Iraj Mirza’s Sexual Poetics: Writing Like a Man, Reading Like a Man

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University of Maryland
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I received a Bachelors degree in English Translation Training from the Azad University of Shiraz in 2000. I then moved to the United Kingdom to study literature at Buckingham University, where I received a Masters degree in Victorian Literature in 2002. In 2003, I was admitted to the Department of Languages and Cultures at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London to pursue a PhD degree in literature, which was interrupted. In August 2006, I began a PhD program in Comparative Literature focusing on 19th century Persian literature at the University of Maryland.

In his poetry, Iraj Mirza (1874-1926), a modernist Iranian poet and satirist, openly and explicitly criticizes the veiling of Iran’s women as a sign of the country’s backwardness.  In order to discredit the long held values of the hijab (veil), Iraj unveils the female body in his poetry. Such unveiling is best depicted in two of his long poems: Arefnameh and Zohreh and Manuchehr. In a crucial part of the Arefnameh, he depicts a speaker who lampoons a veiled woman with whom he eventually has intercourse, while she holds her face-veil tight. Readers are given a detailed account of the entire episode, specifically of the actual intercourse and penetration. In Zohreh and Manuchehr, presumably written later in his life, the poet paints a more circumscribed picture of the naked female body, presumably that of a goddess turned human. On contrast to the woman in Arefnameh, here Zohreh undresses herself tastefully to entice her virgin beloved, Manuchehr. 
Critics like Paul Sprachman have interpreted the unveiling in Arefnameh as a metonym and a cause for the poet to express his abomination for “predatory homosexuality.” This view, I suggest is still situated on the male’s eye’s view of this gender dynamic. In this paper, I hope to show that in both poems the unveiling/undressing of the female body is depicted from a patriarchal perspective and calls for male-centered readings. Whereas Arefnameh ends with a prediction of a similar fate—almost a rape-like destiny— awaiting all other veiled women, thus “teaching them a lesson,” Zohreh and Manuchehr seems to satisfy the female desire by having Manuchehr sleep with a nymphomaniac Zohreh. As the latter leaves the scene to ascend back to the sky, the former is left to ponder his conquest and the plight that turns a youthful infatuation for a beautiful body into the calamity that is love.  

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Comparative Literature
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