Late Persianate/Late Soviet: The Poeticity of Poetic Cinema from Parajanov to Makhmalbaf


Fri, 03/04/2022 - 3:00pm


Part of the Spring 2022 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series

Samuel Hodgkin, Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, Yale University


This talk considers a case study from the final decades of the long relationship between Persianate culture and communism: the Soviet Armenian director Sergei Parajanov’s experimental efforts to bring the rhetorical structures of Persianate verse into the language of film, and the tremendous influence of those experiments on Iranian cinema. Persianate poets had a longer history on the Soviet screen, but beginning with The Color of Pomegranates (1969), Parajanov engaged with the verse itself, adapting not only its conventional topoi and conceits, but also its formal features. The results received a limited and grudging reception within the Soviet Union, but in Iran, following the Islamic Revolution, for much of the 1980s, Parajanov was promulgated by the state cultural apparatus as an appropriate model for “mystical film.” I situate this shift from the canonization of Persianate poets to the deployment of Persianate poetics within a broader crisis of Leninist and nationalist approaches to literary representation. The talk culminates with a series of Parajanov-inflected experiments in poetic cinema that the former committed Islamic revolutionary filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf conducted in the 1990s and 2000s. Belated and heterodox in relation to Iranian “mystical cinema,” Makhmalbaf’s poetic films also constitute a belated tour of the former socialist Persianate zone: Tajikistan, Afghanistan, India. With Makhmalbaf’s help, I investigate whether the post- in post-socialism also signals the arrival of the post-Persianate.


Sam Hodgkin is an assistant professor of Comparative Literature at Yale University. He has published on the modern verse, theater, and criticism of Iran, Turkey, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. His research engages with theories of representation, translation, and world poetics, and with the history of literary institutions. His current book project, entitled “The Nightingales’ Congress: Poetics of the Persianate International,” shows how the Soviet internationalist project of world literature emerged from sustained engagement between leftist writers of West and South Asia and state-sponsored writers of the multinational Soviet East. He is a co-organizer of the “Cultures of World Socialism” working group, and his articles will appear in upcoming issues of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature Studies.

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