Literary Expressions of Modernity and State Nationalism in early Pahlavi Iran (1921-1941)

This paper demonstrates certain common points in a number of reformist writings during the early Pahlavi period. Much has been said on different venues to modernization in Iran. Historians with different perspectives have so far studied advocates of reform in European style, or they have talked about religious traditionalism with a supposedly inherent tendency of opposition to reform, there are also studies which have dealt with the consequences of super-power politics.

Rather than emphasizing differences, it may be argued that a more inclusive study of ideas in that period will show certain common grounds that could provide a more holistic understanding of Iranian society. Fragmentary approaches in a peculiar way have mirrored the fragmentary reforms and the fragmented political superstructure. Thus the image of late Qajar and early Pahlavi Iran portrayed in many scholarly works often reflects a disparate cast of actors, barely in touch with each other, and hardly adhering to a common set of problems. It remains true, however, that Iranian society in that period, irrespective of the ways that it had been structured, was one entity and should be approached accordingly.

This essay will refer to three examples of reformist and nationalist writings. One was written by a politician, another by a veteran of the Constitutional period, and the third by a writer of popular historical narratives. We shall see that contrary to expectations, our three authors (or rather ideologues) have not only shared certain images of modernity but also discovered similar impediments to reform and proposed changes in accordance with some common lines as well; they shared worldviews and occasionally appropriated one another's discourse. Additional focus on literary works will also show how earlier images of modernity gradually changed by the end of 1930s.

Ali Gheissari
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