Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Instabilities in the Identity of an Artistic Tradition as "Persian," “Islamic," and “Iranian” in the Shadow of Orientalism
This dissertation is a critical review of the discursive formation of Islamic art in the twentieth century and the continuing problems that the early categorization of this discipline carries. It deals with the impact of these problems on the conceptualization of another category, Persian art. The subject is expounded by three propositions. First, the category of Islamic art was initially a product of Orientalism formulated regardless of the indigenous/Islamic knowledge of art. Second, during the early period when art historians examined different theoretical dimensions for constructing an aesthetic of Islamic art in the West, they imposed a temporal framework on Islamic art in which excluded the non-traditional and contemporary art of Islamic countries. Third, after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian scholars eventually imposed academic authority over the discipline of Persian/Islamic art, they adopted the same inadequate methodologies that were initially used in some of the early studies on the art of the Muslims. These propositions are elaborated by examples from twentieth-century Iranian movements in painting, The Coffeehouse Painting and The School of Saqqakhaneh, and the incident of swapping Willem de Kooning’s painting Woman III with the dismembered manuscript of the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp in 1994. The conceptualization of Islamic art as a discipline is also discussed in relation to the twentieth-century cultural context of Iran. The argument is divided into three chapters in relation to three important historical moments in the history of contemporary Iran: The Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911), the modernization of Iran (1925-1975), and the Islamic Revolution (1979-onward). The formation of the discourse of Islamic art is the fruit of nineteenth-century Orientalism. Out of this discourse, Persian art as a modern discourse addressing the visual culture of Pre-Islamic and Islamic Iran came into being. I claim that after the Islamic Revolution, Iranian academics demonstrate a theoretical loyalty to the early theorizations of Islamic/Persian art. By this token, visual signs are given a meta-signified in the narrative of Islamic art. The ontological definition of this meta-signified is subjected to the dominant ideology, which determines how different centers of meaning should come into being and disappear. In the post-Revolution academia, the center is construed as the transcendental signified. Such inherence resulted in a fallacy in the reading of the Persian side of Islamic art, to which I refer as the “signification fallacy.” The dissertation draws on the consequences of this fallacy in the critique of Islamic art. Keywords: Persian art, Islamic art, Iranian art; Persian classical literature, Narrative. Image, Representation, Aniconism, Abstraction, Modernity, Tradition, Orientalism, The Constitutional Revolution, Modernization, The Islamic Revolution. Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, The Coffeehouse Painting, The School of Saqqakhaneh; Modernism: Woman III. Author Keywords: Iranian Art, Islamic Art, Orientalism, Persian Art, The Constitutional Revolution, The Islamic Revolution
Politics of Muslim Intellectual Discourse in the West
The dissertation explores and defends the theory and practice of a Western-Islamic public sphere (which is secular but not secularist and which is Islamic but not Islamist), within which a critical Islamic intellectual universe can unfold, dealing hermeneutically with texts and politically with lived practices, and which, moreover, has to emerge from within the arc of two alternative, conflicting, yet equally dismissive suspicions defined by a view that critical Islam is the new imperial rhetoric of hegemonic orientalism and the opposite view that critical Islam is just fundamentalism camouflaged in liberal rhetoric. The Western-Islamic public sphere offers a third view, arising from ethical commitment to intellectual work, creativity, and imagination as a portal to the open horizons of history. Author Keywords: Critical Islam, critique, history, Islamic reformation, public sphere, secular

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