A New Genre, a New Reader; Situation of War Resistance Literature and Its Readers in Iran
تاريخ : سوم مهر 1390 ساعت 14:30   کد : 422

Lecture presented at: SELL seminar Series School of European Languages and Literatures, University of Auckland, New Zealand, 14 September 2011

A New Genre, a New Reader

Situation of War Resistance Literature and Its Readers in Iran

Abstract: There are various approaches towards popular literature ranging from Frankfurt School to cultural studies, all distinguish between popular literature (include novel) and that of serious literature both in contents and readers. In Iran, there is both popular literature (in various forms such as novels, self-help and religious books) and serious and elite-oriented literature. However, in the years after Iraq-Iran war (1988), a new type of literature gradually took shape which is different from that mentioned above. These works have had a gradual change from short stories to novels, short memories and now to long memoires. For this reason, it is possible to speak about a new genre called war literature. The readers of these works are in the middle of the way of these two groups. War literature readers make up the largest group of literature readers in Iran.

There can be a distinction among a range of novels, from the popular to the high. Usually in the whole parts of the world, most of the readers tend to popular literature but high literature have their own specific places and the prevalence of popular literature does not make any impact on high or elite-oriented literature. However situation in Iran is not like that.

On the Situation of Reading Novels in Iran

On the basis of the statistics announced by the Iranian Book House on the literary novels over tenth printing after 1992, nine out of ten best-selling were popular love-stories, and in 449 best-selling printings just 26% (118) were high novels. The top best-selling novel, which was also popular, had 38 printings, while the second ranking was 22 for another two popular novels; however, the highest printing for a high novel was just 16.

There is an average circulation of 1300 copies for high novels, while that of popular novels amounts to 2500 volumes. Moreover the works of prominent authors exceed 5000, and even 18000 for some.

Of course, popular books in Iran are not limited to novels. Religious and psychological popular books, self-help books and educational aid books besides popular novels capture the majority of Iranian publishing market.

There are various reasons why they have gained such an acceptance in our country: leisure accompanied by literacy among women, the overall development in convenience and well-being, and the higher rate of TV viewing could be the causes of the increased popularity. On the other hand, as women more and more demand better situations in life, this soft resistance against manhood (containing love not sex) can obtain wider and wider acceptance.

I. Ang on the popular literature of the Third World states that the domestic popular literature is attacked from three angles: the intellectual literature, the formal literature of the government, and the Western popular literature. In the following, I am about to analyze the effects of the conflict between the intellectual literature and the formal literature on the growing popular literature.

Existing Challenges in the Iranian Contemporary Literature

Since the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979, traditionally, there have been two major fractions governing our cultural policies, namely the Conservatives and the Reformists. Broadly speaking, the Conservatives support Islamic ethos to extend the principles of the Islamic Revolution, based on which they oppose music, dance, uncovered woman body or hair, and male and female expression of feelings and emotions in the cinema, theater, and novel. In contrast, the Reformists, maintain tolerance with artists and authors and attempt to attract them and accept them as they are. This group has acknowledged polyphonic patterns in the society especially in literary and artistic areas.

The gap between the two parties in the area of literature and art goes back to their level of tolerance against the \opposition] groupYs literature, and art. The opposition party is said to be composed of those Iranian literati and artists who resist against the Islamic RepublicYs criteria: observing Islamic rules in contacting the opposite sex, clothing, drinking, and the dominance of religious rules on the society. This group has continued to be tough against the Islamic rules and religious government in the years after the Revolution. They gained some benefits and facilities to express their ideas due to the tolerance of the Reformists at the time of their control. Yet they were dramatically confined by the Conservatives.

However, in each group (intellectual and formal) those who do not tolerate the opposite party compose the majority, something which feeds bipolarization in literature.

The circumstances, however, have been more severe owing to the cyber space. Because of limited dialogs and censorships, there seems to be another way available to publish; low circulations of high literature, weak relationship between high literature and the society, and financial loss in the publication of high literature have forced the literature to turn away from the public to specific.

The literati of the opposition high literature, disregarding financial benefits and national fame or perhaps other literary profits, have now entered other spaces such as private tutoring classes for story writing, numerous sites for introducing and criticizing literary works (even one showing unauthorized and unpublished novels), and increasingly growing weblogs. In one new case, the publisher and translator of Paulo Coelho's books has given permit to publish his most recent novel (Aleph) in the Internet, in Persian.

As the opposition literature in Iran is now considered as a means of changing the government, it is getting more non-material benefits; things like a chance to immigrate abroad, attain scholarships, and show on famous satellite channels and sites are only some of them. The situation has made the opposition high literature sound hazardous in the eye of the government on one hand and on the other it has brought about a rapid fame and an unclear vision of self-assessment and popularity to the authors. Both sides will harm gravely the Iranian high literature.

The Iranian literary space has been devoid of the opposition high literature and also the formal (or pro-revolutionary) successful literary novels are neglected from the opposition. The tendency of the Ministry of Culture to increase publications and spread story literature, lack of regular literary criticism tends to elevate readers to high novels, and lack of publicizing for high novels on TV and in the radio have given the popular novels a high social status. Also, Iranian publication industry to survive has found interest in popular novels. On the other hand, the religious societiesY harsh reactions against literary works have provoked the officials to spend more on control, but popular works are more conservative, can avoid expressing sex, and do not endanger the existing social security and political order.

In conclusion, the conflicts between intellectual and formal literature nourish love-story novels. Last but not least, the negative outlook on the popular novels has brought negligence to them, that is no policies are made on the content, circulation, and size of such works but handed over to the market taste.

High Literature or Leisure Literature

The basic issue of literature in Iran is the content weakness of high novels. Today in the world, new domains and fresh views have been put forth in literature, ranging from the Latin America and South Africa to those of India, Japan and Turkey. These new atmospheres open new windows to literary virtual reality and imagination to identify the human nature. So, literature welcomes the peripheral and unknown domains much more rather than repetitive domains. But in the high literature in Iran, with the exception of some rare areas and novels, ideas and style of writing is more or less the repetition of prevailing literature of the world. Today, the post-modern literature exists in Iran which is taking model after post-modern novels and short stories (such as work of Richard Brautigan and Donald Barthelme). There is also feminine literature under the influence of various trends of feminism. The novels presented in recent years have been repeated with similar motifs. It is such that the jury of non-governmental prizes mainly complains about that. They put forth that the low level of literature in Iran is one of the causes of holding prize awarding ceremonies in some cases biennially, beside annually. The statement of the juries of the 8th term of Golshiri Literary Prize (2009) reads: \The following causes made the juries come to this conclusion that they should avoid announcing a winner (s):

- Intensified censorship or self-censorship

- Spread of mechanisms which have filled market with low or medium level works which are useful to fill the formal statistics of publication rate in the area of literature

- Lack of bed grounds for the publication of high literary critiques

- Prevention of re-printing the novels which has got publication license at the same year or earlier.]

Of course, researches on the subjects of selected novels in recent years show that there is not a serious difference between the high and popular novels. Further, their main difference is in the style and plot of story and the label which is attached to a work as a high literature or its publication by a creditable publisher and with an appropriate cover. Some experts terms the recent high novels (in particular those of female writers) in Iran as "leisure literature": In this kind of literature, there is no room left for a bitter, Transcendental and aggressive attitude and problematic hero, and there is a confirmative interpretation of the world, continuation and repetition of daily life. The characters of leisure literature are the same regular and conservative people of daily life. In these novels, main events are the same repetitive events of daily life. In this life, there happens death and birth, love and separation, release and submission, but does not give them a philosophical dimension or feature. No question is taking form in the whole novel or in the charactersY minds of the novel. Events remain at the same level of their daily level and sometimes uselessness and are not moving up to the level of destiny creating level. This literature is the literature of leisure from three viewpoints: They have been written to fill the leisure time; They do not study the serious and important events of the life and deal only with the regular details of normative life of modern societies; The writer of these works deals with writhing within the format of prevailing styles and avoids new experiences.

War Resistance Literature, a New Domain in Iranian Literature

However, far from conflicts and differences, Iranian literature is flourishing in another domain. Nowadays, in the Iranian contemporary literature, the "war resistance literature" has a great number of audiences.

Iran has a sad experience in last two centuries about defense against foreign military invasion. Iran lost a great part of its lands in the north and then in the east, in Golestan Pact (1813), Turkmanchai Pact (1828) by delivering Azarbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Daghistan and Chechen to Russia and also Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Akhal Pact (1881) to Russia, Afghanistan and Balouchestan of Pakistan to England in Paris Pact (1857), and Bahrain (1971).

But in Iraqi attack against Iran (1980-1988), Iraq failed to occupy southwest and west land of Iran, and this is a big historical victory for Iran. The formal name of literature related to this war is \resistance literature] but the common name is \war literature].

This domain which has passed various periods and styles, now with a balance among narration, audiences and suppliers of works has shifted to the detailed expression of edited memories. Of course, those types of memories have found a great number of readers in Iran, which are out of the formal and governmental domain (a formal narration of war), though they are not in conflict with formal narration and they are only different from that.

One of the bestsellers of this type are the memories of a colonel, being forgotten for many years and last year his memories had been published. Also a martyred commander whose memories have been published by an ordinary person (not an official institution) and sold out 329000 copies.

However, the bestseller book in the area of narrative literature in Iran is the memories of a 17-year old girl who buries the female dead bodies killed by Iraqi bombs and rockets in Khoramshahr, the city was surrounded in the beginning of Iraq attack on Iran (1980). This book has sold out 500000 copies after two years of the date of publication. These circulations are visionary for Iranian literature and are almost inaccessible to the high novels.

The readers of these books usually have no relation with elite novels and deal only with the historical and religious studies. The new trend has created a new genre and following those new readers in the Iranian literature which are placed in the middle point of popular and high novels, i.e. they are similar more too ordinary people. These reader, based on qualitative observations and interviews are religious educated people who do not have specific adherence to the Iranian contemporary literature and tend to war resistance literature for a generation based on need to have a link with the war as an identity issue. Their other studies are in the domain of religious and historical areas and have a slight interest in Iranian classic poetry.

Also change in the genre of war resistance literature based on receiving by readers, shows that the attention of readerYs sees of war resistance literature has changed gradually from novel and short story to memories. This also shows that most attention is to the contents of these books and not the existing literary genre in them, since memories have the least rate of change in the reality and do not enjoy literary imagination. However, this newly established genre has created new opportunities for the Iranian literature.

The area of war resistance literature (especially war memories) is that part of Iranian literature which has a potential to be worldly presented. The Iranian war against the aggression of Iraq is neither like the war literature of America for World War II (which went outside America with the help of other countries) nor like the European countries (who were observing the enemy throughout their lands). This experience which has been tied with the Shiite (Islamic) mysticism and Iranian spirit is new in the world war literature and can present a new experience to the world literature about the human nature.