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Lecture: “Learning to Read: Literature and the Art of Resistance”, By Dr. Zohreh T. Sullivan

The Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World was privileged to host Dr. Sullivan, Professor Emerita of English and Comparative Literature, on October 19, 2016 at LAU.

Dr. Sullivan invited us to escape the nets that entrap our thoughts by focusing on ways that literature and art are part of our “equipment for living”, linked to power and to politics. She focused on the cultural work of resistance and (mis)representation, in three genres and texts: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (l898), Caribbean & Black British poets John Agard, and finally Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2002).  

Dr. Sullivan defined the function of art in a dual manner, “Art reflects a culture and resists it,” she explained that art is unfinished and that the artistic process will never be completed. Rejecting the concepts of unified meaning and universal readings, she urges the audience to question everything “where and who makes meaning” by using as evidence John Agard’s assault on the English language and Satrape’s assault on official history through cartoons and laughter.

Dr. Sullivan encouraged the students to keep on moving forward by reflecting on the relevance of literature, the function of art, and the relation between the world, the text, and the critic. She emphasized that we should never believe that art offers single monolithic truths, because there is no center of truth, truth lies in fragmentation. To begin and end her talk she reflected on an epigraph from the Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf:  “Truth is a mirror that shattered as it fell from the hand of God. Everyone picked up a piece of it, and each decided that the truth was what he saw reflected in his fragment rather than realizing that the truth had become fragmented among them all.”