The Imprint of Diaspora on Language, Literature, and Film

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals.


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The cinematic rendition of the House of Sand and Fog in 2003 crated a sensation, it won an academy award. This paper is a contrapuntal reading of the original work written by Andre Dubus III. This contrapuntal engagement with the text would bring about a closer understanding of diaspora as a backdrop of this Hollywood drama. Furthermore, this paper would delineate the ideation of time, the temporal dynamics of diaspora in what is known as diasporic consciousness where ‘being’ assumes an unstable ontic positioning between ‘here’ and ‘there’. At a political level, in the book the writer probes into this diasporic positioning to portray American interventions in the Middle East especially in Iran in the aftermath of World War II that triggered the Iranian Revolution in 1979. This is the political meddling that is even fleetingly acknowledged in the preamble to the movie, Argot. The Iranian diasporic character in the movie, a former army colonel in pre-revolutionary Iran, presents this diasporic subjectivity that sheds light on the dynamics of imperialism and oppression in Iran that led to the Revolution as an indigenous reaction to the geopolitical presence of the United States. Hence, this contrapuntal analysis becomes an apt tool to display the strength of the novel as a political signifier of the events in the 1950’s that three decades later led to the mass emigration of the Iranians to the United States especially to California, the setting of the House of Sand and Fog.

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An immigrant’s everyday life includes constant negotiation of his place of origin vs. his current position. He regularly defines himself by introducing his place of origin to the people of other origins, as well as to the people of the same origin. An apparently simple word for the name of a country or nationality has become the site of a serious struggle among immigrant Iranians.
In this paper I examine Iranian Immigrants’ use of the term “Persian” as the tool for voicing other’s voice; hence contrasting different points of views. I follow Jane Hill’s definition of the word as the fundamental analytic unit for the analysis of dialogue that is uttered by a voice, which by itself is a point of view on the world. Thus, word can be the tool of dialogic engagement with other voices.
I employ Bakhtin’s translinguistic term of “double-voiced” utterance to analyze the function of the word “Persian” as used by Iranian immigrants when referring to their nationality. In this context the word “Persian” is a “double- voiced” utterance that does not just refer to the object- that is people from Iran or Iranian origin- but it rather takes a clear position against another word- that is “Iranian”- used by other Iranian immigrants, or sometimes by the same person in other situations. For the purpose of this research, I will administer a survey among a sample of the community of Iranian immigrants mostly living in USA to gather data through questionnaires and interviews to elicit information about their choice of the word –Iranian or Persian- when talking about their nationality and their reasons behind it. Their stories can help in understanding the various positions that can be taken by Iranian immigrants just by using one single word in their conversations. The data can contribute to elaborate what each word, “Persian” v.s. Iranian, associates with at socio-political level. Within the framework of sociolinguistics methodology, then, I apply Bakhtin’s “double-voiced” concept to discuss how by choosing one word against the other in a conversation, the Iranian immigrant negotiates his origin, expresses his socio-political view, and takes position toward other views in the context of living in diaspora.

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The memoir has been used by a first and second generation of Iranian American women writers to tell the story of their lives. If we consider a standard definition of a memoir as a personal reminiscence of an individual, a re—telling of significant events or persons in the author’s life, and how the author experienced these events and people, we should be alerted to the fact that a memoir falls within the category of literature, and not of historiography.

Although the memoir contains facts, it is not a factual account. It is a personal account of facts. A memoir (knowingly or unknowingly, deliberately or not) is a record of feelings. A first generation of Iranian women memoirists was not shy about using the form of the memoir to express feelings of love for home and homeland. But the situation of a second generation of Iranian memoirists, most of whom left Iran in dramatic circumstances and often, although not always with traumatized parents is very different from the first generation. In reading memoirs by second generation Iranian American women, we may be able to mine the tales of family relationships for what the authors feel about their lives, both in the past (in Iran) and in the present (in America). Often an author’s re-telling of her relationship with a father or a mother allows us to catch emotions which the author keeps hidden for one reason or another: of sadness, longing, anger, disappointment and love. This presentation will discuss the works of Tara Bahrampour, Nahid Rachlin and Firoozeh Dumas within the framework outlined above.