Cyclical history, gnosis, and memory: a study in the role and significance of Mystical Poetry as a medium of Popular Culture for Persian Sufism By Milad Milani
..Sufism, which is, among other inheritors of ‘gnosis,’ a contemporary face of today’s spirituality, finds an ongoing relevance in the heart of the second millennium through not only the great lyrical poets of Persia but also through its obvious links with the various spiritual or gnostic contents or themes as manifested in popular film. Whether it be the historical realism of Gladiator and Braveheart in promoting ‘nobility’ and ‘chivalry’ or traditional tales and mythology in King Arthur and Crouching Tiger: Hidden Dragon: conveying ‘honour’ and ‘virtue,’ there is a special kind of spiritual phenomenon that continually speaks through popular culture.
Science fiction blockbusters with their dazzling imagery and imagination, like The Matrix, The Lord of The Rings trilogy and the Star Wars saga, are comparable, in style, to the popular Sufi literature of the tenth to thirteenth centuries and serve much the same purpose, not only for their entertainment value but also for their praised esoteric content. Their popularisation generally displays the (human) hunger for spiritual awakening and a general and predominant interest or shift towards the ‘gnostico-religious’ arena. Specific spiritual themes come to the fore in such films where, for instance, detailed attention has been paid to the subtle relationship between master and apprentice; the role of the ‘seeker’ amidst the populace, the layout of cosmogony; cosmology; eschatology, soteriology and many other areas of relational concern. What these films show, on a popular plane, is on one level the return to and rethinking of the perennial issues of good and evil, right and wrong, truth and untruth, justice and injustice and, on another level, the individual’s private search for solace and personal spirituality.
Similar to Persian Sufi literature, these films bring to life the Classics and Antiquity in an almost modern renaissance of spiritual or inner-personal quest to recapture the meaning and value of such age-old virtues for and within a contemporary setting. The ‘automatic’ or ‘hyper’ sense, in an unconscious fashion, is an indication of the inherited wealth of knowledge accumulated from the dawn of the human species, and not a mere reduction of the ideological conventionalism prevalent in popular film. One of the reasons for Sufism’s great success and continuation, despite the fact that it is not a proselytising tradition, lies in its incorporation of poesis and its subsequent literary success on a popular cultural level. I would like, therefore, to present here a brief and introductory journey through both the hidden and popular levels of Sufi understanding as related to the literary material of three specific classical Persian poets.