Academic journal article MELUS

Poetry and Polemics: Iranian Literary Expression in the Digital Age

Academic journal article MELUS

Poetry and Polemics: Iranian Literary Expression in the Digital Age

Article excerpt

The mass migration of Iranians abroad following the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and the mobilization of mass media in the transnational networks established by these flows have challenged traditional approaches to immigration and national identity. In particular, rather than signifying a movement away from the nation, Iranians abroad have been forceful in constructing representations of Iran and Iranian identity through various media including satellite television, film, and most recently, the internet.

Iranians in the United States, like many immigrant groups, have been active in using media to create a sense of community, share information, react to events in Iran, and articulate their identities and particular experiences in a new country. Weekly papers and monthly magazines have been commonplace in the Iranian diaspora. In places with large Iranian communities, television programming for this specific group also emerged in the 1980s. Iranians in Los Angeles have been particularly active in this form of media, and, by the mid-1980s, were broadcasting many programs about Iranian news, culture, and entertainment. Many of the youth who grew up in Iran watching these satellite television programs are now active in a medium of their own--the internet. Iranian weblogs and websites are an important development in the relationship between media and Iranian immigration.

The history of Iranian Americans' use of media provides an important context within which to understand the novel effects of the internet on the Iranian transnational sphere. This article examines the internet as a source of literary production, and as such, is primarily concerned with the forms of expression fostered through Iranian websites such as Iranian.com and weblogs. Through a discussion of the media specificity of the internet and the personal memoirs, essays, and short stories on these sites, I argue that the internet genre has been critical in promoting forms of self expression, which are increasingly being articulated online. In particular, websites such as Iranian.com have functioned as a kind of virtual community, one that has served the needs of Iranian immigrants dealing with feelings of displacement and longing and, at the same time, allowed for the public expression of feelings that have generally been seen as belonging to the private realm.

The internet genre has many features that distinguish it from other forms of publication. A survey of Iranian websites and weblogs makes one acutely aware of the contested nature of this unique terrain, and in particular, the anxieties around the questions of authority and representation. I will examine the expression of these concerns, as seen through letters posted on an Iranian website, and contextualize them within the broader cultural politics of representation in the Iranian transnational public sphere.

Iranians in the United States

Representations of Iranian culture by Iranians in immigrant settings are not homogenous. The narratives of various groups of Iranian immigrants are related to many factors, including time of migration, socioeconomic class in Iran, political orientation, religion, and experiences in the new country. The identification as "exilic" among Iranians in Los Angeles, for example, emphasizes political narratives of displacement and suggests an involuntary migration; these individuals thus distinguish themselves from later waves of refugees or immigrants seeking economic opportunities abroad. The time of migration (in relation to the Revolution) also functions as a classifying device; it implies motivations for migration and, by extension, socioeconomic class (or cultural status) in Iran.

To understand the unique formation of Iranian communities in the United States that produce these narratives, it is necessary to first consider the historical context of Iranian immigration to the United States. Briefly, three distinct waves of migration characterize Iranian immigration to the United States. …

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