Of the Disfigured Figures, of Martyrs, and of Revolutions


Marshall 490
845 N. Park Ave Room 490
Tucson , AZ


Fri, 03/04/2016 - 3:00pm to Fri, 08/12/2022 - 9:04pm


Join The School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies and CMES for our Spring 2016 Colloquium Series

Shahla Talebi

Associate Professor of School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies


"Anything that dies has had some kind of aim in life, some kind of activity, which has worn out; but that does not apply to Odradek. Am I to suppose, then, that he will always be rolling down the stairs, with ends of thread trailing after him, right before the feet of my children, and my children's children?” Kafka, The Cares of a Family Man

The figure of martyr has been prominently tied to the social and revolutionary movements of the last few decades in the Middle East and North Africa. Presented in mainstream media in caricaturized imageries, the figure is put to an impossible task of unifying, embodying, and suppressing divergent dreams and hopes of their respective movements. Only a seemingly homogenizing death however renders possible to imagine a unified single figure, an illusion that “melts into the air” when put in various and shifting utilization. But what of a “failed” martyr, of a disfigured figure of a person, of justice, of hope, of revolution? How is the figure of martyr juxtaposed with these disfigurements and with what implications? What kinds of meditation on life and death, and dreams of future these figures and disfigurements may enable or disable. Glancing over three disfigured figures from different time periods in Iran, Turkey, and Tunisia, I contemplate the conditions of life lived and the kind of enduring indignities that redefine death. This is an anthropological and philosophical meandering into the state of precarious existence, pondering a future in which life appears as a fading presence.


Shahla Talebi is a sociocultural anthropologist, whose research has engaged with questions of life and its limits, incarceration, revoltion and the nation-state, and discourses of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, particualry in the context of post-revolutionary Iran. She is currently an associate professor in the school of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Stduies at Arizona State University. In addition to journal arircles and book chapters, she is the author of award winning book, Ghosts of Revolution: Rekindled Memories of Imprisonment in Iran, published by Stanford University Press.