It is not wrong to oppose Shahrnush Parsipur as the Woman of the Year [See Parvaneh Hamidi's “Mozele baanuye saal“]. I suppose she like any other public character has both supporters and detractors. And I can understand if one opposes Parsipur based on her possible flaws as a public personality or her complicity in favor or against certain causes. But to disavow her based on the two specific points Ms. Hamidi has mentioned is not only unfair but also speaks of Ms. Hamidi's low tolerance and lack of grasp of Parsipur's prose.
Ms. Hamidi's first point is that, in her stories, Parsipur portrays women in a lowly light, one that shows women as weak, meek and submissive. One of her main characters, we learn in support of Ms. Hamidi's argument, is a prostitute! God forbid!
Let us compare Parsipur to a European counterpart: The winner of noble prize in literature in 2006 was the Austrian Elfriede Jelinek. Jelinek is the woman who has been called a pornogrpaher, whose prose has won the claim of being obscene, blasphemous and degrading to women.
Jelinek is the writer whose female characters engage in sadomasochistic relationship with men, succumb to all kind of degradation in their relationship to men and in general are portrayed as weak and less in control than their male counterparts. But by doing so, this Nobel laureate has challenged the status-quo of gender relationships, made the reader aware of the imbalance of power among sexes and become a fierce social critic.
Then why do we ostracize Parsipur for doing the same thing? Are we seriously this self destructive that we cannot stand our best female writer challenge the Iranian status-quo? Should all our female characters be like the main woman in Cheshmhaayash, or Leili in Dai Jan Napolen – prissy, virgin-like beings who are romanticized and adored? Can we not have a realist for once portray an Iranian woman as she is, a multi-faceted and imperfect being?
And what about Parsipur's use of Persian language and grammar? Again let me run a comparison. I personally think the greatest living author right now is an American named Cormac McCarthy, and I will debate anyone who claims otherwise.
And part of the reason is that McCarthy has taken the English language to the mat and made a mockery of English grammar. His prose have little punctuation. His sentences are often so messy and convoluted that you need to re-read them to grasp the meaning. But he has made a conscious decision as a writer to challenge the old order, the sold called linear, punctuated status-quo. He has broken free of constraints of common language, and in his rebellion he has freed the language.
Parsipur has done the same. If we for one second take the blinds off our eyes and not treat our language as we treat our female characters, in other words as damsels in distress and in need of protection, then we may be able to realize that language needs to evolve to be viable and effective, otherwise it decays and goes stale.
If Parsipur, like Golshiri, Hedayat and Yoshij before her doesn't push the langauage forward, then who will? You or I? Is it any wonder that there is a dearth of good writers in Persian prose. We have more poets than you shake a stick at but see if you can count more than 20 current great writers in a population of 70 Million. Isn't it because our language is prohibitive and complex, full of sinkholes that do not allow emotions or realism to creep in. Parsipur is one the few writers that has bloodied the Persian language and bled some of the decay out.
Parsipur is flawed, imperfect and has her share of contradictions, but what writer isn't? It's that imperfection that leads to innovation and greatness. And Parsipur is a great nominee for the person of the year, be it a man or woman.