Monday, January 21, 2008

Returning Soon

Stay tune for the updated Alien Citizen...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Orientalism, Feminists, and Presidential Candidates

A friend and I recently got into a discussion about Persepolis, Kiterunner, and the new orientalism. Well, really there is nothing very new about new orientalism. The orientalism today is simply a continuation of a long history of orientalism that goes back literally centuries. From Professor Fatemeh Keshavarz,

"Orientalism is a way of thinking about the world and the cultures that inhabit it. It acquires global significance by defining and presenting these cultures in ways that endorse, even reinforce, the political and economic supremacy of the West. Edward Said, the thinker who coined the term Orientalism, pointed out that the Orient was almost a European invention since antiquity as a place of “romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes.” In another sense, the Orient helped Europe to define itself, or the West, as its contrasting image in terms of people, ideas, experiences, etc."

My friend thinks that Persepolis is awesome reading and great feminist literature to boot. I don't necessary completely disagree but there was something about this sudden recent interest in literature like Satrapi's Persepolis and Husseini's Kiterunner that really bothered me. Here is what I wrote to said friend.

Dear Daniel,

Persepolis does have feminist sensibilities but it really stood out to me that the success of this book, like Kiterunner and other of Khaled Housseini's works, has been largely due to a predominant orientalist view of that part of the world. If we set the same story in the united states about a girl growing up worshiping rock and roll singers with a backdrop of, say, the fundamentalist Christian conservative politics of this country, then I wonder if it would have seen the same success. So, yes she seems to give a view of the Iranian as something other than the exotic but then her picture of the oppressed woman fits right into the orientalist narrative. Case and point: Gloria Steinem's glowing praise of Persepolis. Steinem is someone who makes her own extremely reductionist assumptions about the world, positing for example that sexism somehow wins out over racism as a "most restricting force in America". I agree with the author of the blog, Reappropriate, quoted below in her response to Steinem's most recent statements on the presidential race.

"We’ve heard many argue that it’s time for an African American president, and many more argue it’s time for a female president. But, nowhere in the race vs. gender frenzy that has swept the nation has anyone challenged the very validity of the question. How can one compare racism to sexism – and if one tries, where do those of us who are disadvantaged both by our race and by our gender fit in?"

Let me know what you think...
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