic tradition, such as the continued presence of the Arabic metrical foot (tafʿīlah) in both Arabic and Persian modernist poetry during the early decades of their growth. These metrical connections, in concert with appeals to Near Eastern mythic and religious traditions in both Arabic and Persian modernist poetries, constitute a significant instance of solidarity among literary traditions in the global south—a solidarity with political stakes extending to other marginalized literary traditions across the planet. Overall, Thompson draws our attention away from Europe as single or exemplary locus of modernism and redirect it toward another significant geography where a vibrant modernist network operated outside of the West.

This reading list developed out of a talk given at SOAS “Re-Orienting Modernism: Mapping East-East Exchanges Between Arabic and Persian” (SOAS, 29 May 2019).

Download the reading list here: Re-Orienting Modernism: Mapping East-East Exchanges Between Arabic and Persian