Orientalist Fantasies: Reclaiming the Middle East in Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran

Anahit Behrooz

Edited by Maria Elena Torres-Quevedo

Art by Christina Thomas https://www.behance.net/gallery/47755703/Portfolio-Strong-women

Over the years, I have read numerous novels, short stories, and poems in which I have seen myself reflected in characters, events, and language, but it wasn’t until a class on Orientalism (1978), Edward Said’s seminal text, during my masters that I saw my experiences echoed in a work of cultural criticism. In Orientalism, Said posits that the West’s complicated relationship with the Middle East is rooted and exacerbated by its reductive framing of the “Orient” as a backward, barbaric, and exotic space. Said argues that these attitudes are irrevocably linked to the West’s history of imperialism in these geographies, meaning that these perceptions are the product of a power play over the governments and peoples of these diverse countries, an attempt to criticise and diminish their cultures and identities in order to justify the conquest of their land.

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The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination

Corné Rijneveld

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Art by Holly Summerson http://hollysummerson.wixsite.com/arts

I was gifted Sarah Schulman’s The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (2012) for my 24th birthday. Schulman was 24 when her friends started dying. The year was 1981, and an unknown disease – ‘something to do with white blood cells’ (Shulman 59) – had begun ravaging communities of sexual outcasts in New York and San Francisco. Although we meet some of the virus’s victims, Gentrification is not a cataloguing of the dead, nor a mere homage to their wasted creative potential. Instead, the memoirs read as a lyrical, historical, and sociological thesis, albeit inspired by grief for the un-mourned, and a profound sense of injustice. Schulman argues that when tens of thousands of gay, lesbian, and bisexual New Yorkers died of Aids as a result of governmental and societal neglect, diverse neighbourhoods, and a genuinely counter-cultural art movement died with them.

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Toyin Odutola

Fatima Seck

Edited by Rianna Walcott

Art by Fatima Seck

Contemporary anthropology is seldom malicious. Today’s anthropologists go to great lengths to remove themselves from the insidious origins of the discipline — no longer is anthropology a way to mock and ogle a ‘savage’ other. Indeed, anthropology has evolved to allow an extremely empathetic — maybe even beautiful — relationship between ethnographer and ethnographic subject to be the centre of its praxis.

To assume however that this empathy reaches the student is perhaps the most myopic practice of today’s anthropology. Ethnographic research inevitably travels across an academic landscape of anthropologists, notebooks, academic journals, lecturers and students. In this process, studied cultures become commodified, and even further, there is a tendency to uncritically assume the absence of the anthropologist’s voice. People who are empathetic subjects to the ethnographer become canonised objects to the student — teaching anthropology thus becomes a process of objectification.

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Selena

Izzy Bravo

Edited by Carolina Palacios

Art by Laila Borrie https://www.facebook.com/underthepeacocktree/

Each year in March I see a wave of young Latinas on social media expressing their love for Selena, as they share images of their Selena-inspired make-up, Selena outfits for the Selena club parties, and plans to watch Selena, the 1997 film that chronicles the short life of Selena Quintanilla. Why March? March 31 is the anniversary of Selena’s death, which occurred in 1995. And for any young Latina who grew up dancing to Selena’s “Como la Flor” in their living room, March is an important month to remember those days and the unhinged hope for a music idol. I grew up listening to Selena and have memories of my sister singing along to “Como la Flor” when it played in the radio. I can also recall trying to hide this fandom in a poor attempt to assimilate to the American culture I was learning in grade school. It was not until my first year of undergrad that I noticed it was suddenly okay to be Latino.

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Arekti Premer Golpo (Just Another Love Story)

Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Avani Udgaonkar

Art: ‘377’ by Laila Borrie https://www.facebook.com/underthepeacocktree/

Film image at https://bppostscript.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/dsc_007872.jpg

In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that the colonial-era anti-homosexuality law, Section 377, was unconstitutional and, therefore, void. In 2013, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the High Court does not have constitutional jurisdiction and reinstated the law. The four-year period between these judicial decisions remains the only time in the history of the former British Raj (India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, as well as Sri Lanka under British Ceylonese jurisdiction) that openly queer sexuality was not punishable by law. The 2010 release of the Bengali film, Arekti Premer Golpo (Just another Love Story), the first ever post-377 film that explores these identities, provides an interesting examination of queerness from an Indian perspective that is not palatable apologia, misconceived and prejudicial humour, or radical subversion. Rather, it explores the various ways in which queerness can be experienced in the region in an organic and personal way – and I specifically say queerness instead of LGBTQIA because the acronym does not speak to the spirit of different sexualities and genders that make the community in India so vibrant, even in its oppression.

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Wide Sargasso Sea

Iona Glen

Edited by Karli Wessale

Art by Fatima Seck

There is always the other side, always (Rhys 106)

Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) by Jean Rhys is a dark, compelling novel that charts the backstory of the infamous ‘madwoman in the attic’ of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), exploring themes of colonialism, gender, and power. Rhys wrote the novel in response to Brontë’s oblique representation of the Caribbean and Mr Rochester’s first wife, investigating processes of oppression through the character of Antoinette Mason, renamed Bertha by her husband as a means of controlling her identity. In Rhys’ version of the story, Antoinette’s marriage to an unnamed Englishman in the 1830s unravels dramatically following revelations of her mother’s alleged promiscuity and mental disintegration. She becomes Brontë’s ‘intemperate and unchaste’ creation who thwarts Jane’s marriage to Rochester, spiralling into madness and, eventually, arson and suicide (Brontë 270).

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Exit West

Safia Munro

Edited by Cristina Dodson Castillón

Art by Holly Summerson hollysummerson.wix.com/arts

Mohsin Hamid has long been a prime example of an author who has managed to flawlessly bridge the ideological disconnect between the so-called ‘East’ and ‘West.’ His latest work, Exit West, could not have been published at a more pertinent time.  Global conflict, reactionary nationalism and a growing refugee crisis are central in guiding the text’s narrative. While the novel incorporates aspects of magical realism, through the piercing reality of the novel’s themes, Hamid fashions a dystopian reality that so vastly mirrors our own. The authenticity of Hamid’s work largely arises from the fact that Hamid tends to construct characters that are not constrained by involuntary factors such as gender, religion or nationality. Instead Hamid’s work is scattered with individuals that very much resemble the complex people we encounter in our everyday lives; conservatively dressed liberals, loving women who resist motherhood, high-lying drug addicts, atheists, theists and everything else in between.

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J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother)

Ananya Sen

Edited by Karli Wessale

Art by Edith Pritchett https://www.instagram.com/edithpritchett_art/

French-Canadian actor and director Xavier Dolan’s debut film, J’ai tué Ma mère (I Killed My Mother) released in 2009, when he was twenty years old. Dolan is a self-proclaimed gay actor, director, writer and costume designer. J’ai tué ma mère has won the hearts of many critics as it depicts, in a highly Bildungsroman fashion, a love-hate relationship between a teenage son and his mother. Recently, he has made a name for himself with his 2016 movie Juste la fin du monde (It’s only the End of the World). The movie won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and several other awards. While he is best known for Mommy, released in 2014, in this article, I will focus on J’ai tué ma mère and attempt to justify the need for this movie to be a part of the university syllabi.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Emily Miller

Edited by Carolina Palacios

Art by Cat Faulkner https://www.jellyarmchair.com/

“The situation’s a lot more nuanced than that!” shouts the series’ protagonist in the first season theme song from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The Emmy, Golden Globe, and Critic’s Choice Award winning series focuses on highly successful and deeply unwell Rebecca Bunch, who, after running into Josh Chan, her ex-boyfriend from summer camp, decides to move across the country from New York City to West Covina, California, to pursue Josh again. Rebecca spends much of the first season attempting to both fit into Josh’s life and convince the people around her that there weren’t any ulterior motives in her moving to West Covina. Meanwhile, Josh struggles with his parents’ and girlfriend’s expectations of him, while trying to figure out Rebecca’s place in his life.

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Everything is Illluminated

Zack Abrams

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Art: Livi Prendergast https://liviprendergast.wordpress.com/ 

When Everything is Illuminated came out in 2002, Jonathan Safran Foer was praised by literary reviewers for writing an autobiographical novel that, among other things, “blends laughter and tears” (Abramowitz 130). The novel’s story is rather straightforward: the protagonist, also named Jonathan Safran Foer, goes on a quest to find the woman who helped to save his grandfather during the Holocaust. It was Foer’s blend of magical realism and his use of language that got the public talking about his book. Francine Prose claimed (and Scott Veale reiterated) that “not since Anthony Burgess’s novel, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, has the English language been mauled and energized with such brilliance and such brio.” (Veale 28).

Foer’s novel sticks out in my mind for a much more personal reason. This novel gave me a character I could empathize with, one who attempts to answer questions about his family left in the wake of the Holocaust. I answered questions about my own history, my own Jewishness, through Foer’s quest. When Foer traces his grandfather’s origins back to the shtetl of Trachimbrod, a fictionalized version of Trochenbrod in Ukraine, it felt as if I had discovered the name of my great grandfathers’ shtetl. When he sees and feels what shtetl life was like for his ancestors, I imagined mine there too, living there alongside his family. I felt as if I was reading my own fictionalized family history; I was vicariously answering questions whose answers are otherwise unattainable. You see, the shtetls where my great-grandfathers came from were bombed and burned to the ground by the Nazis during World War Two. We have no further knowledge about their lives in Europe beyond that and our pre-anglicized names.

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