Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Heidegger, Traditionalism, and Iranian theories of art

A new chapter in a collection on Heidegger in the Islamicate World (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) discusses the impact of Heidegger and on post-revolutionary Iranian art theory, and on the art theory of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the Traditionalist successor of Frithjof Schuon in the United States. It is “Heidegger’s Role in the Formation of Art Theory in Contemporary Iran” by Amir Nasri, an Iranian scholar (pp. 55-67).

Nasri’s starting point is the Hawza-i andishe ve hunari islami (School of Islamic Thought and Art), known for short as the Hawza-i hunari (School of Art), the Tehran-based organization that in Nasri's view was “the most important artistic school of the first decade after the revolution.” The Hawza-i hunari’s art theory was, according to Nasri, impacted especially by three pre-revolutionary intellectuals: Ahmad Fardid (1910-94), Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b. 1933), and Daryush Shayegan (1935-2018). All three were in turn impacted by the great French Iranologist, Henry Corbin (1903-78), who was himself a follower of Heidegger.

Fardid, who was a professor of philosophy and Heidegger’s great advocate in Iran, is not now widely known, but it was he, according to Nasri, who was the inventor of the seminal term gharbzadegi (Westoxification or Occidentosis) that was famously popularized by the novelist Jalal Al-e Ahmad. After the revolution, Fardid became an influential theorist in the Islamic Republic; Nasr and Shayegan went into exile, Nasr permanently, but even so were read at the Hawza-i hunari. Nasr, as noted, became a leading Traditionalist; Shayegan moved away from Traditionalism, questioning whether “the tradition” had ever actually existed.

Nasri traces the influence of Heidegger in Corbin’s concept of the “ideal space,” born of Heidegger’s emphasis on the importance of the Origin (Ursprung) in art combined with Suhrawardi’s understanding of the ideal world. For Corbin, the “ideal space” was key to understanding Persian miniature painting. In this he was followed by Nasr and Shayegan, who also cited Heidegger directly while arguing that the art of the East and of the West do not share a common language. Both Nasr and Shayegan thus looked for the revival of Iranian art through the rediscovery of tradition, as did Fardid.

Nasr then combined Corbin's partly Heidegger-derived concept with Guénon's important pair of quality and quantity. The two-dimensional ideal space is, for Nasr, qualitative rather than quantitative: the quantitative leads to naturalism. Nasr's mature argument is not just Traditionalist, then, but also Heideggerian.

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