Thursday, June 25, 2009

Murderous Hobbits

by KARL STEEL

From Salon via, I'm embarrassed to say, Gawker, I learn that Iranian State TV will be broadcasting the whole of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy to give people a good excuse to stay in and to let the authorities move on. The authorities may have their politics, but the people may just have their lives, their day-to-day business.

Will it work? Our anonymous witness writes:
Gandalf the Gray returns to the Fellowship as Gandalf the White. He casts a blinding white light, and his face is hidden behind a halo. "Imam zaman e?!" someone in the room asks. Is it the Mahdi, the last imam and, according to Shia Islam, the savior of mankind?

Who picked this film? I start to suspect that there is a subversive soul manning the controls at Seda va Sima, AKA the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. It is way too easy to play with the film, to draw comparisons to what is happening in real life. There are the overt Mousavi themes: the unwanted quest and the risking of life in pursuit of an unanticipated destiny. Then there is the sly nod to Ahmadinejad. Iranian films are dubbed (forget the wretched dubbing into English in the U.S.; in Iran dubbing is a craft) and there are plenty of references to "kootoole," little person, the Farsi word used in the movie for hobbit and dwarf. "Kootoole," of course, was, is, the term used in many of the chants out on the street against President Ahmadinejad. He is the "little person." ("And whose side are you on?" Pippin asks the ancient, forest-dwelling giant named Treebeard. Those watching might think the answer is Mousavi, since Treebeard is decked out in green.)....

Gandalf's white steed strides into the frame. It is instantly transformed by local viewers into Rostam's mythical horse, Rakhsh. Rostam, the great dragon-slaying champion of Ferdowsi's poetic epic "Shahnameh," which recounts the whole history of Iran.
In this case, Ahmadinejad and his allies seem to be of the "fear no art" school, expecting that art will purge emotions, clear the head, and ennervate and exhaust the protest movement. But art, being in excess of what is strictly needed, being a thing of wants, and hence desires, never stays put. It travels, and causes us to travel from the commonplace, giving us new ideals while also calling our attention to the gap between our individuals lives and these ideals. And then it calls upon us to repair this gap, to remake this world to match the dreams art brings us. This is the revolutionary potential of self-aestheticization.

In A Whistling Woman, the fourth book of A. S. Byatt's Frederica quartet, student protesters singing Ent songs burn books and shatter museum cases, aiming to destroy the holistic pretensions of new university while promoting their own hippie, neomedieval, esoteric brand of universalism.

Who knows what worlds the Ent Songs of Tehran might bring? From here (although in Twitter I'm in Tehran), I can only wish them the best, although, like our anonymous correspondent, I can end only by wondering about the role of the 'little people' in this new epic. Let it be rewritten, since how can we make sense of a Lord of the Rings in which the kootoole shoot and beat all who refuse to recognize them as the heroic centerpiece of the story?

A leftover here:

I've been reading Zizek's Violence: Six Sideways Reflections, which inspired my line about the "gap between our individuals lives and these ideals." In the course of calling for "the rise of universality out of the particular lifeworld" (152), Zizek also writes this, against vulgar historicist readings of art:
Historicist commonplaces [ed: what I call "context"] can blur out contact with art. In order properly to grasp Parsifal, one needs to abstract from such historical trivia, decontextualize the work, tear it out of the context in which it was originally embedded. There is more truth in Parsifal's formal structure, which allows for different historical contextualizations, than its original context. (153)

2 comments:

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

But art, being in excess of what is strictly needed, being a thing of wants, and hence desires, never stays put. It travels, and causes us to travel from the commonplace, giving us new ideals while also calling our attention to the gap between our individuals lives and these ideals. And then it calls upon us to repair this gap, to remake this world to match the dreams art brings us.

I love that formulation, and the short quote from Zizek on art's necessary lack of historical context is also quite provocative.

It's too much to hope that The Scouring of the Shire, absent from the Jackson adaptation, might take place after the TV broadcast...

cameron said...

It is interesting that the Iranian government is showing the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in Iran. After all Tolkien was an acknowledged admirer of Ferdowsi and his masterpiece "Shahnameh". You can also find a modern comic book version of his stories at http://www.theshahnameh.com