The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran

By Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran)

Abstract

This study focuses on how the ideas of Michel Foucault were received and interpreted in the post-revolutionary Iran during two significant political periods stretching from 1979 to 2005, covering two eight-year administrations, the Reconstruction administration and the Reformist administration, presumed to very different publication policies and degrees of openness towards Western thought in general and Foucault’s ideas in particular. Foucault’s support of the Islamic Revolution is a long- debated topic among Iranian intellectuals as well as French journalists who were so critical of Foucault after his visit to Iran in September 1979. Significant as Foucault’s positive remarks concerning the Islamic revolution are, the study also investigates whether Foucault’s ideas were received by his left-wing translators independently of his supportive stance on the Islamic Revolution. The findings of this study indicate that the policies of the two administrations toward translations of Foucault’s ideas were essentially the same but that in the Reformist period there was a boom in the diffusion of Foucault’s discourse through translations. Moreover, we have established that Foucault’s idea of ‘power relations’ was the most frequent theme discussed in translations and journal articles written on Foucault in these two periods.

Keywords: translator studies, history of translation, Michel Foucault, Iran, post-revolutionary Iran

©inTRAlinea & Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (2021).
"The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/index.php/archive/article/2563

1. Introduction

This research falls within the scope of Chesterman’s Translator Studies as a subfield of Translation Studies (Chesterman 2009), and which deal with three branches including cultural, cognitive and sociological studies. In the cultural branch which is the focus of the current research, values, ethics, ideologies, history, traditions and the role and influences of translators through history as agents of cultural evolution have been examined. The cognitive branch which deals with mental processes, decision-making, the impact of emotions, attitudes to norms, personality, and also the sociological branch which deals with translators’/interpreters’ observable behavior are not what we seek to depict in this article. The main focus of this study is to paint a clear picture of the role of translators who were intellectuals at the time of the reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran ’from a Translator studies perspective, particularly the cultural branch.

This study aims to investigate the early reception of Foucault by focusing on two important political periods in Iran’s history: The Reconstruction Period (1989-1997) [1], and the Reformist Period (1997-2005).[2] These two periods are significant because they seemed to follow two quite different policies on publishing, in line with their political agendas.

In order to achieve above aim, we first discuss the idea of Foucault and the Islamic Revolution of Iran, then we investigate Foucault’s reception in each period in a separate section.  Michel Foucault visited Iran in the early days of the Revolution and expressed a sympathetic view on the Islamic Revolution, much to the chagrin of the left-wing intellectuals, who were the only possible candidates to introduce him to the Iranian readership.[3] We will therefore consider whether Foucault’s stance on the Islamic Revolution, though modified later, had any impact on his translators as well as on his reception in Iran.  

2. Foucault and the Islamic Revolution of Iran

The first significant mention of Foucault in Iran was made in 1969, when Mohammad Ghazi, a prominent translator, translated into Persian an interview with Foucault conducted by Jean-Pierre Elkabbach in 1968. The next mention of Foucault is found in 1978, the same year that Foucault visited Iran and the Islamic Revolution took place. However, there was no translation of Foucault’s works until 1995. This raises the question of whether the translators had been unwilling to introduce Foucault’s ideas because of his stance on the Islamic Revolution.

The support that the Iranian people received from French intellectuals in their fight against the Shah dated back to 1975, when French intellectual circles, led by Jean Paul Sartre, started backing Iranian protesters. In the same year, some intellectuals expressed concern in a newspaper article on the unbearable pressure exerted on Iranian intellectuals including Ali Shariati[4] and Gholam Hossein Sa’edi[5], who had been convicted in the Shah’s courts. [6] As the tension between Iranians and the Shah grew in 1978, French intellectuals established an association called The French Association of Friendship and Solidarity with the Peoples of Iran (l’Association française d’amitié et de solidarité avec le peuples d’Iran), which later joined another association called ‘The French Association of Democratic Jurists’ to back Iranian Protestors in 1978 (Khoramshad 2000). Furthermore, Jean-Paul Sartre founded the Committee to Defend Iranian Political Prisoners (Le Comité de défense des prisonniers politiques iraniens) in order to assist Iranians in a more organized way. This committee’s first action was to publish an announcement on March 11, 1978 signed by some famous figures, including Vladimir Jankélévitch, Claude Mauriac, Laurent Schwartz and Simone de Beauvoir to back 150 prisoners who were on hunger strike. Moreover, after the mass killings on ‘Black Friday’,[7] French intellectual society sparked a furious backlash in France against the Shah regarding his repression of Iranian protestors.[8] The French associations that raised their voice on the subject included International Federation of Human Rights (Fédération internationale des droits de l’Homme) and Organization of French Community Assistance (Secours populaire français). The events that took place in Iran in 1979 thus became of great concern to French Intellectuals such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Raymond Claude Ferdinand Aron,Maurice Duverger, and in particular, Michel Foucault, as he closely followed the regime’s violence toward Iranian protesters. (Ibid 2000)

In September 1978, Foucault visited Iran for the first time and expressed his thoughts on the Islamic Revolution in both interviews and articles. The first interview with Foucault in Iran was conducted in English by Baqir Parham, translator of Foucault’s article The Discourse on Language (L’ordre du discours ), on September 23, 1978 in Tehran. In this interview, Foucault elaborated on the concept of ‘the intellectual’, stressing that ‘there is no intellectual who is not at the same time, and in some way, involved with politics’ (Foucault 1979 cited in Afary et al. 2005). Referring to the case of Iran, Foucault said:

no Westerner, no Western intellectual with some integrity, can be indifferent to what she or he hears about Iran, a nation that has reached a number of social, political, and so forth, dead ends (Foucault, 1979 translated by Afary et al. 2005:75)

In reply to Bagher Parham’s question on his ideas on religion, Foucault expressed disagreement with Marx’s idea that ‘Religion is the opium of the people’, stating that this might be true about Christianity, but not about Islam, especially Shia Islam. Foucault also argued that ‘the role of Shi’ism in political awakening, in maintaining political consciousness, in inciting and fomenting political awareness, is historically undeniable’. He also maintained that ‘despite changes that occurred in the nature of religion due to the proximity between Shi’ism and state power in that period, religion has nevertheless played an oppositional role’ (1979: 186).

In an article entitled ‘What do the Iranians Dream about?’ (A quoi revent les Iraniens) (Foucault 1978a), originally published in French in 1978 and translated into Persian in 1998 by Hossein Masoomi Hamedani, Foucault perceived those who marched in the streets of Tehran as ‘subjects of history who had risen to make history the subject of their revolutionary acts’ (1978 a: 18). He associated the revolution with spirituality and said, ‘This movement has just thrown half a million men into the streets of Tehran, up against machine guns and tanks’ (Foucault 1978a: 19). Foucault reported that when he asked protesters in Iran what they wanted, they replied ‘an Islamic Government’ but when he asked for their explanation of the Islamic Government, their answers were very vague. Foucault continued: ‘I don’t want to name ‘an Islamic Government’ as a utopia but it impressed me as ‘a political will’. While he expressed his hesitation about this ‘political will’, he said ‘at the moment, we are rallying to Ayatollah Khomeini, but once the dictatorship (of the Shah) is abolished, all this mist may dissipate’ (Foucault 1978a: 41).

In 1979, Foucault wrote another article on the Islamic Revolution entitled ‘L’esprit d’un monde sans esprit’. The article was translated into English by Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson in the same year with the title ‘Spirit in a Spiritless World’ (Foucault and Kritzman 1988). This article, has been reprinted in Iran 13 times up to now. Init, Foucault pointed out that although Iranian people had different and even contradictory religious beliefs, they were united and wanted the Shah to leave the country. He said: ‘Nobody has ever seen the collective will, and personally I thought that the collective will was like God, like the soul, something one would never encounter. We met, in Tehran and throughout Iran, the collective will of a people’ (Foucault & Kritzman 1988: 215). Foucault noted that one thing that made the Islamic Revolution different from other revolutions was that the economic problems of Iran were not so harsh as to bring millions of people into the streets against tanks and guns (Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh 2000). He asserted that in some countries people preferred to die in front of tanks instead of starving to death, but in the case of Iran, it was a ‘collective will’ that led to the Islamic Revolution.

Foucault’s first visit to Iran on September 16, 1978 coincided with an earthquake in Tabas, a city in Northeast region of Iran. In reaction, Foucault wrote an article entitled ‘The Army, when the Earth Trembles’ (Taccuino persiano: L’esercito, quando la terra trema) in which he posed the question: ‘Who wants to construct Tabas again?’ and he referred to Ayatollah Khomeini’s order to people: ‘Help your brothers in Tabas but not through the Pahlavi regime’ (Foucault 1978b: 10). Foucault reported that he had talked to some generals who opposed the Shah claiming that ‘the day after Black Friday some soldiers committed suicide’(Foucault 1978b: 15). In this article, Foucault tried to portray the uniqueness of Iran’s revolutionary atmosphere at the time of the Shah’s fall. An important fact is that Foucault’s only source of information at the time of his visit to Iran was Islamist intellectuals and those who supported Ayatollah Khomeini (Ahmadi 2019 personal interview).

Foucault’s appreciation of the Islamic Revolution continued when in 1978 he interviewed Ayatollah Mohammad Kazem Shariatmadari, an important Shi’te religious exponent of the Islamic Revolution. As we read in the article ‘Tehran: religion against the Shah’ (Teheran la foi contre le shah), Ayatollah Shariatmadari introduced the concept of ‘the Islamic Government’ to Foucault, which remained unclear to him. What made Foucault interested in the Islamic Revolution was the concept of ‘spirituality’. After the revolution took place, there were certain events that earned Foucault’s disapproval from the very beginning, not least among them the severe repression of the heads of the Pahlavi regime by the new government. It was believed that Foucault did not publish on Iranian matters in the French press where his comments elicited fiery responses from French readers who did not support the Islamic Revolution (Scullion 1995). Therefore, he published his articles in the Italian newspaper, Corriere Della Sera, between 28 September 1978 and 13 February 1979, under the running head Michel Foucault: Persian Notebook (Taccuino Persian).

Foucault condemned issuing harsh sentences for heads of the Shah’s regime and argued that this event did not devalue the Iranian movement which led to the revolution in 1979. Furthermore, he wrote an open letter to Mehdi Bazargan, the then Prime Minister, expressing his objection to post-revolutionary events in Iran. He wrote

Many Iranians are irritated that they are now the object of vociferous lectures. They have shown that they know how to go about asserting their rights. …You are called upon to make sure that this people never have to regret the unyielding force with which it has liberated itself (Foucault 2000:439-443)

Foucault also wrote an article entitled ‘Is it useless to revolt?’ (Inutile de se soulever?), translated into Persian by Mostafa Darvishi in 2014.  In this article, he emphasized the need to separate the Iranian movement from its initial results of the Islamic Revolution.

The first book to introduce Foucault’s ideas was Babak Ahmadi’s Text Structure and Textural Interpretation (Sakhtar va Ta’vil-e Matn), published in 1992. Only one chapter of the book was devoted to Foucault, briefly introducing certain concepts such as archeology of knowledge, genealogy and madness. The first translation of a complete book by Foucault was This is not a pipe (In yek chapaq nist) translated by Mani Haghighi and published in 1995. If this translation is taken as the earliest introduction of Foucault in Iran, then there is a two-decade time gap between Foucault’s first visit to Iran (September 1978), when he first became known to Iranian intellectuals, and the publication of his first complete book (1995). The question that arises here is how this gap can be accounted for. One possible reason is that the intellectual translators were not happy with Foucault’s praise of the Islamic Revolution, so they erected a conspiracy of silence against him. This theory is justified on the grounds that dissident intellectuals were the only ones who might have introduced Foucault’s work, as attested by Babak Ahmadi: ‘Translators and interpreters, including the intellectuals, whether secular, liberal, or even left-wing, were all dissidents. I do not know anyone who might have introduced Foucault due to his early attachment to the Religious Revolution.’ (Personal communication, September 21, 2019). Also, while Iranian intellectuals attempted to promote the narrative that Foucault ceased to support the Islamic Revolution after the harsh verdicts against the heads of the Shah’s regime, we have found no evidence that Foucault repudiated his early views on the Islamic revolution, even though the revolution distanced itself from its early ‘sprituality’. 

In this regard, two points should be considered. First, Foucault’s articles discussed above were translated into Persian two decades after they were first published in French. Second, as recorded in the National Library and Archives of Iran, the publications on the topic of Foucault and Islamic Revolution in the periodicals in two periods under investigation constitute only Fourteen percent of the all publications on/by Foucault, including translations and original writings (cf. Figure 4).  The key translators of Foucault expressed in personal communications that they did not take Foucault’s ‘mistaken opinions about the Islamic Revolution’ very seriously and that the delay could be explained by other factors including the 8-year war between Iran and Iraq. There is this idea that Foucault’s translators started translating Foucault’s philosophical beliefs regardless of his stance towards the Islamic Revolution. In this regard, Ahamadi stated,

Foucault’s remarks on Iran were not detailed or analytic and precise. It was obvious that Foucault did not have a comprehensive knowledge of Iran, and of its contemporary history and political factions and culture. His comments were journalistic remarks to the Iranian intellectuals of that time. We consider Foucault as a thoughtful philosopher and did not take his comments on the Revolution so seriously (Ahmadi 2019)

As we shall see, the left-wing intellectuals were particularly interested in Foucault’s ideas of power relations. It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that while Foucault’s supportive comments on the Islamic Revolution were disapproved of among Iranian intellectuals, the two-decade delay in translating his works cannot be explained by this disapproval. 

3. Foucault’s Reception in the Reconstruction Period (1989-1997) 

According to Pym (2017), paying attention to the social roles played by translators in mediating between cultures can move translation studies towards the wider questions of Intercultural Studies. This approach to Translation Studies is what Pym calls ‘humanizing’ Translation History. In this section, we display the social role played by Babak Ahmadi, Foucault’s most famous translator in Iran.

We now turn to the main question of this study; that is, the reception of Foucault in two different political climates, the Reconstruction Period and the Reformist Period. First, we provide a political background for each period, then we discuss translations and original writings by which Foucault’s ideas were introduced in Iran.

Following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there was a restless social and political climate which led to the formation of a multitude of political parties and organizations. The supreme leader of the revolution appointed the Supreme Council of the Revolution and the Interim Government led by Mehdi Bazargan. The role of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, was to coordinate these two bodies. Notwithstanding his attempts to make the bodies work together, the constant struggles between them led to the resignation of Mehdi Bazargan along with his cabinet on 4 November 1979, following the seizure of the American Embassy and hostage-taking (Parsa Bonab 2007). In 1980, the Iran-Iraq war started, lasting until 1988. In this period, because of the sanctions and the socio-political challenges facing the country, there was a decline in all kinds of publication. The following figure displays the main themes dominating the Reconstruction Period (Parvaneh 2015).

Figure 1: The main themes dominating President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s administration (Parvaneh, 2015)

As the Reconstruction Period was considered as the post-war era, President Hashemi Rafsanjani put economic development at the top of his agenda; he also tried to avoid political conflict and tension as much as possible. His approach in domestic policies involved a lack of media coverage of different issues, preserving silence on national, administrative and even family issues, a lack of explicitness and the non-mention of names, and most importantly a balanced cabinet composition and almost equal share of both left and right parties. (Safiri, 1999: 160-165). These strategies created the closed political atmosphere of this period. A kind of political authoritarianism which led to the creation of political stabilization instead of political development (Eftekhari, 2001: 63)

Although none of Foucault’s articles on the Islamic Revolution, were translated into Persian in this period, a few seminal works were written and translated on Foucault by Babak Ahmadi and Mani Haghighi, who introduced Foucault’s ideas in Iran for the first time (see Table 1).

Writer

Translator

 

Publisher

Date

Persian Title

Title in English

Babak Ahmadi

-

 

Markaz

1992

Sakhtar va Ta’vil-e Matn

Text Structure and Textural Interpretation

Babak Ahmadi

-

 

Markaz

1995

Modernite va Andishe-e Enteqadi

Modernity and Critical Thought

Babak Ahmadi

-

 

Kahkeshan

1995

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault

Mani Haghighi

 

Markaz

1995

in yek chapaq nist

This is not a pipe 

 

Table 1: List of works written and translated on Foucault during 1989-1997

Babak Ahmadi is an Iranian writer, translator, and left-wing intellectual, as well as a dissident of the Islamic Republic who published an announcement - with Khashyar Deilami, a translator and editor of philosophical works - supporting the Reformist Movement in the 2010 election (Iranian Green Movement).[9] As is mentioned in the introduction, Ahmadi’s goal in his book Text Structure and Textual Interpretation, is to analyse three main literary theories: Structuralism, Deconstruction and Hermenutics. In order to clarify these three domains of thought, Ahmadi presents examples from primary sources and provides firsthand evidence from the related authors. It is important to note that Archeology of Knowledge was translated into Persian in 2013 by Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh, but here in Ahmadi’s book (1992) its main concepts were already explained and clarified.

It seems that the interest Ahmadi showed in Foucault was basically political, for each of Foucault’s books provided Ahmadi with an opportunity to critique systems of power, a trend that continued into the successive Reformist Period. This is confrmed by the fact that throughout the 1990s, Babak Ahmadi taught some courses at the Society for Wisdom and Philosophy in Tehran and his classes were attended by many intellectuals who were keen to know about Foucault and his ideas on power relations. Among the regular participants were Afshin Jahandideh, Niko Sarkhosh and Shapoor Etemad[10], who later became key figures in the translation and reception of Foucault’s ideas during the Reformist Period. According to Jahandideh and Sarkhosh,

[i]t was not a typical Philosophy course: it was an opportunity to speak, listen and think but in a quite different way; the circle inspired us with questions as well as doubts and confusions. Unlike other educational institutes, the Society for Wisdom and Philosophy didn’t ask for a tuition fee. There was no categorization of theories. One could pose a question and help find an asnswer to the question. It was like an open door into a foggy horizon. (Sarkhosh and Jahandideh 2018)

Jame Bozorg (2018) maintains that the social and cultual situation of Iran during the Reconstruction Period, the limitation of literary resources and Ahmadi’s mastery of several languages helped him become ‘the intellectual hero’ of a generation of Iranian intellectuals. Ahmadi’s influence, through his books and philosophy courses, reached its peak in this period when intellectuals did not have access to new theories of Human Sciences. It is worthwhile to note that, although Ahmadi only gives talks two or three times a year these days, his works and translations are still very present in the Iranian intellectual scene. Thus, Foucault’s ideas were first introduced in Iran through original critical writings in Persian rather than through translations. Babak Ahmadi introduced Foucault’s main works because, he said, ‘we wanted to establish a discourse on Foucault’s ideas’ (Ahmadi 2019). [11] According to Babak Ahmadi (1992), Foucault in all his works of philosophy considered himself an eye with a critical view on power relations. This instrumental and political motivation for introducing Foucault was motivated by the fact that, as Roger Deacon puts it, each of Foucault’s works is a ‘case study of how power relations have conditioned, invested and fabricated specific human experiences such as madness, sickness, punishment and sexuality’ (Deacon 2002 : 90). As table 2 displays, 17 works including periodicals and original writings in Persian have been studied and we tagged all 17 works based on their main theme.  Nearly 60 percent of works discussed power relations and only 5.9 percent of them dealt with Islamic Revolution.

No

Title of Topics

Number of Occurrence

Percent

1

Power Relations

10

%58.8

2

Introducing Foucault

1

%5.9

3

Islamic Revolution

1

%5.9

4

Postmodernism

1

%5.9

5

Arbitrariness of signs

1

%5.9

6

Secularism

1

%5.9

7

Death of Author

1

%5.9

8

Review of Foucault’s Translations

1

%5.9

Total

17

%100

Table 2: The main themes of Foucault’s discourse in Iran during the Reconstruction Period

Having established that 60 pecent of the books and journal articles investigated the concept of power relations in Foucault’s ideas, we had a closer look at these works. Figure 2 deals specifically with the concept of power relations in the Reconstruction Period.

Figure 2: The pattern of power relations in the Reconstruction Period

During the Reconstruction Period, when different ways of criticizing were blocked by the government, Foucault’s idea of power relations was welcomed and considered as a tool in the hands of intellectuals of the time, such as Babak Ahmadi, with which to challenge the status quo. Foucault (1981) emphasized the “necessity of radical criticism” in an interview with Didier Eribon after the election of François Mitterrand as President of France in 1981. Ezatullah Fooladvand translated the interview, entitled “Is thinking really important?”, in 1994. It should be noted this interview “”was also published under another title, “Is thinking important”, during the Reformist Period in 2003 in the newspaper named “Solidarity”.  This shows the attractiveness of the idea of “necessity of radical criticism” among intellectuals; thanks to the translators of Foucault’s thought, his ideas provided a platform for criticism in the closed political atmosphere of Iran in the Reconstruction Period.

4. Foucault’s Reception in the Reformist Period (1997-2005)

The Reformist Period (1997-2005) started when Mohammad Khatami was elected president of Iran. From an ideological point of view, this period was radically different from both the previous and the following periods in that President Khatami, having won almost 70% of the vote, advocated freedom of expression, civil society, tolerance, constructive diplomatic relations with other states, free market and foreign investment. Furthermore, President Khatami who had displayed genuine interest in cultural openness advanced “Dialogue among Civilizations” as an international political theory, somehow an antithesis to Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations,[12] and which was ultimately adopted by United Nations on 4 November 1998. What was culturally significant in this period was an intellectual vitality and artistic freedom as well as a relaxation of censorship on books and movies. This gave rise to an intellectual climate that was unprecedented in Iran, resulting in a veritable translation boom. This was the period in which original critical writings and articles on Foucault appeared in different periodcals, both left- and right-wing. The following picture displays the main themes dominating the Reformist Period.

Figure 3: The main themes dominating President Khatami’s administration (Soltani, 2005)

As can be seen in Figure 3, civil society, law, freedom of speech, and political development have been among the most important concepts of Reformist’s discourse. Khatami was elected President with the slogan of reform, religious democracy and improvement in international relations. After obtaining executive power, President Khatami tried to create a logical symmetry and balance by using the three principles of the constitution, namely freedom, independence and Islam, in order to achieve democracy and call for de-escalation and dialogue with other nations of the world.

Translator

Publisher

Date of Publication

Persian Title

English Title of the ST

Original Title

Morteza Kalantarian

Agah

 

1997

Barasi Parvande yek ghatl

I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered my Mother, my Sister and my Brother 

Moi, Pierre Rivière, ayant égorgé ma mère, ma soeur et mon frère 

Niko Sarkhosh & Afshin Jahandideh

 

Ney

1999

Moraghebat va tanbih:Tavalod Zendan

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Surveiller et punir:

Naissance de la prison

Bagher Parham

University of Tehran

 

1999

Nazm Goftar

The Discourse on Language

L’ordre du discours 

Afshin Jahandideh

Hermes

2002

Niche, Freud, Marx

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx 

Niko Sarkhosh & Afshin Jahandideh

Ney

 

2004

Erade Be Danestan

The Will to Knowledge

La Volonté de savoir 

 

Yahya Emami

Naghsh-o Negar

 

2006

Peidayesh Klinik

The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception

Naissance de la clinique – une archéologie du regard médical 

Table 3: Foucault’s works translated in the Reformist Period

To show more specifically the topics which were discussed by the intellectuals writing on Foucault, we will refer to some reviews written on Foucault in this period.

The themes such as power and resistance were quite interesting for Foucault’s translators in Iran. Niko Sarkhosh said, there are always people who resist, and there are always people who do not accept things imposed on them; Foucault is a weapon of war to resist and to think differently’ (Jahandideh and Sarkhosh 2019).  Sarkhosh also said:

The reasons why we chose to translate Foucault twenty years ago were twofold: the first reason was pure chance; we were so lucky to have found Foucault. The second reason was that we had a problem, not with old paradigms, but with modern paradigms that were meant to help us analyze the present situation and to find solutions. And who better than Foucault to help us think alternatively, for he had tried his best to reduce the pressure of the paradigms that governed academia. His thought presented a way out of a thought cul de sac, a pair of glasses that enabled us to think and to live alternatively (Sarkhosh 2011:10-11).

The ideas of power and resistence were discussed and reviewed in the Reformist Period by several writers. In an article entitled ‘Power and security in the age of Postmodernism’ (Ghodrat va Amniat Dar Asr-e Postmodernist) written by Mohammad Reza Tajik, a reformist and political activist, drawing on Foucault’s ideas, discussed power and security and their relationship with ‘modernity’ and ‘civilization’ and argued that since the beginning of the 16th century there has been a metanarrative that substituted ‘Human’ for ‘God’ (Tajik 1998). In another article entitled ‘Power from Foucault’s point of view’ (Ghodrat Dar Negahe Michel Foucault) [13] refering to Foucault’s work Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, the author, Reza Rahimi argued that for Foucault modern punishment was not an act of supression but a means of organizing and shaping people’s future actions. In other words, it had a social function (Rahimi 2003).

In addition to power, the resistance which it provokes was explained and discussed in different articles. According to Foucault, resistance is integral to power. The existence of power relationships depends on a multiplicity of points of resistance which are present everywhere in the power network. They are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite (Foucault, 1978c cited in Nietzsche et al., 1968: 95–96) According to Babak Ahmadi (1992), Foucault in all his works of philosophy considered himself as an eye with a critical view on power relations. A critique of “power relations” thus seems to have attracted Foucault’s Persian translators who live in an authoritarin society and for whom translation is a safer and more powerful channel of protest.

Another article on Foucault’s ideas, entitled ‘Az Jonon Ta Jensiat’ (From Insanity to Sexuality), was written by Payam Yazdanjoo. Having represented Foucault as a French philosopher who dealt with the archeology and geneology of philosophical concepts, Yazdanjoo gave a brief description of translations of Foucault’s works in Persian. Moreover, he argued that knowledge, power and sexuality were the main themes that Foucault addressed in his works and tried to analyze them with his archeological and geneological methods.

Shirin Askari in her article ‘Roshanfekran dar barabar-e haghighat’ (Intellectuals Facing Reality), reviewed Foucault’s ideas, particularly his ideas on the role of intellectuals. In this article, Askari describes the two types of intellectuals Foucault theorized: the ‘universal’ and ‘specific’. The traditional role of universal intellectuals was to reveal reality for those who were unable to recognize it themselves and also to act as an informed conscience of people in society. Foucault argued that common people without any need of being an intellectual could be conscious of different hegemonic forms in social, economic and cultural framework of their daily life. As he did research on prisoners, he came to believe that political movements led by protestors with the help of universal intellectuals are usually supressed by power. As a result, Foucault argued that specific intellectuals, both right- and left-wing, should replace universal intellectuals. (Askari 1998)

Another article, ‘Andishe Varzan-e Hermenutic’ (Thinkers of Hermenutics), was written by Moharam Aghazadeh in 1999 and published in a left-wing Journal named Aftab Emrooz. In it Aghazadeh refers to Foucault’s work of 1994, The Order of Things, An Archaeology of the Human Sciences as a methedology of social sciences and introduces Foucault as a historian and Poststructuralist philosopher. With this article, Aghazadeh introduced Foucault’s works over a decade before they were translated in 2010 and 2013. He quotes Foucault as he emphasizes how ‘power encourages resistence’ and says:

Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power (Foucault, 1978c translated by Robert Hurley in 1978: 95-96).

Foucault’s idea of power relations was received as an ideological tool in Iran to criticize the power structures in Iranian society. Contrary to what might have been expected, despite the changes in the political climate during the two periods under examination, the two administrations appear to have adopted similar policies with respect to Foucault’s ideas as there was no ban on publication of Foucault and almost all of his works have been translated since the Reconstruction Period to the present. However, the Reformist Period was quite different with regard to the number of translations, original writings and also translations of Foucault’s articles on the Islamic Revolution. Almost all Foucault’s articles on the Islamic Revolution written in 1978 were translated in the Reformist Period (1997-2005), twenty years after their original publication in French.

No

Title of theme

Number of occurance

Percent

1

Power Relations

112

%56.6

2

Islamic Revolution

29

%14.6

3

Archeology

7

%3.5

4

Modernity

7

3.5

5

Postmodernism

6

%3

6

Geneology

6

%3

7

Death of Author

6

%3

8

New historiography

4

%2

9

Criticism of Foucault

4

%2

10

Discontinuity of History

2

%1

11

Hermenutics

2

%1

12

Reforms

1

%0.5

13

Poststructuralism

1

%0.5

14

Discourse Analysis

1

%0.5

15

Self-referential language

 

1

%0.5

16

Democracy

1

%0.5

17

Analytical philosophy

1

%0.5

18

Marxism

1

%0.5

19

Security studies

1

%0.5

20

Introducing Foucault

1

%0.5

21

Episteme

1

%0.5

22

Relativism

1

%0.5

23

Review of Foucault’s Translation

1

%0.5

24

The role of Translation

1

%0.5

Total

198

100

Table 4: The main themes of Foucault’s discourse in Iran during the Reformist Period

During the Reformist Period there was a lively debate on Foucault in newspapers and periodicals. As in the Reconstruction Period, we tagged all the works written or translated in the Reformist Period. As shown in Table 4, 53 percent of the articles written on Foucault generally dealt with the notion of power relations. Only 14.6 percent of these articles discussed Foucault’s ideas on the Islamic Revolution. Figure 4 maps the topics related to Foucault that were discussed in translations and also original writings during the Reconstruction and the Reformist Period.

Figure 4: Distribution of Topics in both periods under investigation

Figure 5: The pattern of power relations during the Reformist Period

Figure 5 depicts sub categories of power relations in different works whether translations or original writings. In other words, we categorized the works discussing power relations according to their main topic of discussion such as sexuality, criticizing modern society, criticizing Humanities, etc.. Foucault’s translators and intellectuals came up with the idea of power relations to make their own critical remarks that they could not previously make due to the closed political atmosphere. During the Reformist Period, which is considered to be the heyday of Foucault’s thought in Iran, they took this opportunity to present their critical ideas and reveal the power relations in the society.

Conclusion

Chesterman proposes Translator Studies as an approach that deals with translators rather than texts. To him, ‘in Translator Studies, texts are secondary, the translators themselves are primary; this priority leads to quite different kinds of research questions’ (2009: 15). Furthermore, emphasizing the role of translators, Chesterman proposes an agent model  which focuses explicitly on the agents involved in translation, for instance on their activities or attitudes, their interaction with their social and technical environment, or their history and influence. This study was an attempt to depict the significant role played by translators in the reception of Foucault’s ideas in Iran.

According to Alavi Tabar (2019), in Iran most philosophical books are translated either by university professors, who turn to translation with the aim of being promoted, or by unemployed university graduates who, by choosing an important author to translate, seek to make a name for themselves or earn a living. The results are translations with many deletions and wrong or vague sentences. The situation is worsened in the absence of copyright and conscientious publishers. Alavi Tabar refers to another unfortunate trend wherein some university professors consider it below their dignity to translate—compared to original writing, translation is of less academic value— rather, they publish philosophy books in their own names, taking their material from the faulty published translations. (Alavi Tabar, 2019)

Thus, Aghil Fooladi (2020) states, some Western philosophy books have been lucky as they were translated by good translators, and some have been unlucky, being rendered into useless translations in less capable hands. Fooladi, a professor of philosophy at University of Tehran, mentions some of the lucky ones, which include Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche, but he equates good with exact. Specifically, Fooladi mentions Adib Soltani, a non-academic translator whose style of translation of philosophical texts has been controversial. A genius with several different university degrees, and well-versed in several languages, Adib Soltani translates with such scholarly precision that some consider his translations as masterpieces while others reject them as ‘faithful but incomprehensible’ (Fooladi, 2020).

Foucault has been lucky in Iran since his books have been translated by very capable translators. In fact, some of his most important books have been translated by a team of two translators, Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh, for whom these translation constitute a lifetime of devotion to Foucault (for a list of their translations of Foucault, see the Appendix). This devotion seems to be essential for translating such a prolific and difficult philosopher as Foucault, the translations of all his works requires a lifetime of commitment and thinking.

One of their translations, History of Madness (Tarikh-e Jonoon) , Foucault’s first major book translated into Persian, won the Award for the Book of the Islamic Republic of the Iran in 2002. They have also translated two important books about Foucault: Foucault by Gilles Deleuze (1986) and Domination and Power by Peter Miller(1987), a book which investigates the nature of power in Western societies by comparing the writings of the principal exponents of Critical Theory, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse and Jürgen Habermas, with those of Michel Foucault. The two translators translate from the original French because they believe that the English translations of Foucault are “disastrous” (Sarkhosh 2011). Their translations have also been approved by Babak Ahmadi, who believes their translations are not so extremely literal as those by Adib Soltani, but are rather mildly and appropriately literal (Ahmadi 2019 personal interview).

With regard to those works by Foucault which have not been translated in Iran yet, the authors found that three volumes of History of Sexuality (Histoire de la sexualité) have not been translated due to cultural and religious issues in an Islamic country like Iran. The first volume of The Will to Knowledge (La Volonté de savoir) was translated by Niko Sarkhosh and Afshin Jahandideh in 2004 and they started to translate the second volume, The Use of Pleasure (L’Usage des plaisirs) , but came to the conclusion that their translation would not be published and abandoned the project.

Another important aspect of Foucault’s reception in Iran is that while one would naturally expect Foucault to be translated or intrepreted within academia, he was actually introduced mainly by intellectual circles outside the university.  According to Jahandideh, Iranian academia does not take an interest in Foucault’s works because “generally, the aim of universities is to train knowledgeable professors not critical thinkers”. And as far as Foucault is concerned, the general trend is to pack and classify his thought into reductionist categories such as structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modern, etc, thus making his thought barren (Jahandideh 2019).This trend is also confirmed by Sarkhosh, who, citing the book Geneology is gray by Adel Mashayekhi (2016), illustrated the fate of  Foucault in the Iranian academia. She claims that the writer of this book introduced Foucault’s ideas in the light of phenomenology and as a post-Kantian philosophy; as a result, the reader needs to know a number of other theories to underestand Foucault’s ideas. (Jahandideh and Sarkhosh 2019 personal interview)

As far as the main question of the study is concerned, we found that, while on the one hand a similar policy was adopted with respect to Foucault’s work by the two administrations we have discussed; There on the other there was a boom in the publication of literature on Foucault in the Reformist Period as there was a greater vitality in the cultural atmosphere of Iran at that time. Furthermore, the theme of Foucault’s work that most interested Iranian intellectuals and translators was his concpet of power relations which was regarded as a tool with which to challege as well as criticize the existing situation in Iran.

Acknowledgments

We would like to express our gratitude to Prof. Christopher Rundle of the University of Bologna who provided insight and expertise that greatly assisted this research.

Appendix 1

Writer

Publisher

Date

Persian Title

Title in English

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh

Hermes

1998

Iran: Rouh-e yek Jahan-e Bedon-e Rouh

Iran: The Spirit of Spiritless World

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh

Ney

1999

Moraghebat va tanbih:Tavalod Zendan

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

 

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh

Hermes

2002

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx

 

Nietzsche, Freud, Marx

 

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh

Ney

2003

Sooje, Estila va Ghodrat

Subject, Domination and Power in Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas and Michel Foucault’s Point of view

 

Afshin Jahandide & Niko Sarkhosh

Ney

2004

Erade Be Danestan

The Will to Knowledge

Niko Sarkhosh

Ney

2007

Foucault

Foucault

 

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh

Ney

2013

Dirine Shenashi Danesh

Archaeology of Knowledge

 

Afshin Jahandideh & Niko Sarkhosh

Ney

2017

khastgah hermenutic Khod

The Hermeneutics of the Subject 

 

Afshin Jahadideh & Niko Sarkhosh

Ney

2018

Naghd Chist va Parvaresh-e Khod

What is Criticism and Nurturing Self

 

List of works translated by Afshin Jahandideh and Niko Sarkhosh

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Notes

[1] This period is called the Reconstruction Period as Rafsanjani, then president of IRI, and his so-called Reconstruction Administration’s attempts boiled down to reconstructing and restoring economic infrastructure in Post-war Iran

[2] In the Reformist Period (1997-2005), President Mohammad Khatami‘s plans were to change the Iranian political system to include more freedom and democracy.

[3] The leftist intellectuals in Iran are those who seek equality in distribution of wealth and power among people.

[4] Ali Shariati was one of the most influential Iranian intellectuals of the 20th century.

[5] Gholam Hossein Sa’edi was a prolific Iranian writer.

[6] Le Monde, 20 Mars 1975.

[7] ‘Black Friday’ , 8 September 1978, is so called in Iran as there were mass shootings in Jaleh square in Tehran, many protesters were killed in the incident because they were unaware that the regime had declared curfew a day earlier. The soldiers ordered the protesters to disperse, but the order was ignored and the army opened fire on them.

[8] Le Monde, 10-11 September 1978

[9] Iranian Green Movement is also known as Mowj-e Sabz, a political movement that arose after the 2009 Iranian presidential election, in which protesters demanded the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office.

[10] Shapoor Etemad was translator and researcher in Research Institute of Wisdom and Philosophy in Iran

[11] It is important to note that Babak Ahmadi translated Foucault’s works from French and also, that he met Foucault in person and attended his lectures at the Collège de France in 1978.

[12] Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations was proposed in 1992. It argued that in the future there would not be war between countries, but between cultures.

[13] Ghodrat dar Negah-e Michel Foucault

About the author(s)

Azam Ghamkhah holds a PhD in Translation Studies from the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran. Her thesis was on the reception of Michel Foucault in Iran. In 2020, she spent six months as a Visiting Scholar at the University of Bologna, Italy. Her main area of research is the historiography of Translation.

Ali Khazaee Farid recently retired as professor of Translation Studies at the Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. He was the founding editor of the quarterly Motarjem (The Translator) published since 1993. His major interests are the practice and theory of literary translation.

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©inTRAlinea & Azam Ghamkhah & Ali Khazaeefar (2021).
"The Role of Translation in the Reception of Foucault in Post-revolutionary Iran", inTRAlinea Vol. 23.

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