Iran: A People Interrupted, Hamid Dabashi

When I was in high school, and my mum was getting her master’s degree in pastoral theology, she used to read us excerpts from her textbooks.  Sometimes these were interesting, like about Jesus’s genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew and how it’s implying that Mary was sexually suspect.  But mostly she was reading bits aloud to us as an illustration of theologians’ complete inability to express themselves clearly.  I have no patience with writers who can’t make a sensible sentence – read C.S. Lewis, people!  You could all learn a thing or two from the book that is C.S. Lewis!  Judith Butler, for example?  I think her theories are really interesting, but my stars, sometimes I had to fling my textbook across the room to adequately express my frustration with her sentence structure.  Piling adverbs messily on top of fifteen dependent clauses does not improve the sentence.

I felt that way a little bit with Iran: A People Interrupted.  It was one of those books where I could not pick it up and put it down (frustrating!), because if I did that, I would have lost control of the sentences and have to go back and start the paragraph (or section, or chapter) all over.  Boo.  He was so enthusiastic with his modifiers!  I like adjectives as much as the next person, but you have to know when to quit!  Behold one of many sentences in this book for which I can find no excuse:

The social activism of an Iranian woman and the artistic effervescence of a national art form spoke loudly to the textured cosmopolitanism at the creative roots of a society that no Islamic republic could incarcerate in its feudal jurisprudence, and no imperial hubris could denigrate and deny with its wanton disregard for people and their pride of place.

Iran: A People Interrupted is slow going at times (too many modifying words and clauses!), and the author makes no attempt at objectivity, so his prejudices shine through in every chapter.  That wasn’t what I was expecting, but I adjusted.  And when I gave myself time to sit down and read and read, I was completely absorbed.  At times I thought it bogged down while the author told us at length how good Iran was – not that Iran isn’t good, but it often strayed from the story he was telling, and then when we got back to the Iran’s history business, I was all, wait, what?  Where were we?

The book was fascinating, because Iran is fascinating – not so much because the author made the country’s  history fascinating with his words.  Before the election business this year, I knew a bit about Iran, but the election prompted me to read more books, and I think Iran is amazing.  All with the history and the literature and the, just, everything!

My sister saw me reading this book and said “What’s your book about?”, a question I ignored because it says IRAN in really big letters on the cover.  It turns out my fingers were covering up the “I”, and Anna said, “No, seriously, what’s it about?  Transsexuals?  Transvestites?”

Nope.  Iran.

  • “Judith Butler, for example? I think her theories are really interesting, but my stars, sometimes I had to fling my textbook across the room to adequately express my frustration with her sentence structure.”

    I KNOW! I love what she has to say, or what I understand of it anyway. I so wish she’d say it clearly, though.

    • Mm, give me lovely Eve Sedgwick any day. Plowing through Judith Butler felt like such a chore, whereas Eve Sedgwick always managed to express complex ideas with elegance and clarity. If only these theorists would check with me before allowing their incomprehensible multiclause paragraphs to go to print! 😛