Mute Dreams, Blind Owls, and Dispersed Knowledges

Persian Poesis in the Transnational Circuitry

Mute Dreams, Blind Owls, and Dispersed Knowledges

Book Pages: 488 Illustrations: 58 illustrations, 10 tables Published: September 2004

Anthropology, Media Studies > Film, Middle East Studies

Over the past decade Iranian films have received enormous international attention, garnering both critical praise and popular success. Combining his extensive ethnographic experience in Iran and his broad command of critical theory, Michael M. J. Fischer argues that the widespread appeal of Iranian cinema is based in a poetics that speaks not only to Iran’s domestic cultural politics but also to the more general ethical dilemmas of a world simultaneously torn apart and pushed together. Approaching film as a tool for anthropological analysis, he illuminates how Iranian filmmakers have incorporated and remade the rich traditions of oral, literary, and visual media in Persian culture.

Fischer reveals how the distinctive expressive idiom emerging in contemporary Iranian film reworks Persian imagery that has itself been in dialogue with other cultures since the time of Zoroaster and ancient Greece. He examines a range of narrative influences on this expressive idiom and imagery, including Zoroastrian ritual as it is practiced in Iran, North America, and India; the mythic stories, moral lessons, and historical figures written about in Iran’s national epic, the Shahnameh; the dreamlike allegorical world of Persian surrealism exemplified in Sadeq Hedayat’s 1939 novella The Blind Owl; and the politically charged films of the 1960s and 1970s. Fischer contends that by combining Persian traditions with cosmopolitan influences, contemporary Iranian filmmakers—many of whom studied in Europe and America—provide audiences around the world with new modes of accessing ethical and political experiences.


“A deeply appreciated text that is valuable for its commendable effort to understand the Iranian personality.” — Milad Milani, Journal of Religious History

“Fischer has produced a valuable contribution to cinema studies. In addition to presenting the variegated culture of Iran, the author truly captures the character of a nation in its dense richness.” — Z. Pamela Karimi, Art Journal

“Michael M. J. Fischer’s Mute Dreams, Blind Owls, and Dispersed Knowleges: Persian Poesis in the Transnational Circuitry is a much needed and indispensable study of the intertextuality of Iranian film and literature. . . . Mute Dreams is an exceptional work that fills a lacuna in comprehensive studies on Persian poesis.” — Ghazzal Dabiri, Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies

"[Michael M. J. Fischer is] a sophisticated postmodern anthropologist. . . . Recommended." — A. Mahdi, Choice

"This huge, comprehensive compendium is useful for anyone interested in Persian culture, especially the evolution of Iranian cinema, which in a relatively short time has become one of the most admired in the world. Readers who can plough through nearly 500 pages . . . will be amply rewarded with the introduction to 'a rich cultural heritage to which world civilization is deeply indebted for its religious imagery, literary stories, and philosophical modes of reflection'." — Times Higher Education

“No one reading this book can doubt that when one is face-to-face with Iran, one is face-to-face with one of the great world civilizations of all human history.” — William O. Beeman, author of Double Demons: Cultural Impediments to U.S.-Iranian Understanding

“Mute Dreams, Blind Owls, and Dispersed Knowledges is unique, enjoyable, and insightful, and it brings with it a deep understanding, appreciation, and love of Iranian and Persian cultural contexts, oral epics, religious traditions, ethnography, and films.” — Hamid Naficy, author of An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Michael M. J. Fischer is Professor of Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Lecturer in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice (published by Duke University Press) and Iran: From Religious Dispute to Revolution. He is coauthor of Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Postmodernity and Tradition and Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences.

Table of Contents Back to Top
By Way of Acknowledgments:

Divided Selves and Doubled Genealogies vii

Prelude: After Epic, Writing, Painting, and Film 1

I. Speaking After Zarathustra: Ritual, Epic, and Philosophical Forms of Reason

Prologue 17

1. Yasna: Performative Ritual, Narrative Mnemonic 25

2. Shahnameh: Parable Logic 66

Coda: Illuminations: Philosophical Allegory 131

II. Seeing After Film: Textual and Cinematic Forms of Ethical Reason

3. Awaiting the Revolution: Surrealism Persian Style 151

4. Filmic Judgment and Cultural Critique: The Work of Art, Ethics, and Religion in Postrevolution Iranian Cinema 222

5. War Again: Qandahar, 911--
Figure and Discourse in Iranian Cinematic Writing 259

Coda: Balancing Acts (After 9/11) 355

Epilogue: Beyond “Mobile Armies of Metaphors”: Scheherezade Films the Games 370

Notes 395

Bibliography 433

Index 449
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3298-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3285-5
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