New Iranian Narratives in Persian Texts

Mardin Aminpour, Maryam Shariati, Mehdi Torabian. Moderator, Bijan Afkami

  • “Appreciation as Appropriation: Narrativized Persians in Edward Browne’s A Year Amongst the Persians,” Mehdi Torabian.

Edward G. Browne’s travelogue called A Year Amongst the Persians (1893) is often invoked to leverage arguments for or against this famous Persianist Orientalist. This paper, however, shifts the focus from the author to the travelogue as a text with a complex and fluid narrative that resists rigid value-laden readings and places the text within a larger discursive field in which the narrative constantly pushes against the boundaries established by that field. While the discourse of Orientalism has tended to write its objects of study outside history, Browne’s narrative rather registers a sustained fascination for the history of Iran. In fact, for Browne it is the history of the Persian people that holds the key to appreciating “the Persian mind.” This paper concerns itself with the way the discourse of Orientalism, inclined to dehistoricize its objects, functions in the face of a fascination with history.

  • “The Role of the Periphery in Reinventing Iran: The Case of Haj Zeyn al-Abedin Maragheh’i,” Mardin Aminpour.

Leading the list of the banned books of the Qajar era for its subversive potential of animating a popular national consciousness in opposition to despotic rule, Haj Zeyn al-Abedin’s fictional travelogue called The Travel Diary of Ibrahim Beyg (1895) is a pivotal Persian narrative in the process of making Iran and occupies a special place in nationalist scholarship on Iran. However, not a single work has done justice to the importance of the author’s life, the social context and the discourses that underpinned the narrative of this fictional autobiography. My paper examines The Diary against the author’s Kurdish ethnic background and his contact with European life and thoughts. I suggest that his life experience in exile and his acquaintance with European discourses coalesced to engender a comic-satirical portrait of Iran.

  • “Time and Trauma: Cinematic Narratives of the Iran-Iraq War,” Maryam Shariati.

In his seminal essay, “Rhetoric of the Image” (1964), Roland Barthes establishes the core concepts and steps of the semiotic approach towards the study of image. He defines three semiotic codes in the pictorial text (the linguistic, the coded iconic, and the non-coded iconic) and analyzes the functions of the linguistic message through the discussion of “anchorage” and “relay.” Drawing on the rich intertextuality between word and image, this paper discusses the significant role of visual culture in the genre of Iranian war movies and focuses on two influential Iranian directors during 1980s, namely Bahram Bayzai and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who have engaged with the traumatic experiences of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). Challenging the state’s official “sacred defense” narratives through questioning ideals and ideologies, these filmmakers examine the war’s social consequences and realities in an attempt to offer more inclusive narratives.

Aminpour, Mardin

Born in Sardasht, a small border town in Iranian Kurdistan, Aminpour completed his undergraduate studies in English literature at Tehran University. Subsequently, he came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar to teach Persian at The University of Texas at Austin, where he is currently pursuing a PhD degree in Middle Eastern Studies. He has been teaching Persian for the past seven years at UT Austin. He has also written a Kurdish textbook and taught Kurdish to American college students. His research is focused on the social history of the Kurds, especially the impact of the processes of boundary-making on the Kurdish social structures and experience. His dissertation research will illuminate the transformation Kurdish communities underwent as the frontier zone of Kurdistan during the Qajar and Ottoman times gradually converted into bordered lands under Reza Shah of Iran and Mustafa Kemal of Turkey. Aminpour will specifically investigate the last phase of the border disputes between Iran and Turkey centered at Mount Ararat, where sustained Kurdish-Armenian resistance challenged the sovereignty of the two fledgling states.

Shariati, Maryam

Maryam Shariati, earned her BA and MA degrees in English Language and Literature in Iran before joining Brown University as a Fulbright scholar in 2007. Currently, she is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature and a Women and Gender Studies Portfolio candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. Her interdisciplinary research centers on Modern Iranian Cinema and Literature, French and British Literature, and the role of the Iranian intellectuals, especially women, in forming Iranian identity in the Western literary world. Her dissertation, “Staging Iranian Modernity: Authors in Search of Identity,” focuses on the complex web of cultural and national reconceptualization of modern Iranian drama and the role of the dialogic interactions with the European literary tradition in shaping the development of Iranian identity during the Pahlavi era. Maryam also has extensive experience teaching Persian as a second/foreign language at Brown University, UT Austin, and University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Torabian, Mehdi

Mehdi Torabian, who holds BA and MA degrees in English Language and Literature from the University of Tehran, is a PhD student in Comparative Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. During the 2006-07 school year he spent two semesters as a Fulbright Scholar at UT Austin, teaching Persian classes, helping with the development of the university’s Persian Program website, and writing his MA thesis, in which he interpreted Henry IV plays by Shakespeare from New Historicist perspectives. Torabian has written papers on a variety of topics related to Iranian history and culture, including the representation of Persians and Turks in Renaissance drama, censorship in Iranian cinema after the 1979 Revolution, and the significance of facial hair in the Islamic Republic. He has also worked on postcolonial literary studies; for his dissertation project he is currently working on English and French travelers in Iran during the Qajar period in the 19th century. He is particularly interested in the formation of the discipline of Iranian studies out of travelogues written by European travelers in Iran during that period. He has been working as a teaching assistant in English and Persian programs at UT Austin since 2011.

Afkami, Bijan

Bijan Afkami is the founder and president of Bijan International, a corporate training and coaching firm dedicated to creating extraordinary performance improvement in individuals and organizations. His book, The One Percent Solution: Leadership Through Action, focuses on incremental improvements with a common sense, no-nonsense approach to leadership skills. The book has been used as a textbook at Fortune 500 corporations. As a leader in his field, he has spent years researching and developing programs that teach people how to tap into their full potential and create extraordinary results in their lives. A dynamic presenter, Bijan imparts information and insights that are thought provoking and practical. He moves his audiences to action with wit, wisdom and contagious enthusiasm.