Erotic Persian

Series: Bibliotheca Iranica: Literature Series 15
Availability: In stock
Published: 2020
Page #: xii + 296
Size: 9 x 12
ISBN: 978-1568592749
plates, appendix, bibliography, index, notes, references

$65.00 $45.00

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Quick Overview

This book is a general survey of language and images that arouse sexual desire. The book begins by examining the works of the great Persian poets and prose authors who avoid direct mention of bodily functions and use imagery borrowed from nature and food when describing the charms of lovers and human sexual activity. The examination shows how erotic imagery, at one time innovative, hardened into clichés over centuries of repeated use. The book’s focus on the semantics of allusive Persian also leads to a general notion of what makes one poem or piece of prose sexually stimulating and another inspirational. Here "Erotic Persian" joins an ongoing controversy: namely, to what extent are some of the works of great Sufi authors like Rumi, Sa`di, Hafez, etc. erotic? Dealing with both the pleasures of the flesh and the spirit? The book asks: Can certain works be at once carnal and spiritual? The prevailing view frowns on such interpretations, insisting great authors never wrote solely to arouse readers’ desires. If erotic material found its way into the canon, many assert, it was there merely to divert the reader’s or listener’s attention away from the everyday and direct it toward spiritual truths. After exploring eroticism in the classical canon, the book analyzes a heretofore unpublished treatise called "Alfiyeh va Shalfiyeh," an illustrated sex manual in Persian partially based on the Arabic Rujū` al-Shaykh ilā Sibāḥ fī al-quwwah `alā al-bāh (“Return of the Elder to Boyhood in Sexual Potency”) by the Ottoman polymath Kemal Pasha (d. 1534). There is nothing coy about the work; its bluntness in matters of sex is reminiscent of the rude elements in the satires of Suzani and `Obeyd Zākāni. While, by no means, a great work of literature, "Alfiyeh va Shalfiyeh" (sometimes translated as “Penis and Vulva”) reflects how eighteenth-century Persian evolved into a straightforward medium for erotic expression. An amalgam of the literary and the therapeutic, the manual makes few artful appeals to nature or food to describe private parts, their operation in intercourse, and methods of prolonging their use. Unlike previous works on the arts of arousal in Persian (e.g. Robert Surieu’s Sarv-e Naz), Erotic Persian explores the sexually stimulating literature in the pre-modern and modern periods. Here the book shows how candor about sexuality in Persian has gone hand in hand with literary modernism. Among other texts, two novels inform the book’s discussion of the changes in erotic expression in Persian: Ebrahim Golestan’s Asrār-e Ganj-e Darreh- ye Jenni (“The Secrets of the Treasure of the Possessed Valley”) and Amir Hasan Cheheltan’s Khiyābān-e Enqelāb (“Revolution Street”). Golestan’s book, a damning panorama of the court life and the unthinking Westernization of Pahlavi Iran, has been reprinted often, with one telling omission, in the Islamic Republic. Cheheltan’s novel is part of a trilogy available in translation abroad but banned in Iran on political and moral grounds. The final chapter of Erotic Persian studies how erotic writing in English translates into Persian. It raises the question: To what extent is the modern idiom successful in conveying writing about sexual desire? To answer the question the book examines translations of several works, including a recently published rendering of Nabokov’s Lolita. Comparison of original texts and their translations reveals whether modern Persian, having shed the coy imagery of past eras, has become a medium for the direct expression of erotica.


Paul Sprachman

Paul Sprachman first began to understand Persian (Dari) as a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English as a second language and trigonometry at Lyceé Sena’i in Ghazni, Afghanistan. He and his wife Susan served for two years in Afghanistan, and, before returning to the United States, traveled to Iran, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Indonesia, England, and France. After studying Arabic and Persian at the University of Chicago and at the Ma’had Bourguiba in Tunis, Sprachman went to Iran to study Persian at the University of Tehran. One year later he took a position at the University of Isfahan teaching English to Iranians and Persian to non-native speakers from many parts of the world. He and Susan lived in Isfahan for three years. After leaving Iran, Sprachman worked at Columbia University as a researcher and, later, at Rutgers University where he taught Middle Eastern studies and Persian. Sprachman is the translator of a number of works from Persian to English. Among them are "Gharbzadegi" (“Plagued by the West”) by Jalal Al-e Ahmad; "Once Upon a Time" by M. A. Jamalzadeh; "A Man of Many Worlds: the Memoirs of Dr. Ghasem Ghani"; "Journey to Heading 270o" by Ahmad Dehqan; "Chess with the Doomsday Machine" and "A City under Siege: Tales of the Iran-Iraq War" by Habib Ahmadzadeh; "One Woman’s War: Da by Zahra Hoseyni"; and "Two Centuries of Silence" by Abdolhussein Zarrinkoub. Sprachman is also the author of two studies of censored Persian writing: "Suppressed Persian: an Anthology of Forbidden Literature" and "Licensed Fool: the Damnable, Foul-mouthed Obeyd-e Zakani" as well as a study of modern Persian "Language and Culture in Persian."


Table of Transliteration.


Chapter 01: The Eroticism of Obsessive Piety and Transgressive Impiety.

Chapter 02: Classical Eroticism.

Chapter 03: Alfiyeh va Shalfiyeh: Pornography in Aid of Sexual Dysfunction and
Sex Education.

Chapter 04: Erotic Literature in the Modern Period.

Chapter 05: Erotic Persian in Exile.

Chapter 06: In Closing.



Alfiyeh va Shalfiyeh, The Facsimile.

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