Reading Manṭiq-uṭ-Ṭayr—the Conference of Birds
The performance, accompanied by occasional playing of Setar (musical instrument) traditional improvisation on Iranian traditional scales, is a talk about the metaphysics of animal formal imagination in the context of Muslim-Iranian-lyrical traditions with concerns of nature in narratology in a specific mystic cultural context and symbolic thought in general.
The lecture is inspired on one hand by the mystic poems of Attar, a prominent figure in Tasawwuf (Iranian Sufism) died in 1221 AD, and on another hand by a parallel reading from Kalila wa Dimna (Sanskrit: Panchatantra), an iconic transcript and witness for an old language hybrid of Middle Persian and Arabic written in the form of animal fables. The performance reads a canonical moment in Iranian literature: Simurgh (Persian: سیمرغ)—that is a mythical bird, once in Attar’s poetic epic The Conference of the Birds (Persian:منطق الطیر) and second in one of the Kalila wa Dimna's stories The Bird Pair and the Sea (Persian: حکایت طیطوی و وکیل دریا). The Simurgh in Attar's work is a holy intuitive and a transcendental recognition of the nature of humanity towards the supremacy of sublime forms, while the same "Simurgh" in Kalila wa Dimna is a metaphor of abstract power and social hierarchy—challenged, raged, and raid scandalously by small political birds. This project functions as a reflection on an ancient narrative and an intervention into a mystic symbol. Two depictions of an important imaginary creature and metaphor in Sufi mysticism, when read side by side, poke and irritate each other’s structure. The performance is accompanied by traditional music, played by the speaker, in the same musical scales that have been evolving together with the vast body of mystic literature, including Attar’s writing, in the last millennia in Iran.