Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Between Nostalgia and Activism: Iranian Australian Poetry and Cinema

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

Between Nostalgia and Activism: Iranian Australian Poetry and Cinema

Article excerpt

My pain maybe from freedom

I am immersed in it

I drown in it

where is my air?

Roshanak Amrein (60)

The above stanza from Roshanak Amrein's poem 'Letter' illustrates some of the problematics of the forms of writing and the themes I examine in this article. 'Letter' is translated here from the original Persian. In Walter Benjamin's words, 'the looseness with which meaning attaches' to translations can lead to the expansion or restriction of meaning, or even both these effects simultaneously (81). The possibilities and impossibilities of translation reflect those of transnational writers' texts more generally, as ideas are stretched or compressed, dropping some elements and acquiring others as they are pulled in different directions. As Dorothy Wang puts it, 'referentiality does not function straightforwardly' in global diasporic writing (n.pag.)1. In Amrein's translated poem, it is not immediately clear whether 'it' refers to 'freedom' or 'pain'. This ambiguity contributes to the recurring notion in her work and others' that 'freedom', inasmuch as it is ever attainable, is always limited or interrupted by transnational knowledge or memories. In some diasporic contexts, 'freedom' is painful and, paradoxically, even stifling, capable of 'drowning' those who enter into it. For the narrators of Amrein's poems, this pain comes partly from separation from distant loved people and places, combined with a form of survivor guilt or a sense of unfulfilled responsibility for the fate of those considered less 'free'. It also entails questions around belonging, or the search for 'my air', in Amrein's words.

Variations on this notion of 'my air' recur in Asian Australian writing. To live and breathe in the 'air' to which one belongs-or to desire and seek such air-is sometimes represented as a class-determined luxury, sometimes as a complicated question of local or national identity and occasionally as a self-Orientalising fantasy. Transnationalism may be a name for some Asian Australian writers' 'air', but this air-entailing a sense of transnational belonging-is not so easily 'possessed'. For both writers and readers, obstacles persist. As Tseen Khoo notes, the field of diasporic Asian studies is infused with 'an awareness of the limitations of a culturally nationalist approach' (239). However, as Wenche Ommundsen observes, 'transnational critical practice does not leave the nation behind' (88). Ommundsen explains:

... on the contrary, much of the critical energy is invested in debating national loyalties and sensitivities, and in assessing the modalities within which the national categories that participate in the particular transnational exchange that is diasporic writing are juxtaposed and played out against each other. (88)

This article analyses two examples of Iranian Australian writing that illustrate such juxtaposition and playing out of national categories, within modalities enabled respectively by the forms of poetry and film. Amrein is an Adelaide-based dentist who fled Iran after she was refused entry to university because of her Baha'i religious practices. She has lived in Australia since 1994 and has written poetry since her teenage years in Iran. In this article I focus on three poems from her 2010 volume, One Million Flights, which was translated from Persian to English and published in Germany. Some of the poems in One Million Flights were written in Iran before Amrein emigrated, but most were written in Australia and a few written elsewhere in the world; one reflects on her flight over Iran eleven years after leaving-en route to Turkey, she was able to see Iran's highest mountain in the moonlight from the plane. I also examine the 2009 film, My Tehran For Sale, which was written and directed by Iranian Australian poet Granaz Moussavi. A realist drama set in contemporary middle-class Tehran, My Tehran For Sale was shot in 2008 in Tehran, mostly in Persian, and post-produced in Australia, with English subtitles. …

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