SOAS University of London

Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies (CCLPS)

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


Date: 29 May 2019Time: 3:00 PM

Finishes: 29 May 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Venue: Faber Building, 23/24 Russell Square Room: FG01

Type of Event: Talk

Speaker: Levi Thompson (University of Colorado, Boulder)


In this talk, I argue for a new direction in comparative literary studies by analyzing close formal and thematic links between Arabic and Persian modernist poetry. In so doing, I not only re-map the history of modernist poetic development between two Eastern traditions but also 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.” I take 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 I account for the role Western modernism played in the changes Arab and Persian poets introduced to their respective projects, I 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. I argue that 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, stakes I explore in my concluding remarks. Overall, I draw 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.


Prof Levi Thompson in Assistant Professor of Arabic at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His dissertation, Speaking Laterally: Transnational Poetics and the Rise of Modern Arabic and Persian Poetry in Iraq and Iran brings together the theoretical richness of Comparative Literature and the philological rigor of Area Studies to critically investigate the development of literary modernism in the Middle East. He is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled Re-Orienting Modernism: East-East Poetic Exchange in Arabic and Persian, a book chapter about the Iranian leftist poet Aḥmad Shāmlū for a collection on Persian literature as world literature, and translations of poetry and prose by the Syro-Palestinian poet Ramy al-Asheq, among others.