Censorship and Autobiography: The Plight of Iranian Female Memoirists

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Institutional Affiliation : 
Athabasca University and University of Alberta
Academic Bio: 
Manijeh Mannani is Assistant Professor of English and comparative literature at Athabasca University and Adjunct Professor of comparative literature at the University of Alberta. She specializes in the poetry of the Persian Sufi poet, Rumi, and the English Metaphysical poet, John Donne. Her research and teaching interests include comparative literature, Persian literature, postcolonial studies, poetry, and cultural studies. She has published two books and various articles in these areas. Manijeh is a member of the Athabasca University Press editorial board; she is also the series editor for Mingling Voices.

The past decade has seen a sharp rise in the publication of many Iranian autobiographies that ‘write back against the silence’ as a form of resistance following the anti imperialist revolution of 1979.  Among the recent publications, the works of three Iranian women stand out.  The memoirs are Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I’ve Been Silent About, Fatemeh Keshavarz’s Jasmine and Stars: Reading more than Lolita in Tehran, and Shirin Ebadi’s Iran Awakening.  These narratives deal with a complex array of issues, the most important of which is the representation of women under the Islamic, post imperialist regime.  All of these works, moreover, tackle the dynamics of “a pre-colonial [pre-imperial] reality” and the controversial question of political and cultural ties with the West.  The memoirs have received a wide range of responses from both within and outside Iran, but most notably from Iranian academics abroad who have questioned the legitimacy of exposing the internal weaknesses of the Islamic regime vis-à-vis the West.  Capable Iranian scholars like Hamid Dabashi have suggested the application of strict censorship to the genre of life writing to guarantee the safety and security of the Iranian nation in case “writing back the silence” would lead to a military interference by Western powers.  The subject of much vehemence among these critics has been Azar Nafisi whose work has been dubbed “Neo-Orientalist” in nature and Nafisi herself a “native informer.”  Although she raises the same social issues as Nafisi deals with in her memoir, the response Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, has received has not been as unfavorable due to the latter’s high profile as a human rights activist.  President Obama’s more seasoned approach to addressing conflicts with the Middle East and the Islamic government’s use of violence against the Iranian people after the June 2009 presidential election have acted as catalysts, however, in transforming the Iranian critics formerly in favor of selective censorship in literature to voices openly opposing the Islamic regime.  Drawing upon the central arguments in the genre of life-writing that involve issues of home, truth, selectivity, and subjectivity, my paper will address, on the one hand, the sincere attempts at representation of the self and the other in Iranian diasporic writing and its intentional/prescriptive concealment, on the other. 

Academic Discipline : 
Comparative Literature

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