The Persian Genre of Incarceration: From the Poetics of Captivity to the Prose of Imprisonment
Among the genres of classical Persian poetry, the prison poem (ḥabsīyyāt) arguably exhibits the most complex relation to the political and historical circumstances within which it was generated. This lecture explores the many factors that contributed to the emergence of this genre in the poetry of Mas’ūd Sa’d Salmān and Khāqānī Shirvānī, and to its rapid dissemination across the Persianate world during the sixth/twelfth century. I conclude by discussing the genre’s influence on the modern Iranian literature of incarceration, while attending to the shifts in media and form that Persian prison literature has undergone over the longue durée. I argue that, through its reconfiguration of the meaning of genre in classical Persian literature, the ḥabsīyyāt nuances our understanding of the relation between literature and experience.
Rebecca Gould is the author of The Literatures of Anticolonial Insurgency: Aesthetics and Violence in the Caucasus (Yale University Press, Spring 2016), After Tomorrow the Days Disappear: Ghazals and Other Poems of Hasan Sijzi of Delhi (Northwestern University Press, 2015) and Georgian Notes on the Caucasus: Three Stories by Aleksandre Qazbegi (Central European University Press, 2015). Her work has been supported by the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Medieval Academy of America, the Van Leer Institute (Jerusalem), and the Forum for Transregional Studies (Berlin). In 2015 she was awarded the Florence Howe Award for Feminist Scholarship in the field of Foreign Languages by the Women’s Caucus of the MLA and the Charles Schmitt Prize by the International Society for Intellectual History. She teaches literature at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. The book manuscript she is currently completing, entitled The Persian Genre of Incarceration: Prisons and the Literary Imagination, is the subject of this lecture.