Iranian thinker and cultural theorist Dariush Shayegan passed away today (March 22) at Firouzgar Hospital of Tehran after two months in a coma.
Born in 1935, Shayegan studied at Sorbonne University in Paris and taught Sanskrit and Indian Religions at the University of Tehran. He was also a writer, poet, and translator. His novel Land of Mirage received the French ADELF Award in 2004. An influential comparatist figure in intercultural dialogue, Shayegan contemplated over a wide range of subjects and areas from Avesta to the Quran, from Allameh Tabatabaei’s mystic thought to Henry Corbin and Louis Massignon’s view of Eastern arts, from Behzad’s miniature paintings to Picasso’s worldview.
According to Mousavi Bojnurdi, Editor-in-Chief of the Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia, Shayegan elevated Iranian Intellectualism and granted it a global stance and credit. He believed in “the marriage of horizons” through “the magic lantern” of words. Although better known among the Francophones, Shayegan served Iranian intellectualism by his writings on Indian Studies and the cultural exchanges between the two historical civilizations of Iran and India, hence holding a remarkable position in the chain of thought starting with Abu-Reyhan Birouni and flourishing in modern times with figures such as Dr. Fathollah Mojtabaei.
Shayegan severely questioned passive submission to Western thought as a dominant tendency among Iranian intellectuals whose ethnic memories were fading away. As Abdollah Nasr puts it,
According to Shayegan, we suffer from a double delusion, because on the one hand we presume that the nature of western thought is known to us and we can selectively take those elements of their culture that is more adaptable to our cultural heritage, and on the other hand we reckon that we can preserve our cultural identity,” whereas in reality our ethnic memory cannot resist the western thought. We are both alienated from ourselves as well as westoxicated.
His “Asia vis-à-vis the West” is, therefore, his most controversial book. While for some, it was a call for ‘return to the eastern self’ and ‘resistance,’ for his critics it was the reinforcement of fundamentalist discourses of tradition and opposition to modern thought.
An inevitable result of the Iranian modernity, Shayegan discussed, is “Cultural schizophrenia”. We are simultaneously living in two disproportionate worlds. Because, he argues, we have enthusiastically received the western value system without being able to learn about the epistemological pattern that has shaped it.
In his recent book “Five Regions of Presence,” Shayegan dealt with the Iranian poeticism as a phenomenon that affects the Iranian system of thought in the works of five eminent poets, namely Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Jalaleddin Rumi, Sa’di, and Hafez, which, according to some critics, has proven to be a failed attempt.
His best-known publications include:
- Asia vis-a-vis the West (آسیا در برابر غرب);
- Indian Religions and Philosophical Schools, 2 vol. (ادیان و مکتبهای فلسفی هند);
- Five Regions of Presence (پنج اقلیم حضور);
- In Search of Lost Spaces (در جستجوی فضاهای گمشده);
- Marriage of Horizons (آمیزش افقها);
- The Magic Lantern of Time (فانوس جادویی زمان);
- Mythological Insight (بینش اساطیری);
- Mental Idols and Eternal Memory (بتهای ذهنی و خاطره ازلی);
- as well as a recent essay on the impact of Charles Baudelaire on the Western mind.
Selected French Publications
- Hindouisme et Soufisme, une lecture du ‘Confluent des Deux Océans,’
- Éditions de la Différence, Paris 1979, 2nd edition, Albin Michel, Paris
- Qu’est-ce qu’une révolution religieuse?
- Presses d’aujourd’hui, Paris 1982, deuxième édition, Bibliothèque Albin Michel des idées, Paris,1991.
- Le regard mutilé, Schizophrénie culturelle: pays traditionnels face à la modernité, Albin
- English Translation: Cultural Schizophrenia, Islamic Societies Confronting the West, Translated from the French by John Howe, Saqi books, London 1992. Also published by Syracuse University Press, 1997.
- Henry Corbin, La topographie spirituelle de l’Islam iranien,
- Éditions de la Différence, Paris, 1990
- Les illusions de l’identité, Éditions du Félin, Paris, 1992
- Sous les ciels du monde, Entretiens avec Ramin Jahanbegloo, Éditions du Félin,1992
- Au-delà du miroir, Diversité culturelle et unité des valeurs, Editions de l’Aube, 2004
- La lumière vient de l’Occident, Le réenchantement du monde et la pensée nomade, L’aube, essai. Paris, 2001, troisième édition, 2005, quatriéme édition, essai poche, 2008
- Terre de mirages, avec la collaboration de Maryam Askari, La collection Regards croisés, Éditions de l’Aube, Paris, 2004
Photo: Amir Gholami/IBNA