Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Marjane Satrapi to visit campus tomorrow evening

When first-year Michaela Gianotti opened up a package from Whitman College at the end of the summer, she was surprised to find that it contained a comic book.

“I opened it up and I was like, ‘Whoa!’ I was really excited,” said Gianotti.

The decision to assign Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” a compilation of a four-part comic book that was originally published in France, as summer reading to first-year students came after what Assistant Professor of French Nicole Simek called “a joint inspiration” between her and her husband, Assistant Professor of French language and Literature Zahi Zalloua.

“We had been involved in the Global Studies Initiative with faculty members who want to increase the awareness of global relations on campus,” said Simek.   Professors Zallou and Simek had both taught “Persepolis” in their respective classes and found the issues raised in the book of particular interest.

“Persepolis” tells the story of Satrapi’s upbringing in Teheran during the Iranian Revolution and her subsequent stay in Vienna during the Iran-Iraq War, which took place during her teenage years.  

“We thought that this book was timely in its subject matter in dealing with Iran and Islamic fundamentalism and the relationship between art and politics,” said Simek.

Simek also described the importance of introducing students to a way to think about formal construction. “It allows students to think about form and message, especially as they’re coming to Whitman and embarking on this academic experience,” said Simek.  

“Persepolis” also addresses the complex question of how to represent personal history.   “Marjane Satrapi’s reflections on her own work have been extremely suggestive: what she says often complicates rather than elucidates her texts. For example, she refers to “Persepolis” as ‘autofiction’ rather than autobiography, problematizing, in turn, the straightforward separation between fiction and reality,” said Zalloua.

The selection of “Persepolis” for first year students’ summer reading prompted the decision to invite Satrapi to deliver a lecture.   “The Office of the President initially brought the proposal for this event to ASWC after selecting ‘Persepolis’ as the summer reading for the class of 2012,” said senior and ASWC Programming Chair Rachel Stein.

“The President’s Office and ASWC public speakers have a standing tradition of jointly co-sponsoring the author talk for the summer reading that all the incoming students do as their first academic assignment.,” said Jed Schwendiman, Associate to the President.

“An evening with Marjane Satrapi” will be held in Cordiner this Friday, April 10 at 7 p.m. as part of Iran in Focus Week, which included a lecture by scholar and author Mansoor Moaddel on the subject of Islamic fundamentalism on Monday, April 6.  

Assistant Professor of Islamic World Middle Eastern History Elyse Semerdjian, who teaches Persepolis in her International Relations and Islamic Civilization II classes helped organize Iran in Focus Week.  

“Hopefully the programs will complicate people’s preconceptions of Iran and provide some background while people watch the possible unraveling of the Axis of Evil paradigm,” said Semerdjian.

Part of the interest in Satrapi and her work is her unique position as a secular Iranian expatriate and the hopes that her story will broaden people’s perspectives.  

“I think Satrapi complicates it by being an Iranian in diaspora and talking about Iran and her experiences. It moves us away from thinking about it [Iran] as this abstract collective other,” said Semerdjian.  

Semerdjian pointed to an interview with Satrapi in which she said, “The only thing I hope is that people will read my book and see that this abstract thing, the Axis of Evil, is made up of individuals with lives and hopes.”

Indeed, the accessible form of the graphic novel has allowed for Satrapi’s book and the film adaptation to gain enormous popularity.

Simek, who will introduce Satrapi on Friday said, “I think she tried to make it very accessible, but that she has written it specifically for Western audience.   I think it’s very easy to overlook some of the subtleties in the book, to over-identify.”

Whether or not “An evening with Marjane Satrapi” will break down stereotypes and increase international awareness on campus, the event is particularly relevant with the current political climate.

“Undoubtedly, Satrapi will have some insightful thoughts about current events to share in addition to reflections on her text,” said Schwendiman.

Community members and students should also expect the talk to be entertaining.

“Even students who have not read Satrapi’s book or seen the movie should go the event to hear Satrapi’s interesting life story.   If her writing style is any indication, she seems as though she will be a humorous, entertaining speaker,” said Stein.

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