Literary Theory, Social Theory


José Clemente Orozco - Rear Guard


Because literature is essentially an act of creative freedom it will always be against tyranny. This often takes the form – when there is an oppressive regime – of a direct confrontation with the authorities and hymns of hope for those who defy that oppression. Poems tend to be the best medium for these protests, among other reasons because their orality can allow memorization and being passed from person to person without additional dangers.
But if diverse forms of literature can be weapons in a war for freedom and can be efficacious in battling repression, calling attention to injustice, rallying courage, comforting victims, such efforts will always be tied to contingency and should not be confused with the equally important, and for me, more crucial, tasks of the compassionate imagination. Because once you have defeated a terrible regime the causes that kept that regime in place, that justified its actions, that condoned and accommodated its violence, will still be in place. In your own country, for instance, the wondrous uprising against the Shah and his secret police did not ultimately lead to real liberation. That task is still ahead of you.
For this, literature works with longer ideals and goals in mind and frequently has not goals other than beauty, because beauty, true beauty, is the opposite of tyranny. The fundamental change is inside each of us, in the home (both solitary and with others) that novels, stories, poems, plays, epics, memoirs, essays create, in the questioning of our deepest selves, which is part of the questioning of the world as we find it. This will allow us to avoid the next tyranny that is always around the corner waiting its turn (including the tyranny of ideologies that think they have all the answers). It is an ongoing struggle and one worth waging over and over again.
And it is a struggle which crosses frontiers. What is written in Iran reaches outside the country and what is written abroad circulates inside Iran. Literature as the opposite of dogma and the opposite of a blind nationalism.
I am glad – perhaps even proud – to be part of the search for emancipation in Iran, particularly among its women. Most of my work tells stories of what happens when women upend the authority of NOW and dare to dream of a plural TOMORROW.
This is my gift to the admirable people of Iran.

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