De/constructing the Iranian other : captivity, neo-orientalism, and resistance in three paradigmatic American memoirs.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This dissertation critiques literary representations of Iran in three iconic Iranian-American memoirs, both pre- and post-9/11. The texts chosen are Betty Mahmoody’s Not Without My Daughter (1987), Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003), and Fatemeh Keshavarz’s Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran (2007). The general theoretical framework of this study is informed by Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism, as the dominance of established topoi in these literary representations bespeak the internal consistency of the Orientalist discourse. Through an in-depth critical perusal of the memoir, this study reveals how Mahmoody’s Not Without My Daughter, as the quintessential pre-9/11 memoir on Iran, builds on the parameters of a long-established tradition of American captivity narratives to narrate the account of her alleged captivity in post-revolutionary Iran. It also illustrates how Mahmoody’s narrative invests in the tropes of colonial discourse often deployed to describe the Other, and how its reception was conditioned by the Hostage Crisis. The critique of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, as the paradigmatic post-9/11 Iranian-American memoir, illustrates how Nafisi’s representational modus operandi operate within the framework of a neo-Orientalist paradigm. Nafisi’s neo-Orientalist discourse represents Iran through its perceived fanaticism, violence, and philistinism and posits Western literature, and by extension culture, as the liberating medium through which Iranian women can be ‘redeemed’. The analysis of Nafisi’s memoir further delineates how her glorification of canonical Western literature lends itself to appropriation by a U.S. neoconservative ideology that advocates the liberation of Muslim women through American military intervention. Finally, Keshavarz’s Jasmine and Stars is investigated as a counterhegemonic discursive intervention that seeks to subvert the dominant neo-Orientalist representations of Iran and Islam. The study illustrates how through a strategic deployment of Orientalist tropes, as well as by invoking prominent classical and contemporary Persian literary giants, Keshavarz effectively constructs a space within which the voices of the marginalized Other find expression. Furthermore, her memoir manages not only to produce a counter-narrative to that of Nafisi’s, but also to challenge many dominant perceptions about Iran, Islam, and the Middle East that have served towards dehumanizing and rendering invisible the Iranian Other.