Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy


Comparative Literature


Pero, Allan


This thesis depicts three different modes of travel-writing on Iran: journalism, literary translation, and travelogue. With a comparative mindset that relates these modes of writing in the span of fifty years, I conceive of travel-writing in a broader sense, in order to think outside of its being a mere “genre.” Each mode of writing is a discipline on its own right, which is why each undergoes a distinct set of inquiries that suits their specific experience. The corpus chosen for this study are: fifteen journalistic reports on the uprising before the 1979 Iranian revolution, by Michel Foucault; two poems translated by Basil Bunting before and during World War II; and a travelogue by Robert Byron, published in 1937. These seemingly non-correlational discourses are lesser-studied works on Iran, and the inter-linkage between them will run concurrent with the individual study under question.

In chapter one, Foucault’s reports will be studied in dialogue with his own philosophical evolution. Also, the reverberations of his “travelled ideas” will be traced in both his defenders and his critics, who praise or criticize him based on the aftermath of the events, not on his actual writings. In chapter two, I will turn to theories of translation to study Bunting’s political and poetic missions. These sometimes overlap, and therefore an in-depth analysis of his translated works are analyzed in relationship to his role in Iran as a British spy. While this chapter studies Bunting’s aesthetic and political missions in both his poetics and profession, I argue that literary translation functions as an aesthetic, ‘other’ place where he can freely write as a cultural double-agent. In chapter three, I explore Byron’s Road to Oxiana in relation to the ethics of travel, and his aesthetic and synaesthetic musings on the architectural sites of Central Asia. For Byron, Iran is not a site of exploration and appropriation; but is instead a way to escape from the banalities of the West and its then-looming collapse into World War II. On the other hand, his writing provides an ironic worldview whereby various forms of double standard in the culturally and politically contingent region are criticized.

Summary for Lay Audience

Narratives about Iran and the “exotic middle east” have become politically pinned and petro-conscious in the twentieth century. Moreover, and following the 9.11.01 attacks, the region was once again under profound scrutiny, with a predominant mindset to attack the nations under the terms such as fanaticism and terrorism. As a result, these discourses, hugely supported by Western propaganda, meant that some countries went under the shadow of politics, and their consequent sanction and exclusion from academic and intellectual research resulted in the overlooking of much cultural products that shaped out of travelling to and writing about the region. This thesis studies the works by three Western travel writers who set aside their pure object of desire—as in, to either romanticize an exotic ‘other’, or, to stigmatize in typical colonial fashion—in order to travel, to be, and to observe and describe their travelling experience in the Middle East and Central Asia. The main corpus chosen for the thesis are journalism by Michel Foucault (Chapter One), literary translation by Basil Bunting (Chapter Two), and travel-writing by Robert Byron (Chapter Three), each of which are given a distinct voice and a separate domain to study in a critical fashion. While not without their obvious mistakes and loopholes, the thesis contends that these works have endeavored to establish new ways of thinking about travel, something that a mere “armchair” travel and archival survey are not sufficiently capable of providing.

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