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Warring Souls: Youth, Media, and Martyrdom in Post-Revolution Iran [Paperback]

Roxanne Varzi
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 31, 2006 0822337215 978-0822337218
With the first Fulbright grant for research in Iran to be awarded since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Roxanne Varzi returned to the country her family left before the Iran-Iraq war. Drawing on ethnographic research she conducted in Tehran between 1991 and 2000, she provides an eloquent account of the beliefs and experiences of young, middle-class, urban Iranians. As the first generation to have come of age entirely in the period since the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, twenty-something Iranians comprise a vital index of the success of the nation’s Islamic Revolution. Varzi describes how, since 1979, the Iranian state has attempted to produce and enforce an Islamic public sphere by governing behavior and by manipulating images—particularly images related to religious martyrdom and the bloody war with Iraq during the 1980s—through films, murals, and television shows. Yet many of the young Iranians Varzi studied quietly resist the government’s conflation of religious faith and political identity.

Highlighting trends that belie the government’s claim that Islamic values have taken hold—including rising rates of suicide, drug use, and sex outside of marriage—Varzi argues that by concentrating on images and the performance of proper behavior, the government’s campaign to produce model Islamic citizens has affected only the appearance of religious orthodoxy, and that the strictly religious public sphere is partly a mirage masking a profound crisis of faith among many Iranians. Warring Souls is a powerful account of contemporary Iran made more vivid by Varzi’s inclusion of excerpts from the diaries she maintained during her research and from journal entries written by Iranian university students with whom she formed a study group.

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Editorial Reviews


Warring Souls is an outstanding and nuanced addition to the literature on contemporary Iranian culture, media, and society.”—Hamid Naficy, author of An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking

“A lovely piece of writing, Warring Souls is one of the first credible accounts of secular Iranians in their twenties, the post-Revolution generation.”—Michael M. J. Fischer, author of Mute Dreams, Blind Owls, and Dispersed Knowledges: Persian Poesis in the Transnational Circuitry

“Inside and outside the pulse of war in Iran, close up and far away, Roxanne Varzi weaves her spell; two parts anthropology, one part poetry and film theory, three parts a soaring imagination and a big heart. How could you not reach out for a book which situates itself at the intersection of religion, vision, and power, asking whether the individual ultimately has the power to turn the image off? A tour de force.”—Michael Taussig, Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

About the Author

Roxanne Varzi is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (May 31, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822337215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822337218
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,063,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warring Souls:Youth, Media, and Martyrdom July 21, 2006
Anthropology, History, Fiction and Politics all come together in this tour de force. Roxanne Varzi opens the door to a society which for most of us is only knowable through the images on TV and in the papers. Iran, Tehran and then finally the inner circle of Tehran's middle-upper class youth (the first generation born in the wake of the Islamic Revolution) are revealed layer after layer each providing insight into the next. At each stage she meticulously leads us through state manufactured images and practices and helps the reader understand how different members of Iranian society cope with and/or relate to their surroundings. In a particularly visionary moment, Varzi states "My internal censor coupled with a vivid imagination, will not allow me to make any authoritative claims on reality, and thus I use different ways and different voices to relay my ethnographic journey." In acknowledging the danger of claims to reality, Varzi in fact brings the reader closer to a clear and coherent picture than usually result from similar narrative attempts. She takes us on a journey, as our guide, allowing us to stray and explore, but all the while with her hand outstretched in case our surroundings become unfamiliar. This is a book for readers of the Middle East, students of Iran and those interested in exploring a new and refreshing approach to Anthropology - an exciting new model upon which, one can only hope, other anthropological studies will follow. Varzi's understanding and insight make "Warring Souls" a must read for anyone wanting a deeper and active understanding of Iranian society. An understanding which goes beyond the still images that clutter our minds and our TV screens.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Passionate Prose October 15, 2008
By kfv
This book took me to a place i never imagined meeting in Iran. Where cultural anthropolgy meets the war front via iconic films, books and media. I found the authors manner of writing to keep me entertained through her poetic vision of what it meant to be an Iranian in post revolution Iran. Through her visionary eyes I felt what it meant to be passionate about a cause albeit a positive or negative one as seen in the west. I understood for a moment, what it meant to sacrifice all you have for one belief. Many of us Americans couldn't even imagine sacrificing our spare change to hand over to the poor let alone giving up our lives. This book reflected another position rarely seen in the West as to how the youth portray their country. It is within the youth we build our future, and in this matter this book opened up several channels, I would never be privy to in another country.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book January 26, 2010
By M. S.
This book presents a fascinating study of the Iranian side of the Iran-Iraq war and the martyrdom culture in Iran. I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in learning more about the day-to-day reality of Iran.
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8 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Interesting exercise, but seriously problematic May 13, 2008
By Yazan
This book is a reworked version of the author's PhD dissertation in anthropology. As such, it is quite surprising how short it falls of being a serious ethnographic work.

This (over)ambitious book looks at visual culture in revolutionary and post-revolutionary Iran, primarily from the perspective of elite Iranian youth. The core argument is that Khomeini and the revolutionary class of clerics, informed by Marxism, produced an image regime where "images worked to create a state of martyrdom and ultimately a religious state" (p. 6). This image regime is analyzed through the framework of the Sufi poetry of Nizami, and (sometimes) Hegelian dialectics. But for a book that deals with media and visual culture, it is shocking that the author seems to be unaware of a long tradition of theorizing in media studies and anthropology. Nowhere in the book do we see an engagement with even the most basic literature in performance theory, discourse and genre, or semiotics. Even the discussion of Sufi poetry lacks any kind of justification or serious explanation. There is lots of name dropping throughout the book. The reader often comes across people such as Arendt, Fanon and Ibn Khaldoun with strong assertions about what these authors said. Despite the dazzling effect, anyone that might have had the chance to read these authors would realize that Varzi has no clue what she is talking about.

On a more positive note, the book does contain some interesting quotes and anecdotes from the author's field research in Iran. It is also an interesting attempt at experimenting with ethnography as a literary genre, albeit it is a failed attempt by all standards. A confused and under-theorized book. Read with caution!
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