World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Cultural Turn in Iran's June 2009 Post-Election Uprising (372) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: THU 22, 5.00-7.00 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: New York University (USA)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Shouleh Vatanabadi and Mehdi Khorrami

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: One day after the June 2009 presidential Election in Iran, in protest to the blatant rigging of the results, people poured in the streets shouting “Where is My Vote?” This initial out cry, perhaps best captures the spirit of a novel social movement in Iran that merges the personal and the political, individual and the collective as well as the past and present. Although many of the captured images of this uprising brings to mind similar and familiar moments of social unrests in Iran such as the outpour of Iranian people into the streets three decades ago resulting in 1979 Revolution, many key factors distinguishes the recent social unrest with the bygone years. Tracing the continuities and changes involving the recent social uprising in Iran this panel puts forward an examination of cultural products of and about Iran to highlight the interplays of different discourses and the consequent transformation of Iranian society in the course of its modern history. This panel argues that what happens today in Iran, in terms of visual and oral cultural products should not be examined in a vacuum and in fact one of the main keys to the interpretation of recent events is the writing on the exegesis of these cultural products in their evolutionary context. Understanding Iran’s recent events through the lens of cultural analysis finds its urgency especially when we take into account the practical media blackout which leaves us with scattered signs and codes seen and read on TV and the internet. All four papers of the panel identify and analyze multiple aspects of a system within which cultural products should be explored and examined to arrive at the understanding of the nature of the current movement which not only avoids making ideological demands but also, in a rather innovative method, brings up taboo concepts which for the first time in the past one hundred years in Iran are being seriously challenged.

Chair: Peter Chelkowski (New York University)

Paper presenter: Mohammad Mehdi Khorram (New York University), “Context as Signifier: A Reading of Protest Slogans of Iran’s post 2009 presidential election?”
Why did the Iranians who come out to streets to protest the results of the June 2009 presidential election use the slogan Allah-o Akbar (God is great!), although many of them were not (and are not) necessarily promoting a religious, Islamic alternative to the current situation? Why is this slogan still one of the defining components of the protest movement? Why does this movement, which has insisted on being non-violent, use slogans such as “Death to Russia” and “Death to China”? What is the relevance of a slogan such as “Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, I give my life for Iran”? And what is this almost pathological emphasis on respect for poetic meters and rhymes when designing these slogans? These questions and many similar ones in fact point to the vast, practically unchallengeable presence of a particular echo chamber in which the shouting of slogans reverberates with meanings different from the original ones. Defining this echo chamber/context, which has been constructed over a long period of time and is informed by various historical events as well as by diverse rhetorical devices from a variety of artistic and literary traditions, is indeed a complex task. The purpose of this paper is to identify the fundamental components of this context in order to shed light on its main function as a signifying process. By analyzing a large number of these slogans, I will demonstrate how they begin to function as passwords through which individuals enter the ever-expanding universe of counter-discourses and counter-narratives and contribute to the writing of Iran so that they include themselves in the society’s historical consciousness.

Paper presenter: M. R. Ghanoonparvar (The University of Texas at Austin), “Rhetoric and Symbolism: Literary Devices at the Service of Politics and Social Movements”
From the very start of the social and political consciousness in the modern era in Iran prior to and during the Constitutional Revolution, literary artists, political activists, and even ordinary people have made abundant use of literary devices, especially symbolism, to gain support for and to advance their cause. One of the first popular songs, ''''Az khun-e javanan-e vatan laleh damideh'''' [Tulips Have Grown out of the Blood of the Young People of the Homeland] by Aref Qazvini, which he performed publicly during the period of the Constitutional Revolution, for example, uses the tulip as a symbol for revolutionary martyrs; this song once again become popular during the recent uprisings in Iran and was recorded by the famous tenor, Shajarian. Symbolic use of such common terms as shab [night] or zemestan [winter] (representing oppression), sahar [dawn] and sobh [morning] or bahar [spring] (representing freedom), laleh [tulip] (representing patriotic martyrdom), and jangal [forest] (representing rebellion) as well as color symbolism, which has been employed by both sides in the recent events in Iran, not only characterizes the bulk of Persian literary production in the past hundred years but also has colored the daily vernacular. With an examination of pertinent literary and cultural texts, including poetry, prose fiction, drama, motion pictures, and popular songs (tasnif) as well as print and other media from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present, this presentation traces the continuation and change in the use of symbolism and other literary devices and explores the possible impact of such use on the process and outcome of social events and movements.

Paper presenter: Pari Shirazi (New York University), “Waiting for Godot and Iranian contemporary Political Stage?”
This paper will offer an analysis of the adaptation of Waiting for Godot in contemporary Iran with a reversal of Beckett’s play appropriated into the context of Iranian contemporary political moment. In his circular and uneventful masterpiece, Waiting For Godot, the playwright Samuel Beckett brilliantly makes his tramp characters Estragon and Vladimir wait endlessly for Godot, their mysterious savior who mercifully never comes to shatter their dream. They survive the gloomiest of circumstances hoping. For the political stage of Iran, in the dark cellars, cafés, and universities a new version of this play was being written. This more promising adaptation of the Beckett’s play had a triumphant ending; the tramps and Lucky(s) simply would rise up and demand their freedom and re-claim their dignity, in this play no one was waiting for Godot.

Paper presenter: Shouleh Vatanabadi (New York University), “Women, Iranian Post-election Uprising and Cultural Texts?”
The post presidential election protests of 2009 have once again put Iran and its social uprising in the spotlight of international media broadcasts. While for world viewers some scenes from this movement are reminders of the spectacles of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, what is unfolding in Iran is indicative of many ruptures in the continuities of Iranian modern history and political culture. For those viewers whose gaze on Iran and Iranians is fixed on timeless and static imaginaries of this society, the centrality of Iranian women’s role in the current movement proves hard to grasp. Outside the dynamics of social and historical Iranian contexts, images of Iranian women from a wide range of social backgrounds, young and old, religious and secular at the forefront of this movement have indeed perplexed the global spectator. If the language of political analysis can at times come short in shedding light on the intricacies of turbulent moments in Iranian history such as the post-election movement, cultural products by Iranian women, as this paper will put forward, offer a productive site of dialogism for a greater understanding of Iranian contemporary complexities. Drawing on such exemplary texts as, Women Without Men, by Shahrnush Parsipour and Shirin Neshat’s cinematic adaptation of this novel; “I had come to have tea with my daughter” by Shiva Arastooi; and We are half of this Population, a recent film by Rakhshan Banietemad, this paper will situate the post-election uprising in Iran within the shifting contexts and inter-texts involving continuities and ruptures of Iranian modern history with women as integral parts of this dynamic.