Art And Culture

Pulitzer-Winning Author Against Nativism

Finance Desk
Pulitzer-Winning  Author Against Nativism
Pulitzer-Winning  Author Against Nativism

The international conference on Shakespeare convened for the first time in Iran concluded on Thursday, with speakers from Iran and overseas.

Dubbed “Not of an Age but for All Ages: First International Conference in Iran on Shakespeare Studies (ICISS),” the conference explored themes such as ‘Shakespeare and Political Discourse’, ‘Shakespeare under the Iranian Eye’ ‘Shakespeare and Adaptation,’ ‘Radical Shakespeare,’ ‘Shakespeare and Mysticism’ and ‘Shakespeare and Popular Culture.’

The keynote speech was delivered by renowned Shakespearean scholar and Harvard Humanities Prof. Stephen Greenblatt. His speech was titled ‘’Shakespeare and the Human Condition.’’ Greenblatt, a founder of New Historicism, is one of the most influential writers on Shakespeare, best known for his biography of Shakespeare ‘’Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare,’’   which was on the New York Times Best Seller List for nine weeks. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his groundbreaking book: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.

Prof. Mark Burnett from Queen’s University in Belfast, another keynote speaker, who recently finished his monograph, ‘Shakespeare and World Cinema,’ gave a talk on Hamlet cinema ‘Iran with a special focus on Tardid’ (Doubt), a 2009 Iranian Crystal Simorgh-winning film directed by Varuzh Karim Masihi, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Hossein Elahi Ghomshei, Iranian scholar, author and lecturer on literature, art and mysticism also spoke at the conference.

Organized by the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature at the University of Tehran, the two-day conference from November 26-27, was chaired by Dr. Maryam Beyad and Dr. Ismail Salami, two Iranian Renaissance scholars and professors at the University of Tehran.

Financial Tribune caught up with the Pulitzer-winning author Dr. Stephen Greenblatt in an exclusive interview, experts of which follow:

What do you think is the future of literary theory in the 21st century? And how will new historicism evolve? Do you think literary art will preserve its status and significance in an age of increasing technology and fast-paced life?

There is evidence that literary art, in the traditional sense (that is, words on the page, to be read in solitary meditation), is losing ground to film, digital media, and so forth. But I think it is only a concern if you define “literary art” in a narrow sense. In fact writers have long worked with other media -- music, dance, performance, and the like -- and the future will only enhance this collaboration. I think literary theory in the 21st century will struggle to find ways to understand these new forms, while maintaining their love for the older works.  As for “new historicism,” here too our definition of what constitutes history is changing in radical ways.

How can comparative studies of world literatures - say Eastern and Western - highlight understanding between nations, or differences thereof?

I have always been resistant to literary nationalism -- that is, to thinking that the imagination stops at the border. Good literary studies are inevitably comparative studies, even if they do not admit it. There is far more interaction and exchange than we acknowledge.

How well do you know Iran and /or Persian Literature?

Embarrassingly little. I have read Rumi and Hafez, along with Omar Khayyam (who was already celebrated in the West in the 19th century).

Has studying Shakespeare enriched your life?

Studying Shakespeare is a broadening of horizons, both in the world outside and in the inner world of our lives.  He moves and provokes and deepens one’s sense of what it means to be a human being.

Any new books or projects on hand?

I am finishing a new edition of Shakespeare’s complete works, one that will have a powerful presence on the web, so that he can be read and enjoyed online as well as on the page.  And I am writing a book about story of Adam and Eve, important in different ways in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions.  

Your advice to aspiring students of English Literature – especially those whose first language is not English? Should they read more works or theory and history?  

Aspiring students should first and foremost read more and more works - not primarily history and theory (including my own). The point is to find writers who speak to you directly, as if they are in the room with you.  And for the same reason that I am against nativism, I do not believe that those who come from outside the immediate cultural orbit of English literature are any further away, if they have a reasonable grasp of the language, from an ability to appreciate and understand. In some ways, the opposite is true: you can see things from a distance that you might not be able to see if you have grown up surrounded by these works.

 How will an English Literature degree benefit those pursuing other careers, like journalism?

Harvard and other American organizations have assembled statistics that suggest that a degree in English or in other Humanities areas can benefit a wide range of careers -- not just journalism, but business, law and even medicine.

What made you decide to deliver the keynote speech in Tehran?

I have dreamed of visiting Iran for years.  It is home to one of the world’s great civilizations.