[Over a richly coloured Persian miniature painting of a prince surrounded by courtiers, the following text appears in a black box: State Library of Victoria. Love and devotion: Persian cultural crossroads: Authenticity and the act of devotion and friendship in the poetry of Maulana Jalal al-Din Rumi – Dr Mammad Aidani.]
[The logos for the State Library of Victoria, the Bodleian Libraries at University of Oxford, Melbourne: UNESCO City of Literature, and the State Government of Victoria appear on the far left of the screen.]
[Dr Mammad Aidani stands at a podium in front of a detail from a Persian manuscript showing a seated man, with a flaming aureole around his head, and a woman holding hands.
Dr Mammad Aidani: Thanks, Vic. I wanted to say exactly what Vic mentioned to you, so I don't need to repeat, except that for me as an Iranian, this journey ... To begin, my conversation with Susan up to this moment has been absolutely, absolutely fantastic. I think that highlights the effort, the commitment, the care, the responsibility of all, from Susan to Robert and Clare, Suzie, Anna, Robyn and of course Shane, who is just remarkable. And of course without you ... I thought ten of you would be here for the last lecture, but ... I don't have any excuse to embark into delivering something to stimulate you. So I'm very thankful. But for me, again, the last three days, beginning with a very important lecture delivered by Charles on Friday night up to Gay's presentation, it's been a feast of sharing ideas, insights and discussion which has been absolutely phenomenal. And, again, going back to being an Iranian, I've been out of my country for almost three decades. This is the first time I hear everybody talking about Iran. This is unbelievable. I better go home right now.
Right. I thought I'd begin my presentation by making a few remarks about the act of interpretation and understanding how extremely significant Persian classical poets are, as far as the permanency of the works are of concerned, to all of us – Iranians in this case – touch on what Persian poets at the core of their poetry, as far as I see it, express, why do Persians read them, their impact on us – Iranians today – make a quick reference to the turn to language in 20th-century continental philosophy and emphasise on language and concepts such as hospitality. We in philosophical discourse, thanks to Derrida and others, talk a lot about hospitality, care, the otherness and so on and so forth. I'll bring some of those issues out to your attention and make quick reference to Sa‘di and ‘Attar and then share some of my reflections on how we ought to pay attention to Maulana, and that's where I think – if there is any – my contribution will come into this conversation. Mode of being – I'm very interested in a poet's mode of being rather than the works when we read him. And in conclusion, I'll share some of my views about the importance of poetry right today for us. But before going on, I'll just mention a few things about my research because it's good to put that into context because my research has a lot to do with Persian poetry, whether imagined, read, reflected, referred to or read.
In my research project I examine the narratives and experiences of separation, in a contemporary sense; displacement, trauma, suffering and the formation of the new modes of interpreting identity and how the ideas of loss and memory, both individual and collective, are reflected upon, perceived and given meaning by the displaced. I think most of our poets are displaced whether within their culture or not. The aim of interpretation, Gadamer – a German philosopher and phenomenologist – argues, is not to bridge the temporal gap and reconstruct the original situation of the text, but to discover what the text has to say to us. End of quote. In the creative process, one moves from lived experiences to their expression, while in understanding, one starts with the expressions and moves towards the inner meaning of the lived experiences. Re-experiencing is a kind of caring, considering or understanding how to relive a series of events that forms a whole.
The philosopher Dilthey wrote that, Re-experiencing attains its fulfilment when an event has been processed by the consciousness of a poet, artist or historian, and lies before us in a fixed and permanent work. Think about the exhibition. There are fixed and permanent texts. We are dealing with fixed and permanent works when we talk about these poets and their contributions to our understanding of their unique inner worlds. Persian poetry at its core, for me at least, reading it in my own language, has expressed beautifully, serenely, the supreme emotional expressions of care, friendship, hospitality, respect, the otherness of the self, being in the self and the drive for oneness with profound expressions of separation – we heard all this through the sessions – grief and longing for a beloved, displacement from one's roots, recognition of self as divine, the moment, presence, silence both within the self and with others, time and space as celebrations of life and beauty, understanding and the recognition of the inevitability of death.
All these notions, and others, delicately express the importance of living within the poetic and musical space consciously. Heidegger reminded us of 'living poetically', borrowing from Hölderlin. But in Persian, language or poetry without music is insignificant. At the core of all this is the deepest desire for authentic conversation with the self and the other. Regardless of what one believes in – in this, Iranians – he or she is devoted to these poets and their texts are living testimonies of their lives for us. We go to them, we read them, choose pieces of their poems to sing or to play our music with and listen to what they have said in small and large gatherings. I better add, even make our movies.
Persian poetry always has a great effect on Iranians that encourages them to reflect on their presence in the world, if they read them the way they are written. In our contemporary world, I think these poets' works possess enormous cultural significance. There are extraordinary treasures that we need to turn our close attentions to and commit ourselves closely to study their profound meaning. These are questions and answers ... There are questions and answers in these texts that need to be vigorously reflected upon in order to unlock the great ideas that they have left us with, which help us, in turn, to get to know ourselves and our responsibilities to the other in the world. I think the creative, imaginative, psychological, social, political, spiritual, aesthetic, moral and ethical impacts of these great minds on Iranian culture and the perceptions of people – both those who are within Iran and those who have close cultural, linguistic and historical ties with Iran – are great.
These impacts need to be vigorously investigated in order to provide us new ways of looking at ourselves … and to ourselves, the world, the time in which we live and try to fully understand the message of coexisting, coexistence or coexist universally. Gadamer says that, Understanding must commence from our inherited ... – and he uses this term very provocatively, but it's not what's already fixed in the mind of traditionalists – ... inherited prejudices. By 'prejudices', he means 'traditions'. Understanding is to be thought of less as a subjective act than as participating in an event of tradition, a process of transmission in which past and present are constantly mediated. That, I think, we have to do with these poets. Twentieth-century continental philosophy arrived at the point which was finally recognised through some of its most influential philosophers – here I am in the West – namely, of course, following Hegel, Sören Kierkegaard and of course Nietzsche, namely Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gadamer, I'll bring in also Lacan and later others. That language belongs to the closest neighbourhood of man's being. Those texts are in Persian. We live in language. We encounter language everywhere. And as the poet ... And I love poet ... Two of the poets that ... One of the poets that I love in the West is Heine, who was mentioned this morning, which was fantastic, but the second one is Hölderlin. As the poet Hölderlin wrote, and cited by Heidegger, 'poetically man dwells', or the statement that we, human beings, are actually in language. Understanding takes place in a dialogue, in questions and answers between the self and the other. The purpose of an authentic dialogue is to strive towards establishing humane and mutual understanding leading to agreement on the topic of discussion.
The poetry of care and authenticity of Omar Khayyam – or Omar 'Khayyam' [accurate Farsi pronunciation] – ‘Attar, Sa‘di, Hafiz and Maulana are very apparent in the works. Their poetries are hopeful and ever-enriching for us as the readers. They invite us to the places where profound meanings are waiting to be not only discovered, but to be reflected upon. They are full of unique approaches that we can learn from regarding the acts of friendship, hospitality and generosity towards the stranger whose care we ought to take at our heart. Human beings in general claim that they care – excluding us here – and we know that is not the case.
To care for each other, human beings must overcome the old and infested prejudices – this is the prejudices that Gadamer was talking about – and do the best to break the old and futile barriers that divide and prevent them from communicating their authentic selves and their intentions to each other. This is how I read our poets and I respond to them ethically and I love it. To be an authentic human being, Sa‘di says:
Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.
Where can I go? Where can I go? Just say, 'Ba, ba, ba, fantastic?' I'm stuck. My poet tells me, 'Be authentic. Just don't look at my wonderful, beautiful ...' I am stuck. This is where the discussions of ethics comes, and of beauty and divine. A divine figure is also authentic, in this sense. It doesn't frighten anybody, but tells us, 'This ... exactly how I been.' In other words, it leads us to realise that at the end it is the individual who must learn about his or her existence and responsibilities towards the other. Let me go to ‘Attar and then get into Rumi. ‘Attar's seven valleys of love in the Mantegh-al-Tayer. The Valley of Quest – Vadi-ye-Talab. The Valley of Love – Vadi-ye Eshgh. The Valley of Understanding – Marefat. The Valley of Independence and Detachment – Esteghna. The Valley of Unity –Toheed. The Valley of Astonishment and Bewilderment– Hyrat. The Valley of Deprivation and Death – Faghar v Fana. Another great example is the masterpiece Mantegh-al-Tayer, The Conference of Birds – and we have seen wonderful things said by wonderful presenters in the last couple of days – in which ‘Attar creates the magnificent bird called Hodhod, or hoopoe, which, as ‘Attar writes, one day embarks on a journey to guide all the birds of the world in search of the ideal bird or king, the Si-morgh. As the birds scatter around the world the journey takes them through seven valleys.
In the first valley, they face hundreds of difficulties which they have to overcome. They experience many hardships as they constantly try to free themselves of what is most valuable to them. This undertaking gradually changes their fixated state of mind. Successfully for this first part of the journey, they begin to feel a profound longing and in order to overcome it they seek to dull it with wine, which helps them to rid themselves from their dogma, belief and unbelief in their lives. So waking up later in the second day ... second valley, the birds give up reasons to love, which they find a great sacrifice, to continue their pursuit of the Si-morgh. The third valley stuns and confuses the birds, particularly when they learn that their existing knowledge has become completely futile and their understanding has become confused. In this state, they discover that there are so many different ways of going through this valley and they do not all fly in the same manner, talking about la différence – differences. It's got so much material to drive and get into philosophical discourses for the contemporary discourse, communicating with East and West.
It is here that they discover that understanding can be achieved in many different ways. For example, some in their journey towards the Si-morgh will find salvation and others damnation. ‘Attar introduces the fourth valley as the Valley of Detachment. This is a new encounter with the world as this new experience is self-detachment from the desire to possess. It is at this stage that the birds begin to feel that they have become part of a universe that is detached from the physical and recognisable reality. In this new world, the planets are as minute as specks of dust and elephants are not distinguishable from ants. It is not until they enter the fifth valley that they realise that unity and multiplicity are the same, as they had become entities in a void and emptiness with no sense of eternity. More importantly, they realise that the absolute definition of God is beyond unity, multiplicity and eternity. Flying into the sixth valley, the birds become astonished at the beauty of the beloved. Experiencing extreme sadness and dejection, they come to feel they know nothing and understand nothing.
It is here that, feeling this deep sense of their inner self, they are not even aware of themselves. In this difficult journey which starts with many birds, only 30 reach the dwelling and resting place of the king – the king bird, Si-morgh. Excited to have arrived, they are told that the Si-morgh is nowhere to be seen, however, they are not convinced that the Si-morgh is not there. So they demand the guardian to tell them of its whereabouts, but he keeps them waiting for the Si-morgh for a long time. It is in this waiting that the birds begin to figure out that the truth is that they themselves are actually the Si-morgh, the 30 of them left, and si in Persian means 'thirty' – ‘si morgh’.
It is in the final valley that we learn we are in the time and place of deprivation, forgetfulness, dumbness, deafness and death. The present and future lives of the 30 successful birds become shadows, chased by the vastness of the ever-shining omnipotent sun. We have been referring to fire a lot in our poetry. I want to just quickly refer to ... In the depths of our roots, Persians always think of our Zarathustra and fire as one of the most important symbols, as you know, in Zoroastrian religion. It's still there. You cannot screen that out of your collective consciousness because it always comes back. Whether it is explicitly or implicitly referred to, they are thinking about that particular fire as well. The ‘si morgh’, lost in the sea of existence, finally wake up and succumb to the reality that the Si-morgh who they have been seeking so feverishly is nothing but themselves. Having established that, I better go to Rumi quickly. Paul Ricoeur, the French philosopher, said that, The meaning of the text is open to anyone who can read. What do we read? What do we read? What have we been reading? I ask people from my own culture and I'd like to refer it to you too. The question of understanding Maulana is an extremely complex and difficult task.
The only thing we need to understand is that his mode of being – that's where I refer to mode of being – in the world was his own unique and existential mode which formed and shaped his experiences of time and space. How Maulana made choices to become the individual that he turned into teaches us so much. Why Maulana become Maulana? Why I have become me? This, I think – whether presumptuous or not – should be the question of the 21st century.
We firstly need to consider what Maulana's concerns and responses were to the question of his being in the world, the other, and the ways in which he related to them through his life and work. We read Maulana because there are texts out there in the world that belong to him. He wanted Shams-e Tabrizi as an author. The author had a being in the world. He was in the time and space. Why Shams-e Tabrizi did not write that book? It was somebody else. Well, as a matter of fact, all the texts came out of the body of Maulana, because others wrote most of his writing. Logos, in Greek – deloun – means 'speech that comes out', 'comes out', and not 'reason'. The logos means speech that lets us see from it what is being talked about as it is to the speaker. Philosophically-speaking here. We Persians call this Sokhane-del, or 'heart’s speech'.
Maulana spoke of the soul in his unique mode of expressions in his poetry. He accessed the meanings of his own being through the things that showed themselves as they wanted to be presented in his speech, and not from the presuppositions that he was escaping from in his immediate social and cultural setting. Maulana knew Plato very well. He had to give him away to become best friend of Shams-e Tabrizi. He was a very cognitively-focused man before ... what we inherited. In other words, in a poetic understanding of Husserl's – Edmund Husserl's –phenomenological concepts of things and their direct relationships to the consciousness, Maulana went to the things themselves as they appeared in his consciousness. Maulana speaks the word in order to discover himself. He delves deeply into the things that matter to him in order to release himself from the bars of his anxious mind, burdened by his cognitive skills, so manifested in his poetry. Maulana's objective to speak is a desire to achieve his pure, existential understanding of his ontic – emotional – mode of being. Entering into this mode of speech to the world, he is aware that he will, of course, face difficulties. Nevertheless, he takes the risk and plunges into his fire. The new emotional space, his inner self-desire, it is there that he commits all of his existence to the inner voice that calls him to speak out, like the reed, for those who will hear the depth of his being.
The path of Maulana is to find the unity within himself. He is devoted to speaking what he knows – here, 'knows' means 'feels' – and can hear this depth of his being in love. Maulana would be very disappointed with most of us if he was around today. Let's be very frank. He says the spirit which does not wear the inner garment of love should never have been. Its being is just shame. Very upset, very grumpy, isn't he? But drunken with love, for love is all that exists. He changes his mood. Beautiful. Where is intimacy found if not in the give and take of love? Again, I'm in trouble.
I read Sa‘di. That’s another poet. I am in trouble reading these amazing individuals who lived in that constant devotion and love, to tell me, 'Be yourself, whatever you say.' However, Maulana is well aware that communicating your innermost thoughts wherever you go is not greatly awarded in society. Hello? [Laughs] You got me here. But he insists that this is … this is, therefore … this is … therefore he has to say: the way that he is as a being that knows his beginning is buried deep inside his profound understanding of his own self. This is not psychology, this is philosophy, eh? No wonder, regardless of our interpretations of his poetry, we keep admiring this unique human being. But as we read, we realise he is not that happy with most of us – or I'm reading it that way – because, as he says ... I'll read the Persian one just to give you a little bit of Persian text.
[Reads in Farsi]
Listen to the reed and the tale it tells, how it sings of separation. Ever since they cut me from the reed bed, my wail has caused men and women to weep. I want a breast torn and tattered with longing, so that I may relate the pain of love. Whoever has been parted from his source wants back the time of being united. At every gathering, I play my lament. I’ve become a companion of happy and sad. Each befriended me from his own ideas. And none …
Impossible. He is impossible.
And none searched out the secrets within me. My secret is not different from my lament, but the senses cannot perceive it. The body is not hidden from the soul, nor the soul from the body, but the sight of the soul is not for everyone.
Where can I go with Rumi here? I listen to his laments. I try to understand. Honestly, I've been trying it for 40 years. I dance, I sing, I do everything. I laugh with him. But when I get annoyed, 'Please accept me, I try to understand,' he says, 'No, you don't. Become your own reed. I'm not your reed.' He's very grumpy with me. I like it. Dr Johnson said of Maulana that He makes plain to the pilgrim the secrets of the way of unity and unveils the mysteries of the path of the eternal truth. The word 'pilgrim' is significant here. Johnson suggests that he reads Maulana as a pilgrim, and through this journey he, the reader, realises what the mysteries of the path of eternal truth are. Maulana's eternal path helps us to understand his humility … modesty … simplicity and love for the other … and claim that they are my religion. Rumi says that the religion of love is like no other. And – he is so tricky – if you're intoxicated with him … you are not reading the next line. I'm talking to myself here. And gambling yourself away is beyond any religion. My God, where are you, Nietzsche? We ought to inquire how poetry invites us to think about questions relating to the understanding of selfhood, as described in the poetic texts we have inherited from this poet. There are poets whose primary concerns are to invite us into their souls, and there are other poets who allow us to only enter into their minds. I think the poetry of the great Persian classical poets that we have been discussing in this conference are, without a doubt, those who invite us to their souls. And to enter into anyone's soul, as you know, is like an ocean. How can you cover an ocean?
But it's good to know that it's there so you can swim through it. The essences of these poets' works is based on their deep passion for expressing the immediacy of the things. One of the fundamental substances of Persian poetry is the purification which is – in my case, I'm reading it – is contrary to the clarity of mind which seems to have been endorsed – and I'm not trying to be arrogant here – and demanded from the Western poetry. It's more poetic, descriptive. There is no description in Persian poetry. Language is totally collapsed. It is there in the body, with the body, in the world, scenes. That's why we had … the poet, correcting, talking about correct imagination. This poetry is at its best in Rumi's poetry, I think. It is useful to note that Rumi and most of great poets of Persia were not interested in any form of literary success and ambition. That's another way that most of us, or wherever, who you are, the minds seem to require. Their expression was in act of care and desire to share their devotion and care of life with all its happy and sad moments with others. For Rumi, poetry was an immediate response to the music of the words as he felt them in his being. He urges to speak freely created … His urge to speak freely created this magnificent way of spontaneously speaking his heart to others. His love for the other, his listener, was enormous. No wonder most of his words were recorded by those who listened to his … outpourings. Rumi's poetry reveals his unique ability to make the conceived object of the psyche as clear as they are at the core of his poetry. Maulana is an intoxicated being who simply knows what suffering is. He does. It's a beautiful place.
It's not psychological complex that we inherited from Freudian discourses, even though it's created amazing help to keep us asking far more confronting questions. So what suffering is? How love can be totally beautiful, he says. [Non-lecture aside] How love can be totally beautiful one moment and destructive the next. He knows that love is life-enriching. The other great attribute to Maulana is total recognition of the other as the mirror of himself. These notions are also articulated in works of poets such as Omar Khayyam, in his own unique way Sane’i, of course ‘Attar is fundamentally there, Sa‘di , Rumi, and, of course, Jami and Hafiz and many others. We need to be aware that they weren't intending to challenge the conventions of the language or style. It's the music in language. As their works make clear when we embark upon reading them, their intentions go far beyond that. The poetic raptures are profoundly direct works of inner life which interrupt and disturb conventions in the reader and invite him or her to find ways to begin the process of purifying their psyche from the conditions imposed upon his or her mind by thoughts and feelings. In Maulana, we are particularly in the world of human being who is constantly penetrating the deepest layers of his existence. In other words, he is telling whoever listens to or reads him that this is his mode of expectations as how to be a human being. Rumi is very hard on himself, and he knows why.
Labeled as 'mystic poets', the Persian poets aim to go beyond day-to-day experiences of life, which is especially apparent in Maulana's poetry. His writing is not an explanation of life or an emotion, but something altogether more than the life we normally talk about. For example, while most poetry leads us through carefully arranged thoughts and feelings, we can say that Maulana's poetry is written from beyond our apparent understanding embedded in our day-to-day thoughts and feelings. Maulana struggles to let us know that our thoughts can largely be deceptive. He says, Your thought is the bar behind a door. Set the wood on fire. Silence. Heart. Maulana's poetry is not necessarily the search for some inherent, intrinsic, innate or eminent truth and knowledge, but an elaboration of an instant ‘hereness', oneness, the instantaneous inner voice of experience that fills this world but is not of it. It is an overpowering emotional release. Knowledge that overflows into words, sounds, images and dance … allows the ecstatic unity between mind and body and the world. In this state, Maulana possesses knowledge of the whole as well as the parts. Maulana creates a unique mode of a boundless, immeasurable inner world in which he employs every possible example of events and situations that occur in the external world as metaphor and allegory and other things.
He says … This is very interesting for those people who just constantly take Maulana to his absolute, beyond himself. It's a good conversation that we've been having for 800 years about Maulana. Defunct, but still valuable for academic analysis and other dogmatic analysis. Listen to what he says. The problem of these amazing human beings are we just select to fulfil the ego, the tradition, the customs, the prejudices that you bring into it. But Maulana has given us a few images. Don't get into that, please. He says, I am a sculptor, a moulder of form, in every moment I shape an idol. [Speaks Farsi] But then, in front of you, I melt them down. I am ... I can rouse a hundred forms and mix them with spirit – my spirit. But when I look into your face, I want to throw them in the fire. Such a relief. Do you merrily fill this drunkard’s glass? Or do you really oppose the sober? It is you who brings to ruin every house I build. My soul spills into yours and is blended.
You might have heard of a great French philosopher called Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas is a very significant philosopher. We call him 'philosopher of the face'. Our poet's been talking about this facing the other, where the real dialogue and humanity begins for almost a thousand years. Read Emmanuel Levinas. They call him the father of phenomenology in the French. He is the one who translated Heidegger into French and gave chance to Jean-Paul Sartre to write his book Being and nothingness. Talking about cultural communications? Yes. Wonderful. I've been going very far. These poets ... Actually, these poets were masters of inhabiting and welcoming the most complex emotions and work, the meanings, for themselves. They lived in a simultaneity of moments. They cherished them and they were not frightened to the consequences of what they uttered to the world.
In other words, they lived in the world without walls. There is no walls in Rumi's release. We must be absolutely attentive listeners, readers or interpreters of Persian mystic poets to arrive at the self. Maulana feels he urgently needs to convey his message through his potent inner expressions in poetry. This poetry comes, for example, when a friend disappears from his life. Shams's departure has a devastating impact on Maulana. He has to express the deepest sadness. The words 'love' and 'devotion' are fundamentally for Maulana in order to realise this grief and loss which is the result of a profound sense of inner displacement. And this hopefully helps for those people having this conversation about his sexuality. I don't know why that question's relevant academically. Why do we keep going back to that? Shams's disappearance from his life left him totally alone, without any spiritual intimacy with anyone. This is what he always looked, to look at the other face.
So, what happened to Maulana? Maulana's inner intention is to overcome the loss. He is very familiar with this exis- ... with this experience. Throughout his life, Maulana experienced tremendous moments of loss. The poet digs deeper and deeper into himself in order to understand the roots of his suffering. I have to really wind up, because there are more to say here. In finishing ... I just chucked six pages of my ... I'm writing a book, perhaps. [Laughs] Yeah. OK. Well, we're talking about ... He is in a sublime place in the ... in the … in the ... in the … poetic ... places.
Now, to finish with last thing, skipping a few pages, when I … Actually, I'll use 'we', but I thought I might sound arrogant, so I'll take myself on board. I say 'when I'. Now, when I read him, I am obliged to look into myself and ask myself, who am I? In the depth of my souls, which is the core of my being in the world? What is my understanding of friendship and care for others? That seems to be very good summary of what I understand of Maulana's approach to love and devotion. Thank you very much.
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