Frontiers Augmented highlights selected authors from our issues to create a means for deeper engagement with the content published in the Frontiers Journal. The most recent general issue 43.3, edited by Frontiers Co-Editors Wanda S. Pillow, Kimberly M. Jew, and Darius Bost, highlights authors Hossein Nazari, Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Tehran, and Fateme Nazari, M.A., University of Tehran.
One of the significant developments in the realm of literature and arts in the post-9/11 zeitgeist in the United States is the publication of an unprecedented number of memoirs about life in Middle Eastern countries, authored predominantly by female Middle Eastern authors. Given the scant contribution of authors of Middle Eastern origin to the US literary market prior to the 9/11, the emergence of a substantial number of memoirs in a relatively short span is little short of a literary phenomenon. Paramount in this phenomenon is the appearance of a significant cluster of memoirs penned by Iranian-American women. What binds the majority of such memoirs together is a (neo)Orientalist underpinning that informs the overall thematic and representational politics of such texts. Defined by Edward Said as “a manner of regularized (or Orientalized) writing, vision and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives and ideological biases ostensibly suited to the Orient,” Orientalism constructs a regime of representations and knowledge production which, inevitably, produces a binary of the “civilized, superior West” versus the “primitive, inferior East,” especially where the Muslim Orient is concerned (Orientalism, 2003, p. 203). Against this backdrop, the memoirs in question construct an image of the author’s country of origin—and its culture, religion, and politics—that is almost always inferior to her (Western) country of residence.
One of the important narratives that goes against this dominant trend in Iranian-American life writing is Jasmin Darznik’s The Good Daughter (2011), which relates the story of three generations of Iranian women, but revolves mostly around the life story of Lili, as narrated by her daughter, Jasmin. In this paper we argue that rather than capitalizing on all-too-familiar dehumanizing cliches that reinforce dominant Western stereotypes of Iranian/Muslim women as passive, oppressed victims of social and religious patriarchy, Darznik’s narrative offers a strategic discursive intervention to construct a space for reimagining Iranian—and by extension Muslim—womanhood. To this end, the author adopts what Martina Koegeler has termed “strategic auto-Orientalism”—a concept that builds upon Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “strategic essentialism”.
As a mode of representation, auto-Orientalism has been particularly current in the discursive practices of post-crisis societies or the ones emerging out of grand social paradigm shifts. This can, in large part, be attributed to the ideological or political resistance to such fundamental social transformations or to disillusionment with the post-crisis status quo. This study critiques strategic auto-Orientalism as the author’s representational modus operandi in The Good Daughter to reveal the manner in which the narrative can promise new subjectivities and modes of writing for hyphenated female authors. It also contributes to discussions surrounding Iranian/Muslim womanhood and transnational feminism through highlighting the importance of narratives and voices that remain relatively underexplored. These narratives, in turn, make a significant contribution to the field of Muslim/Middle Eastern/Iranian life writing through a mode of representation that promises a multihued, polyphonic, and variegated narrative of the lives of Iranian women.
Hossein Nazari, Ph.D., Department of English Language & Literature, University of Tehran, and Fateme Nazari, M.A., University of Tehran.