March 29, 2009
In 1979, during the Iran Hostage-Crisis, President Jimmy Carter openly questioned the Ayatollah’s interpretation of the Koran as being a misrepresentation of the ideology and intention of Islam. Carter had intended to initiate a dialogue with the Ayatollah on his own terms – theocracy. However, what Carter did not fully realize at the time, and what many American’s still do not realize today, is that those questions relevant to Islam and this political situation are not a functional field of discourse – as the Ayatollah reminded Carter before he refused to release those American’s held hostage in the Embassy. The Ayatollah’s, or any other fundamental, interpretation of the Koran and Islam may be flawed in some respect but these flawed or corrupted interpretations are such not because of their education or theocratic understanding but, in many respects, because they cannot be anything else. A thorough reading of Islamic discourse shines no light on contemporary regional politics, however, a glance at Franz Fannon’s Wretched of the Earth and/or Satrapi’s Persepolis provides a profound analysis of the people who live in this, or any, Muslim nation.
The violence endured by the peoples of ancient Persia over the past century – from WWI to the Cold War to the Revolution in 79’ – has been the violence of (neo) imperialism. This violence, like all violence, has exasperated the experiences of the Iranian people because, amongst other consequences, they have been forced to endure the subjectivity, and associate isolation, of modern society. Seemingly, for at least the past half-century, the question of Islam has been the only pertainent question of/for the people in the Middle East. However, this question is completely unanswerable, because in many respects it is completely irrelevant: the people of the Middle East have, seemingly, universally accepted fundamental interpretations of Islam because it represents the/an antithesis of, what they view, as their western oppressors. Thus, Islam has been assumed by large segments of the population as an affront to western civilization.
The question(s) of Islam are the last, not the first, question that must be asked of the people living in the Middle East. Further, if other issues can be resolved the questions of Islam may resolve themselves as the people’s reliance upon it becomes diminished. In this light, Satrapi and her family are at once the stereotypical Iranian family, divided between their past and their future and, perhaps, the stereotypical modern family, because of the challenges of modern culture: they have been severed from their past by larger cultural forces and are now left to ask, ‘what does it all ‘mean’.’ They no longer have an uncomplicated relationship to their home nation, to the people of their home nation, or, in some respects, even to themselves. Their very existence has been complicated by the processes of modern international reality(ies).
I want to offer McCloud’s appropriation of ‘closure’ as a suitable interpretation of the problems presented in Persepolis. However, I do not know that the media of comics and its philosophical underpinnings offer a more suitable engagement of the larger geo-political problems presented in the text – I do not know if cognitive engagement can offer an appropriate response to the problems of the Middle East. However, at best, perhaps, the comic media offers a unique means of addressing a world detached from itself. Because comics are a ‘duplicate’ media – they mirror reality without ever proposing to be ‘real’ – they allow the individual to assess their own condition. Comics, maybe better than other media, allow the subject to explore themselves as such and thus allow the individual to see their surrounding as a collection of signifiers and, perhaps, themselves as a signifier simultaneously reflecting and creating one’s self.