Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Comparative Literature


Dr. Tim Blackmore


Does the study of aesthetics create response-ability or have tangible effects in the real world? Does the ambivalent form of word/images created by diaspora artists change our gaze toward the Other and the landscape of the possible? In the age of a global march against abstract terror which seems to be only reinforcing terrorism, the sign “Muslim-woman” along with the concept of democracy have become rallying cries for novel civilizing-missions. Leaving aside the failed efforts of littérature engagée, I resonate with Jacques Rancière that the study of aesthetics is intertwined with that of politics. Gayatri Spivak, too, asserts that an education in humanities creates an ethical bond which aids in training the imagination to trace the complicity of the self in the plight of Others. Emanuel Levinas sees ethics as a call for responsibility in which the vulnerable face of the Other is the condition of discourse. The exposure to the Other’s naked face incites an urge for violence which is immediately hampered by a call for ethical responsibility. Despite the surge in the publication of Iranian memoirs, their visual production’s contribution to countering the war-machine against abstract Terror and their role in ushering Democracy (through dissensus and ethical engagement with the enemy) remain unstudied. I argue that by fostering “aestextasy,” Shirin Neshat, Marjane Satrapi, Parsua Bashi and to a lesser extent Amir Soltani are able to bring the face of the Other to intimate proximities, create an ethical bond with radical alterity, and in so doing puncture the lethal cycle of xenophobia which purges the self by blaming one evil, external, enemy. The practice of reading for interlocking knots of ethics, aesthetics and politics, or what I call aestextasy, forms a constellation of perception in which—as Judith Butler argues—the pleasure/pain of one body is interlinked to the wellbeing of all else in the life-chain of this precarious world. It refers to an aesthetic/perceptual awakening to being in the world and simultaneously feeling empathically connected to Others in an ethical life-circle. These authors effect a displacement of the exhausted affect of indignation in order to move across invisible borders of proximity/distance, self/Other, and outside/inside to envision a Democracy to come.

Keywords: Iranian diaspora visual literature, graphic novels, Muslim women in art; photgraphy, Marjane Satrapi, Shirin Neshat, Parsua Bashi, Amir Soltani, Jacques Rancière, aesthetics and politics