Phi Beta Cons

Transcending Orientalism

 

In “Banishing the Ghosts of Iran,” Fatemeh Keshavarz, a professor of Persian  language and comparative literature, provides a fascinating glimpse of little-known and what she describes as “exquisite” contemporary Iranian literary works.

In the process she critiques the Saidian “Old Orientalism” and its latest, “New” form, stating that they both ignore the “political complexities of the region in favor of a simple narrative.”The old European Orientalist writers of the 18th through the 20th centuries treated Middle Eastern culture and people as having been great in the remote past, but devoid of complexity and agency in the present. The New Orientalists…reduce the cavernous and complicated story of the region into “us” and “them” scenarios.

Iran and other countries in the Middle East, Keshavarz writes, are not just made up of “victims and villains,” and, literarily, they have “much to offer the world.”
 

Among other writers little read in the West, she lauds the 20th-century Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad, citing her lovely poem “Frontier Walls.” In the light of the candle she holds, she invites readers to “leave behind the walls that separate them and see the wholeness of human experience”:

Return with me to that star,

Return with me

To that star far away

from the frozen seasons of the earth and its

ways to measure and understand

Where no one fears light.

Return with me

To the start of creation

To the fragrant core of a fertilized egg

To the moment I was born from you

Return with me, you have left me incomplete.

 

Amidst the current East-West travail it is good to be reminded of the healing and ennobling power of literature.

 

Posted at Campus Watch

 

Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues.

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