Friday, July 24, 2015

Negar Mottahedeh's "#iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life"

Negar Mottahedeh is Associate Professor in Literature and Women's Studies at Duke University. She is the author of Displaced Allegories: Post-Revolutionary Iranian Cinema (2008) and Representing the Unpresentable: Historical Images of National Reform from the Qajars to the Islamic Republic of Iran (2007).

Mottahedeh applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, #iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life, and reported the following:
#iranelection: Hashtag Solidarity and the Transformation of Online Life is full of images. It is likely too the only book with QR codes that take you to videos from the post-election protests in Iran in the summer of 2009. My favorite image from the book appears on page 99. The image is of a woman about to throw a stone, defying an ultimatum by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to end the protests following the presidential election in Iran in 2009. It is dated June 20, 2009.

About a week earlier, on June 12, 2009, Iranians went to the polls to cast their vote for a new president. Before the polls were even closed, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced as the sixth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran with 63% of the votes cast. Millions believe that their votes were never counted. The days that followed the election witnessed the largest protests in Iran since the Revolution of 1978-79. Some of the protests in the summer of 2009 were silent, others, were more violent. They were all aggressively suppressed by government forces, killing and wounding thousands of people. The images in the book are by and large viral images that were circulated online with the hashtag #iranelection to document the violence of the state against its own people.

The image on page 99 emphasizes the corporality of 2009 protests and the ways in which the camera responded to this corporality by implicating the viewer’s own body in the texture of the viral image itself. Contrasting the 2009 image to images of women in the course of earlier revolts in Iran in the 1950s and 1970s, I write on page 99:
Indeed one could say that a certain corporality is deemphasized by the “objective” distance of the 1950s and 1970s camera and by the sartorial choices, which either situate themselves within the flows of commercial capital and global fashion or squarely take a stand against the same by virtue of the chador. While we must be vigilant in remembering the presence of young women in militant guerrilla movements such as Cherikha-ye Fada’i Khalaq or Mujahedyn-e Khalq in the 1970s and 1980s, what we witness in the photographs of the 2009 protests is the ordinariness of a gesture which is stripped of all but frustration: a young woman readied to “throw a stone with manicured hand.” Stalwart, this image speaks allegorically of an archived melancholy that spans decades of political loss on the public front for Iranian women in protest.
The figure of the young woman readied to “throw a stone with manicured hand” is allegorical of a fundamental loss for women in revolt. But it is allegorical too in that it shuttles at once between an image of the lone woman corporally present in the midst of the crowd, and a concept that we don’t see: a digital collective elsewhere that is sensorially connected and networked by her image online. Part flesh, part data, the figure of the young woman articulates, as allegory, a politics that hinges on the amorphous web of social media. This is the politics of contemporary networked social movements. The image on page 99 captures the essence of the networked protest movement and of that moment in Iran’s history as an allegory of our collective global present.
Learn more about #iranelection at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue