Session 14: Travel and the Poetics of Dissent: Migrations of Hafez through Iran and the West

Guest Speaker: Nojang Khatami (Ph.D. in Political Science, University of British Columbia)

FEBRUARY 9th, 2023 


One of the main challenges to getting non-Western ideas right on their own terms is sufficient attention to context and the ways ideas change as they travel. This presentation considers how poetic works with political undertones can inform different kinds of resistance and world-building as they migrate geographically and temporally. It argues that acknowledging context—historical, intellectual, and cultural—is crucial for a deeper appreciation of the intentions and transformative potentialities of narratives across time and space. To make this case, I employ the example of the 14th century Sufi thinker and poet Shams ud-Dīn Muhammad Hafez, comparing uses of his ideas by Western interpreters like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Ralph Waldo Emerson to those of political dissidents in contemporary Iran. In particular, I examine how uses of Hafez in women’s poetry circles in the Islamic Republic demonstrate tones of democratic agency that can be better grasped if they are contextualised within the worldly texts and actions from which they spring. This extension of a culturally situated and historically attuned approach, I maintain, generates better possibilities for appreciating non-Western theories according to their own self-understandings and intentions.

Suggested reading before the meeting

Speaker’s Biography

Nojang is an instructor at the University of British Columbia. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of British Columbia, and he is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Justitita Center for Advanced Studies at Goethe University Frankfurt. Nojang’s research in political theory includes questions of resistance, decoloniality, aesthetics, and agency, with a focus on comparative political thought. Nojang has secured a tenure-track Assistant Professor position at Fordham University beginning in September 2023.

Links to the literature mentioned in this meeting