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Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis: Eluding the Frames

Ann Miller

L'Esprit Crateur, Volume 51, Number 1, Spring 2011, pp. 38-52 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press


DOI: 10.1353/esp.2011.0005

For additional information about this article


http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/esp/summary/v051/51.1.miller.html

Access provided by UFMG-Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (5 Feb 2014 19:41 GMT)

Marjane Satrapis Persepolis:


Eluding the Frames
Ann Miller

N THE FOURTH AND FINAL VOLUME of Marjane Satrapis autobiographical comic book Persepolis, the author recounts the difficult process
of gaining admission to art school in Teheran in 1989 at the age of twenty.1
Along with a written examination in Persian, a language that she has not studied during four years spent in Austria, she has to pass a drawing test. Certain
that one of the subjects will be Les Martyrs, she practises copying a photograph of Michelangelos Piet, kitting Mary out in a tchador and Christ in a
military uniform (Figure 1). The subject does indeed come up. Marjane2 executes her drawing and two weeks later is thrilled to discover that she has
passed. This incident is significant in its impact on the life of Satrapi the
future artist, but the large (over half-page-sized) panel in which she narrates
it has further significance through its play upon symbolic representations of
national and gendered identity.
Michelangelos masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture is, of course, considered to be a work of genius within art-historical discourse. This is a discourse, though, that began to be challenged by feminists in the latter part of
the twentieth century. Griselda Pollock points to the false universalization of
a positivist Eurocentric, masculine and often Christian subject position which
mistakes itself for humanity in general.3 The Piet, whose sublime beauty
calls forth a powerful aesthetic-emotional response in spectators, offers a particularly effective example of the capacity of Western art to naturalize and
render highly tenacious a set of meanings around the sign woman, in this
case selfless, tragic motherhood.
As Satrapi transforms Mary into an icon of selfless, tragic, Iranian motherhood, and transmutes the monumentality of the marble into a black-andwhite line drawing, she represents her own hand holding the pencil very
prominently in the foreground of the panel. The strategic reappropriation of
this canonical work of European masculinist high culture by an Iranian
woman comics artist, affirmed through this meta-representative element,
destabilizes the very symbols that it mobilises, demonstrating the provisional
nature of the signifying systems that maintain gender hierarchies in place. The
panel may in fact be read as a mise en abyme of Satrapis endeavour, through
art, to regain agency and position herself vis--vis dominant discourses of
both Western and Iranian culture.
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FIGURE 1. Le Concours, Marjanes take on the Piet: destabilizing the signifiers


of femininity. 2003 Marjane Satrapi and LAssociation.

In discussing Persepolis in relation to the theme of women and space, we


will draw upon a framework suggested by Pollock for reading the work of
women artists (Pollock 78-93). Pollock refers to three spatial registers: first,
the locations represented by the work (and, in particular, the division between
public and private space); second, the spatial order within the work itself
(concerning, for example, angles of vision and other framing devices); and
third, the space from which the representation is made, including the working
space of the artist, and more generally the social and psychic space within
which she is located, and within which her work is received.
The question of location, Pollocks first register, is fundamental to Persepolis, which is set in Iran, the space of home but also that of devastating personal and political events, and Austria, the space of exile. The first two volVOL. 51, NO. 1

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umes are set in the Iran of Satrapis childhood and early adolescence, which
saw the overthrow of the Shah and the Islamic revolution, followed by the
Iran-Iraq war. The third volume covers her stay in Austria for four years as a
teenager, brought about by her parents fear that her outspokenness would
lead to her arrest. The final volume recounts her return to Iran, ending as she
leaves once more to go to art school in France.4 The inclusion of second-level
narrators, most often members of her family, allows for the portrayal of spaces
outside Satrapis lived experience. These episodes emphasize her familys history of political opposition to the Pahlavi regime, and the imprisonment and
exile suffered by her grandfather and uncle as a result. Pollocks second register, the spatial ordering within the work, translates here into the signifying
practices of comic art, a medium highly elaborate in its spatial arrangements.
The third register, the psychic and social space from which Satrapi ultimately
emerges as an artist, is alluded to within the work itself, given its autobiographical nature. Since comic art readily allows for outer worlds to be invaded
by inner worlds of fantasy and memory, Persepolis can be read in part as an
itinerary of psychic development that involves the negotiation of complex
issues of cultural and gendered identity, culminating in the assertion of Marjanes chosen identity as an artist. Her development specifically as a comics
artist is not depicted, however, since this takes place after the departure for
France on which the final volume ends.
In this article, we will invert the order of Pollocks first two registers by
beginning with a brief review of the spatial resources of the medium that
Satrapi uses to particular effect, before going on to discuss how she represents
locations. Finally, we will situate her in relation to the third register, focussing
on psychic space and then on the extra-textual context of the publishing and
reception of comic art.
Comic strip as spatial signifying practice: framing the action
Much of the critical writing on Satrapi has focused on her situation as a
transnational subject. Commentators on her work have linked this liminality
with her choice of comic strip as a medium, not only because of its text/image
hybridity but also because of the analogy between the interstitial space that
she occupies and the gutter, the inter-panel space, on which the discontinuous
narration of comic art is founded.5 Scott McCloud, in a widely-read and oftenquoted text, has referred to the imaginative work of closure that readers are
required to perform in order to mentally construct a continuous, unified reality.6 Although McCloud emphasizes the active role of the reader, his argument tends to imply that comic art, like Hollywood continuity editing, neces40

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sarily brings about suture, binding readers into conformist narratives.7 He


thereby underplays the expressive and counter-ideological potential of discontinuity. It is just this potential that has been stressed by a number of writers on Persepolis. As Nima Naghibi and Andrew OMalley have argued,
instead of being filled in with dominant ideology, the gutters may function as
sites of aporia, requiring the reader to interact with and interpret historical,
political, and cultural silences.8 It is noteworthy that Satrapi uses conspicuous ellipsis to disruptive effect on the very first page of volume one: the reader
is jolted by the abrupt transition between a panel set during the 1979 revolution, showing a militant group of unbearded men and unveiled women, and
the following panel set in 1980, in which a tchador-clad teacher meekly hands
out veils to her female pupils.
Babak Elahi critiques McClouds account and its presupposition that the
reader is meant to disappear into the flow of the plot. He argues that the artist
can draw attention to the frame by an effect of reframing, citing Satrapis use
of mirrors, through which she conveys her problematic development of identity.9 She thereby, he suggests, brings about an ideological reframing both of
Iran and of Iranian subjectivity, a response to George Bushs framing of Iran
and its people as part of the axis of evil (Elahi 312). It is worth expanding
Elahis analysis to consider the many other instances of reframing that arise
not from mirrors but from the enclosure within the frame of television screens
or newspapers that transmit official discourses. For example, the Shahs televised speech on democracy is reframed in the domestic space of Marjanes
left-wing intellectual family and is greeted with derision, as is, subsequently,
an Islamic officials pronouncement on the dangerously seductive rays that
emanate from womens hair.
Narrative sequentiality may also be unsettled by spatial relations that
escape its strict linearity. Bande dessine theorist Thierry Groensteen has
coined the term tressage to refer to the linking of panels, across a page or at
a distance, by formal, semantic or iconic correspondences.10 In Persepolis,
tressage series increase the thematic resonance of repeated events, such as
Marjanes continual moves from one lodging place to another in Austria,
never able to find a home. Tressage may work to indicate insistent psychic
repetition: after changing the TV channel in Austria to avoid watching newsreel film of the war back home, Marjane is assailed in her sleep by images of
her former life there, reproduced from volumes one and two.
More generally, the medium of comic art can work against the easy recognition of familiar visual representations through its eschewing of mechanical
reproduction in favour of the highly selective reinscription of the world
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through the artists graphic line. Comic art tends to avoid careful realist detail,
evoking locations and dcors instead through metonymy. Hillary Chute, discussing graphic narratives by women in general and Persepolis in particular,
speaks of interpretation as a process of visualization, often of material that
is culturally and/or psychically invisible.11
Locations 1: Iran as gendered spacethe veil
The nation of Iran is, like any other nation, a cultural construct, with a different distribution of roles for men and women: the latter bear the burden of
symbolisation, most obviously and visibly through the loaded signifier of
the veil.12 This signifier has taken on competing meanings: the garment has
been co-opted both into the Western narrative of Islam as oppressor and West
as liberator and into the alternative narrative of the essentialness of preserving Muslim customs, particularly in regard to women, as a sign of resistance to imperialism.13 It may be argued that Satrapi colludes with the first of
these narratives by portraying the imposition of the veil solely as a coercive
measure introduced by an Islamic regime that had usurped the victory of the
uprising against the Shah. The opening page of Persepolis claims that the
Islamic government had itself carried out an ideological reframing: the panel
in which unveiled women demonstrate alongside men against the Shah is
accompanied by a narrative voiceover explaining that the 1979 revolution had
retrospectively been called an Islamic revolution.
Satrapis comic book gives no indication of the extent to which the veil
had come to signify resistance to the Westernizing programme of the Pahlavi
rgime, which had itself used women to symbolize modernity. Iran had been
the first Muslim country to impose Western dress on women when Reza Shah
abolished the veil in 1936 and soldiers were instructed to unveil women by
force. The cultural authenticity movement of the 1970s argued that imperialist ideology had objectified womens bodies. The upholders of authenticity
therefore encouraged the adoption of Islamic dress as an instrument of emancipation from Westernisation.14
It seems inappropriate, though, to argue that Satrapi plays into the hands
of Western liberals, particularly since her uncle Anouche, imprisoned under
the Shah, offers a Marxist analysis of the transitional role of religious ideology in laying the ground for a proletarian revolution, even if his optimism
proves ill-founded. In fact, Satrapi contests the meanings that are associated
with the veiled woman both in the West and in Iran. A full-page panel showing Marjane and her female school friends engaged in compulsory breastbeating in honour of the martyrs cannot help but evoke the many Western
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press and newsreel images of the mourning rituals of bereaved Muslim


women, images that invite reading these women as irrational political actors
and so frame geopolitical realities in particular ways.15 Marjane and her
friends duly take up their places in such a frame, but they escape it in a subsequent panel where they fool around by wildly overacting.
At the same time, Satrapi also sets out to show the contradiction between
the official Iranian discourse of idealization of women and the treatment of
women who engage in political opposition, including the anonymous women
who make up half of a group who meet a firing squad in both volumes two
and four. The tragedy of the latter scene is intensified by the slow-motion
effect arising out of the depiction within a single panel of victims in different
stages of falling to the ground. Conversely, the tragedy of Niloufar, an eighteen-year-old communist met by Marjane in volume two, is heightened by
brutal ellipsis, accelerating the rhythm of narration. In the space of three
panels, Niloufar is spied on by the revolutionary guards, arrested, and shot.
In the final chapter of volume four, Satrapi portrays her attempt to reclaim
a different place for women in the national imaginary, echoing her account in
the first chapter of her childhood fantasy of becoming a prophet and elbowing her way into an all-male line-up that includes a scrawny Christ. Her final
degree project at art school, carried out jointly with her husband Reza, is a
plan for a theme park based on warriors from Persian mythology, half of
whom are female. The presence of these women warriors proves to be a stumbling block to getting the municipality to adopt the plan, for the warriors
would have to be veiled, an anachronism too absurd to contemplate.
Locations 2: public and private space
Satrapi portrays a society in which women are excluded from the public
sphere. On the second page of the first volume, the theme of surveillance is
introduced through a disturbing juxtaposition. A member of the morals police
seems to cast his fierce gaze down at the nine-year-old veiled Marjane in the
panel below, as she looks out at the reader and sums up the situation: Et
voil! However, at this stage, immediately after the revolution, the street is
still an arena for political struggle, and the very first image of Marjanes
mother, Tadji, to appear in Persepolis, on page three of the same volume,
inscribes her directly into a feminist iconography of proud militancy: a press
photograph taken during an anti-veil demonstration shows her with arm raised
and lips wide in a shout. Several months further on, on page three of volume
two, she is shown lying prone and distraught. As an unveiled woman out in the
street, she has been called a whore. Tadji takes to her bed. She does attend one
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more demonstration, along with her husband and daughter, but the terrifying
police violence with which it is met puts an end to her political activity. She is
returned to her place and is silenced. By volume four, when Marjane returns
from Austria, even the names of the streets have changed; they are now called
after martyrs, a symbolic masculinization of the geography of the city. The
walls of buildings, decorated with murals representing martyrs and their grieving mothers, seem to lean in oppressively, and she hurries back indoors.
Surveillance extends to the minutest details of dress. The art students are
forbidden to wear wide trousers: such indecent behaviour would trample on
the memory of the blood spilled by the martyrs. Satrapi portrays the consequence of this permanent harassment as a retreat from public life, with private
hedonism as the only form of resistance to the regime. The split between private and public selves is materialized by the gutter between two panels representing the same group of women: in the top one they are outdoors, veiled,
and in the bottom one they are indoors, wearing low-cut dresses and displaying luxuriant hair. The narrative voiceover tells us that this split is internalized: Cette disparit nous rendait schizophrnes.
The public/private division that Satrapi portrays is somewhat at odds with
the cultural demarcation of space that the Iranian cultural theorist Hamid
Naficy describes as a philosophical principle that finds aesthetic expression in
a range of artistic practices, from architecture to cinema: the inner, private self
must be separated from the outer, public self, the domain of corruption and
worldly influences, by a boundary zone such as a veil or screen.16 In Persepolis, the private sphere is portrayed not as the location of inner core values,
but as a space of frenetic pleasure-seeking. The only screen Satrapi portrays
is seen as a set of bars across the panel when she returns home for the first
time after her marriage to Reza. She and Reza have jointly taken the decision
to wed in order to avoid the difficulties, and the danger, of living as an unmarried couple, but the bars symbolize the coercion exercised by the regime to
force women into private, interior space. Satrapi clearly has no desire to aestheticize this as an ornamental screen.
Locations 3: border-crossings
Iran does not exist in isolation: as both geographical and cultural space it
is subject to border-crossings of all kinds. It is noteworthy that on the one
occasion when Persepolis features a map of Iranon the television screen
Marjane and her parents watch in a Spanish hotel in volume twoit is under
invasion, by a black mass that the Satrapis are unable to interpret, only later
understanding that it represents the Iraqi attack. In volume one, Marjanes
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father Ebi gives a history lesson to his daughter as intratextual interlocutor,


and indirectly to us. This lesson occupies a large panel where the left-to-right
reading order and the division into frames are abandoned in favour of the
boustrophedon progression of a series of invaders from East and West: the
Anglo-Americans who installed and maintained the Pahlavis in power are
merely the most recent. In the late twentieth century, boundaries are further
blurred by the invisible flows of capital, although some of its effects are made
visible by Satrapis drawing a line of heavily bandaged patients in the hospital where Marjane goes to visit her uncle in volume two. Any reader believing the Iran-Iraq war to be a Middle Eastern affair is disabused by another
second-level narrator, a doctor, who explains to Marjanes family not only that
the West sold chemical weapons to both sides but that the victims were used
to test drugs for Western pharmaceutical companies.
Irans borders are clandestinely breached by the importing of Western
youth-cultural products, like the Nike shoes and the Michael Jackson badge,
smuggled in by Marjanes parents from Turkey, that get her into trouble with
the revolutionary guards in volume two. Naghibi and OMalley note a tendency among commentators to interpret the book within a liberal-humanist
framework, according to which Marji is just like any other teenager in the
West but one whose normal rebelliousness over dress codes is transformed
in the context of Iran into resistance to the fundamentalist theocracy. They
argue that her emulation of Western fashion might equally well be read as an
indictment of the shallow consumerism that prevents her and her friends from
challenging the political order.17 It is perhaps not necessary to adopt either of
these readings, but to think instead of the power-geometry, in Doreen
Masseys term, through which the local intersects with the global. Massey
argues that all youth cultures are hybrid: imported cultural products will enter
into locally produced systems of social interactions and symbolic meanings.18
The Bee Gees tee shirt worn by Marjanes neighbour in volume one seems to
brand on his body the class privilege that prompts his hasty withdrawal from
a romantic correspondence with a young woman called Mehri once he learns
that she is not Marjanes sister but the family maid. On the other hand, the
kudos that Marjane derives from her expedition to buy cassettes in volume
two seems mainly attached to her knowledgeable and feisty dealings with
male black-marketeers.
Locations 4: Austriabecoming the Other
In volume three, Marjane physically crosses the borders that take her
from East to West by moving to Austria. She has only a kitsch image of an
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Alpine landscape, imagining her roommate Lucia, before meeting her, as a


beplaited Heidi. The view that Austrians hold of Iranians, and in particular
Iranian women, turns out to be less sentimental, even if the would-be anarchists that she hangs out with at school are impressed by the third-world
authenticity that they attribute to her. She encounters racism from a series
of people: in a shocking echo of Art Spiegelmans Maus, the word Raus!
is shouted at her by her boyfriend Markuss mother and by an elderly man
on a train. She is also called a thief and a prostitute by one of her landladies, an accusation that is ironical, given her own initial shock on experiencing the sexual liberation of Westerners at first hand at a party where
her friend Julie notches up her nineteenth sexual partner. Marjane attempts
to protect herself from this assault on her cultural sensibilities by losing
herself in a book. Significantly, although it has a French title, it seems to
read from right to left, like an Iranian book, perhaps an unconscious slip on
the part of Satrapi the artist, but one that invests this banal object with
deeper affective meaning.
Marjane gradually becomes acculturated, but when her relationship with
the self-centred Markus ends, she is cast out in the streets, and her expulsion
from even provisional dwelling places strips her of layers of social privilege
that separate her from illegal immigrants or refugees.19 Her inability to be
integrated into Austrian society is figured by the trajectory of the bus she rides
to keep warm: she has become nothing but an abject body in permanent
motion. Later, in volume four, when Reza complains about the intrusive
scrutiny to which Iranians are subject, Marjane will contrast this with the
indifference of Europeans.
The space from which the representation is made 1: gendered identity
and psychic space
Many commentators of Persepolis have taken the panel in volume one, in
which Satrapi portrays herself as split between modernity and Iranian tradition, as emblematic of her inner divide. Elahi argues though that she is not
simply split between two essential and monolithic cultures, given that the fantasies of identification offered to her are presented as self-consciously ideological: these fantasies include both her performance of a Western self in
front of her smuggled-in Kim Wilde poster in volume two, and her mental
image of a veiled woman when she fails to recognize herself as the person
interpellated by the morality police in volume four. Marjane attempts to piece
together a divided identity, Elahi says, out of a more complex set of influences, including her family (Elahi 318).
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At its most dramatic, in volume four, Marjanes inability to conform to the


gendered identity required of her either in the West or in Iran leads to a breakdown, and she depicts herself as no more than a woman-shaped hole against the
black background of the panel. However, she takes herself in hand, fabricating
an acceptable persona through a progressive assemblage of accoutrements and
painfully-epilated body parts. But, like the reflection shown in the mirror
images analysed by Elahi, in which Marjane is always frowning (Elahi 320),
these juxtaposed versions of presentable femininity speak only of an alienated
identity. There is another way in which she constructs herself that seems considerably less problematic. Elahis point about the role of the family in the creation of identity can be further developed in relation to the rediscovery of a
maternal line. Second-level narratives have given Marjane pride in her descent
from male relatives who made sacrifices for their oppositional politics,20 but the
return to a female genealogy operates at a more phantasmatic level.
Volumes two and four end in the Teheran airport. These scenes set in the
most liminal of spaces emphasize Marjanes status as liminal subject, but their
emotional intensity arises out of the drama of separation that they stage. On the
first occasion, the voiceover indicates that Marjane equates goodbyes with
death, an anxiety visually echoed by the image of her mother who has fainted.
The second departure, for Paris, gains resonance from the tressage effect of the
repetition of location, and the voiceover links the scene with the death of the
grandmother. Along with these evocations of loss, Persepolis includes scenes
representing a fantasized return to fusion with a maternal figure, mother or
grandmother, often involving senses other than vision: the jasmine scent of the
grandmother who shares Marjanes bed before her departure, and the nourriture cleste that Marjanes mother cooks for her daughter when she visits her
in Austria, where she also sits on her bed as she sleeps. The Farsi script in the
speech balloons in one panel can be equated by the reader who cannot decode
it with an intimacy in which what is actually said is immaterial.
If she is able to endure the loss of this imaginary state of unity, it is through
the mediation of books, and in particular the encounter with womens writing,
which maintains and strengthens her affective links with her mother. Marjane
reads her mothers favourite author, Simone de Beauvoir, whilst in Austria.
Nancy K. Miller notes that in Persepolis, dissident genealogies turn out to be
as much a matter of books as of blood.21 Three small panels portraying Marjane as a child, watching her mother read Le Deuxime Sexe, are juxtaposed
with two large panels showing the adolescent Marjane in Austria. In the first,
she attempts a practical demonstration of Beauvoirs precept that if only women
could urinate standing up, their view of the world would change. This bid to
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escape her anatomical destiny may end in damp failure, but the bond with her
mother is reforged through reading. In the second of the two panels, Marjane
sits on the toilet and ruminates on how, as an Iranian, she can become a free
woman. She will ultimately achieve this freedom through her artistic production, which will allow her to symbolize her transnational female experience. An
episode in the next chapter figures the link between womens artistic expression
and a fantasized journey back home, to Iran and to her mother. The episode does
so by taking a detour through the symbolic as formulated by Jacques Lacan.
Luce Irigaray has argued that the patriarchal symbolic order offers no
speaking position for women,22 and how better to make this point than by
quoting from the master himself? Julies mother, Armelle, holds forth to Marjane on Lacans isolation of the orders of the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic, quoting his assertion that men and women do not think in the same way.
For Irigaray though, the female subject can emerge into the symbolic on her
own terms, through le parler femme, a language that allows for both a
fusion with and a differentiation from the mother.23 Just as Armelle moves
on to the topic of womens writing, Marjane is transported to a vision of herself with her parents by the Caspian Sea.24 The conduit back to the maternal
presence that Marjane craves is the samovar, a metonym for everyday life in
Iran, evoked by Armelle as they prepare tea together. In addition, Armelle has
rung her parents, a metaphorical reinstatement of the umbilical cord. The
Lacanian discourse gradually loses sense to become just the sound of
Armelles voice (transcribed as La littrature fminine bla,bla,bla, la littrature masculine bla, bla bla bla), and the boundary between the symbolic and
the imaginary fades away (Figure 2).
This return to the mre/mer does not have to be read as the recovery of an
authentic origin, however. As the comics artist that she has subsequently
become, Satrapi is instead resymbolizing that return. Samantha Haigh glosses
Irigaray as follows: It is [...] vital that a maternal genealogy be (re)discovered, that women be able to separate themselves and symbolize their relationship to [the] woman-mother as origin.25 Satrapis choice of medium is crucial here: the visualization of what is invisible, in Chutes terms, is achieved
through a graphic style that is elegantly detached from the immediacy of the
sensations and emotions that are portrayed, and the wit of the retrospective
narrative text offers a further space for reflection.
The space from which representation is made 2: artist and comics artist
Satrapis frequent representation of herself reading connects her not only
to her mother but to another female genealogy: that of the history of women
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FIGURE 2. La Pilule, Symbolizing the rediscovery of maternal genealogy.


2002 Marjane Satrapi and LAssociation.

painters in both East and West, much of which was long suppressed and has
been disinterred relatively recently by feminist art critics.26 Aline DallierPopper, for example, finds the dsir de savoir, figured through the book held
in the hand, a constant in the self-portraits of women artists from Sofonisba
Anguissola onwards.27 Satrapis choice of medium means that she is able to
effect a double reframing of texts, including Le Deuxime Sexe, the ur-text of
feminism, in their materiality as valued objects and through citation, so that
the dialectical clash of ideas reverberates through Persepolis, extending the
vital, sustaining texture of talk between women. Moreover, the account of her
art school experience in volume four links her with another feminist heroine:
like Artemisia Gentileschi, she is not allowed to paint from the nude and
becomes virtuoso at rendering the folds in cloth.
Satrapis subsequent development as a comics artist takes place after the
ending of volume four, although the paratext for volume one, which
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includes an introduction by comics artist David B., contains a trace of it.


David B., at the time when Persepolis was published, was a member of
LAssociation collective, the first of a new wave of non-commercial small
presses that appeared in France in the early 1990s, and which, by their
choice of subject matter (a marked tendency towards autobiography) and
format (black and white, soft covers, book- rather than album-sized, no
preset page limit), differentiated themselves from the mainstream. The
medium of comics had long been notorious in France for its misogynistic
portrayals of women (exacerbated to often pornographic levels in the wake
of its accession to an adult readership in the post-1968 period) and for its
hostility to female artists. The male dominance of the bande dessine milieu
did not cease with the arrival of alternative publishing houses in the 1990s.
The Association collective, for instance, was all male. However, this collectives commitment to artistically ambitious work led them to publish
comic books by women such as the Qubecoise Julie Doucet and the American Debbie Drechsler, whose portrayal of the female body and female
experience escaped the masculine fantasies that hitherto had passed for representation of women. Satrapis mentors were nonetheless male. She has
spoken of the encouragement that she received from David B, to whose
graphic style she admits her debt,28 from other experienced comic strip
artists that she worked alongside in the Atelier des Vosges, and from JeanChristophe Menu, the most demanding of editors.29
The immense success of Satrapis book has somewhat overturned this
gender imbalance. From an initial print run of 3,000,30 it has sold over
400,000 copies in France and over a million in English translation,31 and
many more millions of people have seen the Oscar-nominated animated film
scripted and directed by Satrapi herself with Vincent Paronnaud. For all those
whose knowledge of comic strip was limited to Astrix or to super heroes, this
Iranian woman, writing in French, has become the highly recognizable face of
the new-found legitimacy of the medium as a whole. Whereas Spiegelmans
Maus had been received in 1986 as a one-off, a work whose profundity belied
its mass-cultural format, the cultural visibility of Persepolis has served to
increase awareness of the work of Satrapis contemporaries. Satrapi has continued to celebrate the heritage of women in Broderies, a demonstration of
sophisticated and free-thinking female gossip between different generations,32
and has herself become an inspirational figure to a new generation of women
artists. The publication of Persepolis is described as un tournant for young
women comic strip artists by Jeanne Puchol, the president of the woman
graphic artists association Artemisia.33
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Conclusion
With her Piet, Satrapi demonstrates, to the delight of the reader, the
inspired idea that enabled her subsequent career by securing her access to art
school: that of manipulating the iconography of the European high art tradition
and deftly translating one idealized version of womanhood into another, offering a seemingly perfect fit with the gender norms underpinning the symbolism
of nationhood. Throughout Persepolis, she uses the resources of a less prestigious art form to disrupt ideological conformity by eluding any such predetermined frames of gendered or national identity. She defines herself ultimately
as an artist, and it is as an artist that she is able to reclaim a sense of self by
offering a complex representation of home and exile, maternal attachment and
loss. By her achievement, she plays a pivotal role in the cultural repositioning
of the medium itself, staking out a new terrain for herself and for other women.
University of Leicester
Notes
1. Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (4 volumes, unpaginated) (Paris: LAssociation, 2000-2003).
2. We will use Marjane to refer to Satrapis textual self.
3. Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference (London: Routledge, 2003), xxvi-xxvii.
4. The film version of the book also includes Paris as a location, through a framing narrative
set in Orly airport. See Floriane Place-Verghnes, Instruction, distraction, rflexion: lecture
de Persepolis, French Cultural Studies, 21 (2010): 257-65.
5. See Roco G. Davis, A Graphic Self: Comics as Autobiography in Marjane Satrapis Persepolis, Prose Studies, 27:3 (2005), 264-79.
6. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), 67.
7. See Stephen Heath, Questions of Cinema (London: Macmillan 1981), 76-112.
8. Nima Naghibi and Andrew OMalley, Estranging the Familiar: East and West in
Satrapis Persepolis, English Studies in Canada, 31:2/3 (2005): 246. On framing in relation to both cultural difference and trauma, see Gillian Whitlock, Autographics: The
Seeing I of the Comics, Modern Fiction Studies, 52:4 (2006): 977.
9. Babak Elahi, Frames and Mirrors in Marjane Satrapis Persepolis, symploke, 15:1/2
(2007): 320.
10. Thierry Groensteen, Systme de la bande dessine (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France,
1999), 173.
11. Hillary Chute, The Texture of Retracing in Marjane Satrapis Persepolis, Womens Studies Quarterly 36:1/2 (2008): 93-94.
12. Naghibi and OMalley, 244.
13. Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam (New Haven: Yale U P, 1992), 166-67.
14. Ashraf Zahedi, Concealing and Revealing Female Hair: Veiling Dynamics in Contemporary Iran, in Jennifer Heath, ed., The Veil: Women Writers on its History, Lore and Politics
(Berkeley: U of California P, 2008), 250-65.
15. Falah Ghazi-Walid, The Visual Representation of Muslim/Arab Women in Daily Newspapers in the United States, in Ghazi-Walid and Caroline Nagel, eds., Geographies of Muslim
Women (London: The Guilfors Press, 2005), 312, 317.
16. Hamid Naficy, Poetics and Politics of Veil, Voice and Vision in Iranian Post-Revolutionary Cinema, David A. Bailey and Gillian Taiwadros, eds., Veil, Veiling Representation and
Contemporary Art (London: Institution of International Visual Arts, 2003), 139.

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17. Naghibi and OMalley, 235-38.


18. Doreen Massey, The Spatial Construction of Youth Cultures, in Tracey Skelton and Gill
Valentine, eds., Cool Places: Geographies of Youth Culture (London: Routledge, 1998), 123.
19. Lopamudra Basu, Crossing Cultures/Crossing Genres: The Re-invention of the Graphic
Memoir in Persepolis and Persepolis 2, Nebula 4:3 (2007): 15, http://www.nobleworld
.biz/images/Basu.pdf (accessed 7 February 2009).
20. See Kimberly Wedeven Segalls essay about the regrounding of identity through intergenerational narratives of trauma, Melancholy Ties: Intergenerational Loss and Exile in Persepolis, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 28:1 (2008): 38-49.
21. Nancy K. Miller, Out of the Family: Generations of Women in Marjane Satrapis Persepolis, Life Writing, 4:1 (2007): 13.
22. Luce Irigaray, Ce sexe qui nen est pas un (Paris: Minuit, 1977), 67.
23. Elizabeth Grosz, Jacques Lacan: A Feminist Introduction (London: Routledge, 1990), 183.
24. Marjanes father, described in volume two by her mother as not macho, is not excluded
from this scene.
25. Samantha Haigh, Between Irigaray and Cardinal: Reinventing Maternal Genealogies,
Modern Language Review, 89:1 (1994): 63. Haigh is discussing Irigarays thique de la diffrence sexuelle (Paris: Minuit, 1989).
26. See Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock, Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology
(London: Pandora Books, 1981).
27. Aline Dallier-Popper, Art, fminisme, post-fminisme (Paris: LHarmattan, 2009), 43. See
Anguissolas Autoportrait (1554).
28. See http://www.bdselection.com/php/?rub=page_dos&id_dossier=51 (accessed 10 October
2008).
29. See http://mapage.noos.fr/marjane.persepolis/paroles/arte.html (accessed 7 February 2009).
30. Jean-Christophe Menu, editorial in Lapin 33 (2002): 6-9.
31. http://www.myspace.com/persepolislefilm (accessed 7 February 2009).
32. Marjane Satrapi, Broderies (Paris: LAssociation. 2003).
33. See Yves-Marie Lab, BD: les femmes sortent des cases, Le Monde 2, 4 April 2009,
48-51.

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