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Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran

The Life and Legacy of a Popular Female Artist

Kamran Talattof

Publication Year: 2011

In Iran, since the mid–nineteenth century, one issue has been a common concern: how should Iran become modern? More than a century of struggle for or against modernity has constituted much of the social, political, and cultural history of the country. In the decades since the 1979 Revolution, the question has become even more critical. In Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran, Talattof finds that the process of modernity never truly unfolded, due in large part to Iran’s reluctance to embrace the seminal subjects of gender and sexuality. Talattof’s approach reflects a unique look at modernity as not only advances in industry and economy but also advances toward an open, intellectual discourse on sexuality. Exploring the life and times of Shahrzad, a dancer, actress, filmmaker, and poet, Talattof illuminates the country’s struggle with modernity and the ideological, traditional, and religious resistance against it. Born in 1946, she performed in several theater productions, became an acclaimed film star in the 1970s, and pursued a career as a journalist and poet. Following the revolution, she was imprisoned and eventually became homeless on the streets of Tehran. Her success and eventual decline as a female artist and entertainer illustrate the conflict between modernity and tradition and Iran’s failure to embrace an overt expression of sexuality. Talattof also profiles several other female artists of the 1970s, analyzing their lives and work as windows through which to examine what Iranian culture allowed and what it repudiated.

Published by: Syracuse University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, About the Author

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pp. iii-vi


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p. vii


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p. ix

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Preface, Acknowledgments,Translation, and Transliteration

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pp. xi-xii

Since I finished the writing of this project and aft er I submitted the manuscript for publication a few years ago, Iran and its political atmosphere have gone through significant changes. Iran is indeed on the threshold of a postideological era, which I mention at the end of the book. When it was pointed out to me that it seemed I had predicted these recent events, my first thought was that we in our...

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1. Academic Writing and Writing about Lives: An Introduction

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pp. 1-20

On March 8, 1979 (International Women's Day), less than a month aft er the victory of the Islamic Revolution, my friend Azar and I were standing near the front gate of the University of Tehran, which was filled with outraged women. They were preparing to protest the mandatory public veiling of all women. Two days earlier, this demand had been voiced by Ayatollah Khomeini in a speech he...

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2. Modernity, Sexuality, and Popular Culture Iran's Social Agony

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pp. 21-45

In this chapter, I expand my argument that since the beginning of the debate on modernity in Iran, the question of sexuality has mainly been absent from the debates. Instead, only traditionalists and religious fundamentalists have offered their archaic and well-formulated notion of sexuality, often wrapped in anticolonial packaging. Because of this awkward bifurcation, and in the absence...

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3. Iranian Women and Public Space in the Seventies: Shahrzad, a Woman of Her Time

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pp. 46-94

Iranian culture, even in the heydays of the 1960s and 1970s Westernization, lacked an open approach to an indigenous eroticism, disparaged artistic genres that could represent eroticism, and refused to tolerate--let alone embrace--Western eroticism. Classical notions about sex and erotic imageries as represented in classical poetry, in genres such as narrative romance poetry...

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4. Seduction, Sin, and Salvation: Spurious Sexuality in Dance and Film

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pp. 95-133

In her study of tango, Jane Desmond states, "Dance remains a greatly undervalued and undertheorized arena of bodily discourse."1 This is particularly true in the case of Persian or Iranian dance.2 Throughout the medieval period and into the contemporary era, dance remained in the private domain in Iranian culture. Nevertheless, in the contemporary era this private activity has entered into...

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5. Shahrzad as a Writer: The Question of Literary Modernity

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pp. 134-175

Shahrzad's career in dancing and acting in the 1960s and 1970s has provided a case study for understanding the role of women in popular arts and show business in Iran. Her own impression of her career also has added to our knowledge of the place of women artists in Iran. In the same way, her literary works, written in the late seventies, can shed light onto her life and the lives of women of her time by illustrating (or portraying...

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6. Social Change in Iran and the Transforming Lives of Women Artists

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pp. 176-204

This chapter examines the postrevolutionary status of Shahrzad and other women artists (some even in literature, education, and other more "acceptable" forms of social activities; a prosopography, in a sense) who began their artistic activities in the 1960s and 1970s, rose to fame in those decades, and faced a more or less similar dreadful fate aft er the revolution (many of them were born in the...

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Ideology, Sexuality, and Sexual Agency: An Afterword

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pp. 205-234

The study of Shahrzad's life and work indicates that Iranian culture has suffered from highly complex dichotomization between nudity and poetry, sexuality and intellectuality, sex and art, all to locate women's so-called wrong or right place. As I have shown in previous chapters and will reiterate in the pages in this chapter, a true feminist criticism in Iran cannot circumvent the reality of...


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pp. 237-286


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pp. 287-308


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pp. 309-318

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651390
E-ISBN-10: 0815651392
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815632245
Print-ISBN-10: 081563224X

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 8 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 759158748
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Modernity, Sexuality, and Ideology in Iran

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Iran -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Iran -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Women in popular culture -- Iran -- History -- 20th century.
  • Sex -- Social aspects -- Iran -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social change -- Iran -- History -- 20th century.
  • Ideology -- Iran -- History -- 20th century.
  • Women dancers -- Iran -- Biography.
  • Saʻīdī, Kubrā.
  • Women artists -- Iran -- Biography.
  • Women authors, Iranian -- Biography.
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