Persepolis, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and Intertexualism

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I actually read Reading Lolita in Tehran this summer before I even knew Azar Nafisi was coming to Seton Hill to speak.  I saw a French movie last Spring called Persepolis which was based on two graphic novels (which I also read this summer)by Marjane Satrapi.  After talking to some of my friends from high school about Persepolis one of them recommended Reading Lolita in Tehran to me since it, like Persepolis, dealt with the Iranian revolution and the loss of freedom for women specifically, but everyone in general.  I highly recommend Reading Lolita in Tehran, both graphic novels, and the movie (yes, there is an English language version of both).  If you’d like to check out a trailer for the movie, click here.

One of the things that shocked me when I read Reading Lolita in Tehran and Persepolis was how ignorant I was.  I knew very little to nothing about the Iranian revolution.  For all I knew, everyone over there in Iran liked wearing veils and things being how they were.  They are the ones that revolted after all and instituted the new Islamic regime.  How little I knew about any of it, I soon realized.  As Azar Nafisi commented in her lecture, “why do we think that Americans are the only ones with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”  We know so little about what is going on over there, that it is so easy for us just to write the whole situation off as what they want.  But it’s not what they all want.  And as she also observed, we are “complicit through our silence.”  We learn nothing about what it going on; we prefer to live in ignorance, so we don’t have to deal with it.  But it is our choice to remain ignorant to what is going on other places, and ignorance does not free us from guilt.  I really think we need to learn more about what is going on in other countries.

But moving away from the political issues and focuses more on the literature part, one interesting thing that Azar Nafisi said was that there are two things which go into helping to create a country’s identity.  The two things are:

1. The literary heritage from books.

2. The cultural/historical foundation of the country.   


This point seemed particularly interesting to me, since after all, aren’t some of the schools of literary criticism arguing that these things are important and some arguing that these things are not important?  Historicism obviously would consider the cultural and historical to be important, while intertexualism would capitalize on the importance of the literary heritage and the conventions inherent in these books.  Meanwhile, formalism would say none of these things are important.  But when things are presented in the way that Azar Nafisi explained them, I’m going to have to disagree with the formalists.  I very much think that books are powerful tools which can make a difference and do help people feel grounded.  Books can remind us of who we once were, who we are, and who we can become.  So in this sense, I suppose Azar Nafisi was a bit of an intertexualist. 

Read more on Azar Nafisi's visit to Seton Hill University. 

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