Donna Honarpisheh: Possession as Form – Reading the Space-Time of Waves and Winds in Simin Daneshvar’s „Sutra“

In this paper I will reflect on the world created by Simin Daneshvar’s short story „Sutra,“ which begins and ends with the tapping of drums, a rhythmic mark that frames and emerges throughout the narrative to reflect the healing ritual for a man afflicted with zār (a form of Afro-Iranian spirit possession and wind ritual). While this text has not been categorically read as „postcolonial,“ I argue that the temporal and spatial world it creates is a proximate rendering of the traces of Iran’s semi-colonial history intertwined with its lesser-known history of slavery. First, I will look towards the structures of the sea that create the conditions for different forms of being in the world. The sea comes forth as the axis of cosmic wonder as well as the vessel of violence, affliction, and non-being. I will reflect on the formal rhythm of zār as a supernatural practice that shapes the experience of the text. By rendering zār not as an object of observation, Daneshvar gives life to zār as a modernist form in itself (inviting a discussion of how we might situate this text in relation to the discourse on surreality), imbuing in the trace of Iran’s history of slavery a present life that constellates past and present, fictive and real, and the moral and identitarian shifts between land and sea. The constellation of time that emerges in this story is significant in the effect that it draws into a single image Iran’s unique status within both colonialism and slavery, unsettling the categorical bounds of the postcolonial sea without a predetermined set of political virtues and residing instead in the unstable space of modernist ruin.

Donna Honarpisheh is a PhD candidate in the department of Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley. She holds a MA from UC Berkeley in Near Eastern Studies and is a member of the designated emphasis program in Critical Theory. She earned her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, where she wrote a thesis on women’s pilgrimage practices and sensory experiences in the shrines of Shiraz, Iran. Her research focuses on the aesthetics of Modernist Persian film and fiction, Francophone literature, and postcolonial theory. Currently, her research focuses on tracing a major thread of Iranian Modernist aesthetics, as one that moves from the city to the sea. This reframing of Iranian Modernism through its southern maritime culture opens onto the role of linguistic dialects, spirit possession, racial politics, as well as the particular temporal rhythms of the ocean archive.


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