Knowledge, in its different forms and vocabularies, occupies a central place in modern Iran. Discourses of Islamic philosophy, law, and theology, Persian poetry and literary genres, human sciences and social theory, among others, are both foundational to contemporary configurations of Iranian society and are identified as objects of knowledge, taken up for competing sociopolitical projects in Iran and among Iranians in the diaspora. While varied and often polemical, Iranian debates on the history and historicity of knowledge as well as the poetics and politics of interpretation provincialize predominantly Anglophone scholarly and political discourses on Iran. In anthropology, they invite us to move beyond theorization of Iran within seemingly transhistorical discourses and instead reflect on the novel opportunities that the movement of Iranian history and its constitutive debates hold for rethinking anthropology as a discourse of difference and translation.
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This conversation addresses the centrality of knowledge in Iran by inquiring about poetry and translation. Setrag Manoukian considers how poetry as a relational form of knowledge, while nurtured by national and civilizational trajectories, displaces them and provides a different mode of existence. Milad Odabaei examines the proliferation of practices of the reading and translation of social and political thought in the wake of the 1979 Revolution as both an instrumental replication of European discourses in “native” garb and a reckoning with the epistemological limit of inherited paradigms of knowledge.