Claudia Moscovici

Unveiling the Veil in Contemporary Iranian Art and Literature

 

 

In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini mandated that all Iranian women must observe an Islamic dress code, which included wearing the veil, under the threat of death for those who refused to abide by these laws. This happened at about the same time that the totalitarian leader of my own country, Nicolae Ceausescu, was starting to impose draconian measures on Romanian women. Between the years 1979 and 1989, Ceausescu instituted a series of laws that controlled women’s sexuality and reproduction by banning birth control and abortion. This was part of his narcissistic fantasy of doubling the population of the country, so that he could have more power. Eventually, as I described in my novel Velvet Totalitarianism, such measures lead to tens of thousands of unwanted children, many of which were placed in unimaginably bad conditions in the infamous Romanian orphanages. To my mind, both measures—in Iran and in Romania–represented a way of establishing power over women rather than being a reflection of religious or ideological (communist) values.

Having been sensitized early in life to these displays of totalitarian power, many years later, when I read Azar Nafisi‘s memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003), I was especially moved by the author’s critique of the uses of the veil to control Iranian women’s bodies. I was also very impressed by her creative allusions to Anglo-American literary history—the book is divided into four sections–Lolita, Gatsby, James and Austen–to launch her compelling cultural critiques. Many of you have probably already read this book, but if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel, Lolita, about a sociopathic sexual predator whose fetish is prepubescent girls functions as Nafisi’s main metaphor for Iranian laws, which, she states, imposed “a dream upon our reality, turning us into figments of imagination.” These female figments are objects of simultaneous control and temptation: temptation through prohibition by hiding the female body.

Recently, I ran across the images of an artist who, I believe, launches an equally powerful and creative critique of the veil by unveiling women. Majeed Benteeha is an Iranian-born photographer, poet and aspiring film producer. Moving back and forth between Tehran and New York City, he simultaneously combines and clashes both worlds, in a spectacular mix that challenges cultural assumptions on both fronts. His images often feature veiled women posing nude in an iconic fashion that seems more sacred than profane. Benteenha’s strikingly original photography violates religious orthodoxies–about feminine modesty, about the religious and social connotations of the veil–only to show us another way to respect women and all that they represent: love, maternity, sensuality, desire, intelligence.

His images are simple, beautiful, erotic and dramatic. They include symbols associated with the Muslim faith, but also seem very European in many respects. Perhaps unwittingly, Beenteha’s photography alludes to works like L’Erotisme, by the French anthropologist and philosopher Georges Bataille, which presents the sacred as inextricably related to the profane: not just for Muslim societies, but for all cultures in general. Bataille famously states: “The essence of morality is a questioning about morality and the decisive move of human life is to use ceaselessly all light to look for the origin of the opposition between good and evil.” It seems that is precisely what Beenteha’s artistic short film below underscores, in its mirroring and contrast between a universal modernity and Muslim tradition; between light and dark; between masculine and feminine; between tenderness and predation; between desire and contempt. You can view his photography and artistic films on the links below.

http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici#p/a/f/0/Mv3P-3kPfzo

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com


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June 3, 2011 Posted by | Ayatollah Khomeini, Azar Nafisi, book review, book reviews, books, Claudia Moscovici, communism, communist Romania, controlling women's bodies, controlling women's sexuality, critiques of the veil, Iran, Islamic dress code, literary criticism, literature, Lolita, Majeed Benteeha, Majeed Benteeha photography, Nicolae Ceausescu, Photographer Majeed Beenteeha, photography, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Romania, Romanian orphanages, sensual photography, sociopath, sociopathy, Surrealism, the veil, Velvet Totalitarianism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Unveiling the Veil in Contemporary Iranian Art and Literature

Levi Asher’s Why Ayn Rand Was Wrong: A Strong Case for a New Humanism

 

The name Ayn Rand is well-known in our culture largely for being unpopular, or, at best, popular with unpopular people. And yet, argues writer, philosopher and literary critic Levi Asher in his new book, Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (And Why It Matters), her legacy is being short-changed. Not that Asher agrees with Rand’s defense of egoism. Yet he believes that her philosophical argument is important enough to be taken into account and given a proper refutation.

Why is it important? For two main reasons: first, because the moral debates between altruism and egoism are as old as humanity yet also very current. They’re central to philosophical discussions about economics (implicit in the debates between libertarianism versus socialism), moral frameworks (be they individualist or altruist) and politics (is the state’s role to protect only individual liberties or the collective welfare?). Second, Ayn Rand’s philosophy is important because… Ayn Rand herself is an important cultural figure. Born Alisa Rosenbaum, the daughter of Russian immigrants, Rand was a big success as a fiction writer (her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged were best-sellers), as the proponent of Objectivism and even as a playwright. Few American intellectuals have had as widespread a cultural impact as she did.

Having established the relevance of his chosen subject, Asher zeroes in on his main goal, which is offer a multidimensional refutation of Rand’s basic philosophical tenet of egoism, or “the belief that humans are ultimately self-interested at a basic scientific level”. Being a thorough philosopher, Asher follows Rand’s own advice to “check her premises.” He begins by unraveling the first premise of Rand’s argument for egoism: namely, that the “self” is clearly defined and distinct from other individuals. He shows how our sense of self is based on our interactions with others, our love for our families, our collective and national identities. The self, in other words, is not an individual unit living in a social vacuum. Ontologically, ethically and epistemologically, we’re connected to others. Therefore, Asher argues, even a philosophy that begins with the self will end up considering others.

Moreover, he pursues, the self is naturally empathetic. Just as we see and feel our own pain, if our brain wiring works correctly and we’re not sociopathic, we see and to some extent can identify with the pain of others. Because of this we suffer when we see our children hurt, or when we witness crimes against humanity. Any philosophy of the self will therefore end up considering the family and the group, which are inextricably related to and shape our identities.

In his eloquent, clear and impeccably argued book on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, Levi Asher not only does justice to her arguments and persuasively refutes them, but also makes a compelling case for an ethics of empathy, based on an understanding of the self that is complex and intersubjective. This book presents the foundations of a new humanism.  Original, impassioned, rigorously argued and touchingly eloquent, Why Ayn Rand is Wrong is a must-read not only for fans and antagonists of Ayn Rand, but also for all those who love a good philosophical debate about moral and social issues of the utmost importance.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

May 13, 2011 Posted by | Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, egoism, ethics, humanism, individualism, Levi Asher, Litkicks, moral philosophy, Objectivism, philosophy, refutation of egoism, The Fountainhead, the self, Why Ayn Rand Was Wrong (And Why It Matters) | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Levi Asher’s Why Ayn Rand Was Wrong: A Strong Case for a New Humanism

Neatorama’s Bitlit Launches The Cube: A Novel by Nat Karody

 

Today, Neatorama’s literature blog Bitlit is proud to introduce a new science fiction novel: The Cube by Nat Karody. Were you disappointed by the ending to the series Lost? What follows is a story with as intricate a mythology as Lost’s but with an important difference: in the end it is all explained mechanistically, without resort to mysticism or religion. At the conclusion of the novel, the following summary of the core mystery, taken from the opening chapter, will be perfectly sensible: The Oopsah told a story, a majestic, exalted, beatific story of the coming of the end times and the rise of the Controller.

He learned how the world would end, who would destroy it, and how he, Zranga, could prevent it. He learned that he had been appointed by destiny – by the Controller himself – to carry out this mission. But above all he learned of the existence of a perfect being, the demigod Celeste, trapped beyond time in a cycle of eternal death. Only Zranga could rescue her, and to do this he had to place a giant door on the bottom of the Silent Sea, and kill the Great Man. Read on to found out how far Ivy Morven will go to stop Tobor Zranga from realizing his destiny, and how this alternative universe is bizarrely structured so that the most rational acts are the most extreme.

What I  love most about The Cube is the fact that it’s phenomenally well written  and has great character development. Although clearly a science fiction narrative, The Cube also transcends its genre, to attract a broad audience. It tells the Romeo and Juliet story of a  young couple from adjacent sides of a  cubic planet who meet at an edge and develop a relationship in the midst  of a war that threatens to  destroy the planet. The story is unique  in creating an alternative  universe from first principles:  all matter is   oriented in one of the six Euclidian directions.

This simple deviation  from our own universe leads to the creation of cubic celestial bodies and   allows a reimagination of  transportation, power generation, warfare,   architecture, and lovemaking, among other things. As an example, the  political conflict   leading to war is that both inhabited sides of the   planet generate hydroelectric power by draining a large body of water on   one side   through edge sluices, a cheap and easy source of energy that will ultimately destroy the planet if the water is drained too far.

What  drives this story is the relationship of the two main characters,  a girl  escaping from a classified weapons facility with terrible secrets she   refuses to share, and a rural boy who literally catches her  when she leaps   over the edge and soon learns he is the target of international espionage.   The novel is organized around a series of   revelations of the girl’s   secrets culminating with an answer to the ultimate question — who is  Celeste?

As you can probably tell even from my brief description, The Cube is a multidimensional narrative (pun intended!) that could simultaneously described as a science fiction novel as well as a moving love story and a dystopic utopia fiction,  similar  to George Orwell’s 1984.  You can discover this alternative universe, governed by different laws of physics but similar political motivations and machinations for power as in our world, on the links below:

http://www.neatorama.com/bitlit/category/the-cube/ 
http://www.youtube.com/user/ClaudiaMoscovici?feature=mhum#p/a/u/0/BXP7xYtrVeU 

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

March 31, 2011 Posted by | book review, Book Review of The Cube, Book Review of The Cube: A Novel by Nat Karody, book reviews, books, Claudia Moscovici, David Israel, David K. Israel, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love, love story, Nat Karody, Neatorama, Neatorama's Bitlit, new fiction, novel, novels, online fiction publisher, science fiction, The Cube, The Cube: A Novel, The Cube: A Novel by Nat Karody | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Neatorama’s Bitlit Launches The Cube: A Novel by Nat Karody

Neatorama’s Bitlit: Putting Writers in the Driver’s Seat

 

Writers have been waiting for this:  a social networking revolution of our own. Facebook revolutionized the way we keep in touch with acquaintances and friends. Linkedin made business networking a lot easier. Dating websites like match.com and eharmony.com have changed the concept of dating and widened the field of possibilities. And readers can share their opinions and tastes about books on websites like librarything.com, shelfari.com and goodreads.com.

It seems like among the major fields only publishing was left somewhat behind the times: with top agents meeting for lunch with the top editors and publishers, to negotiate the best deals for the most promising authors. Since no online networking can possibly eliminate human interaction, things may stay that way for a long time. But a brand new social network for writers is opening up new channels of communication among writers, readers and publishers, to put writers in the driver’s seat.

David K. Israel, a writer for Neatorama, and Alyssa Landau have recently launched a new serial fiction blog, called bitlit.com. They have already published online parts of David Israel‘s exciting second novel, Trivial Pursuits, which is co-authored with Jennifer Byrne, and David Wellington‘s extraordinary werewolf tale, Frostbite, which has drawn the attention of a major trade publishing house. They’re also publishing chapters from my second novel, The Seducer. I’ve recently joined their editorial team, to help give other fiction writers this unique opportunity to showcase their talent.

There are tens of millions of writers in this country and only a few hundred very busy literary agents. These agents usually play it safe and stick to established, “brand name” authors in this tough and very competitive publishing market. You do the math about the chances of any given new novelist of getting a great deal with a major publisher.

Neatorama’s Bitlit will give many more talented writers the opportunity to share their work with readers and perhaps even grab the attention of major publishers. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved: writers, readers and publishers alike. Writers get one extra venue to share and promote their fiction. Readers can sample it for free. And publishers get to see which new novels are popular, to make an informed, less risky, decision about publishing them in print. So please join us and see for yourself, at http://www.neatorama.com/bitlit/.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

December 13, 2010 Posted by | bitlit, book reviews, books, Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, David K. Israel, David Wellington, fiction, Frostbite, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, Neatorama's Bitlit, new fiction, novel, novels, online fiction publisher, publishing opportunities, serial novels, Trivial Pursuits, writer's network | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Neatorama’s Bitlit: Putting Writers in the Driver’s Seat