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Totally Harmless: Reading Coffee Cups on Freud's Couch in Tehran.

In these three newspaper columns, an Iranian political satirist contemplates government eavesdropping, the relationship statuses between Iran and the US, and social media as stand-in for civic participation.

Regarding the Country's Situation

The country is in such a fine situation right now that you, all of a sudden, for no good reason, feel that you are harming the country. No matter whose coffee cup you read for your daily column, the newspaper's editorial board and publisher have to rinse it well to stop the country's situation from getting worse. In order to avoid offending anyone or anything, we will therefore study two situations, a related and an unrelated one, concurrently.

Regarding What People Are Thinking

When someone takes the garbage out to the dumpster at the corner of the alley, he wonders whether he is guilty if, like on previous nights, by chance, his garbage catches fire. He wonders whether his crime is evident. He wonders whether this is against public order. He wonders whether he will have a finger pointed at him and a red line drawn around his face on tomorrow's news. He then answers himself, "How should we know!"

When someone is about to turn his car lights on in the street, he thinks he is taking part in a soft revolution.

When someone is about to call out from the window at 10 p.m. to his child to stop playing ball in the alley and go buy some soda, he wonders whether he is taking part in a civil protest.

When someone blows balloons for his kid's birthday party and the balloons happen to be green, he wonders whether he is fighting the nation.

When someone calls a foreign-based Persian TV station to request a pop song, he wonders whether he is interfering in national security.

So the country is in such a fine situation that the people are suffering from "spy phobia," feeling that they are spying for the British and the Americans (and most recently for the Germans).

Regarding a Few Moral Lessons

During your phone conversations, you are advised to make the following remarks:

"Dear brothers! Good job!"

"Sirs, hold on, I am just going to get some water and will be back in a second."

"Brothers, excuse me, do you have the time?"

"Bro, this is going to be a long conversation, hope we are not much of an inconvenience."

"Brothers, please stop listening for a moment. This is a private matter."

"Sirs! You be the judge. Who is right here? Me or my friend?"

"Brothers! Please pay attention now. We are going to announce the protest's routes!"

"Bros, since you won't be charged long distance, can you give a call to Mr. Netanyahu, ask what tomorrow's plans are?"

"Brother, I am off to bed. I am setting my cell phone alarm for the early morning. Don't be startled out of sleep."

"Bro, I have to take my pills at 12. If I forget while on the phone with friends, can you kindly remind me?"

"Bros, when you cough, at least cover your mouth."

"Brothers, it was nice hanging out with you. Till tomorrow!"

Regarding a Conclusion

This piece has no conclusions. Please stop fidgeting with your receivers.

Editorial note: From Etemad-e Melli newspaper, "Reading Coffee Cups" column, July 15, 2009.

Recipe for Civil Participation

Today, to help with the improvement of the society, we provide you with the most important recipe for civil participation. For a while now people have been doing everything on the Internet. They become happy, they become sad, they like others nonstop, they fall in love, they ask for another's hand, they get married. They just don't yet download babies on the Internet. Therefore, before things get even more complicated, today we share with you the following recipe, with the hope of changing your taste.
   Person                          One
   Society                         One
   Social crisis                   As needed
   Desktop or                      One
   laptop or smartphone
   Various types of                The more
   anti filtering                  the better
   Mouse                           One
   Index finger                    One 

Cooking Instructions:

First, turn on your desktop or laptop and wait for it to boot.My dears, please remember that if your Windows is bugged, your computertakes much longer to load compared to your dear friends using a Mac.That is totally fine. On the other hand, it is not as easy to useantivirus software on Macs.

After your computer loads, you can enter any sites, such as[...] News Agency. When you log in to the [...] social network, firstyou explain what you have had for lunch, what you are wearing, where youare invited tonight. Then, you upload pictures from last night'sparty (of course after cropping out everyone else in the pictures). Sofar it is all routine and natural.

There is, however, a chance that since you became a member ofthe network, you have discovered your poetic, mystical, or philosophicalside. In that case, you immediately upload a new poem as your status; orshare your extraordinary wow along with a picture of the relatedauspicious event; or offer some philosophical text if your philosophicalside has bloated.

At this time, you might hear some very good or very bad or verynormal news. The news can be of an earthquake, floods, wood fires, thedrying of Lake Urmieh, a bombing in Palestine, the falling of a meteorin Russia, the joy following Persepolis soccer players scoring a goal,the qualification of the Iranian national soccer team to the World Cupin Brazil, etc. Remember that the bigger and more horrible the news, thebetter.

The moment you learn of a crisis, you immediately get to workwith your index finger. You browse the pages of pros and cons, critics,sympathizers, empathizers, friends, enemies, and others. You move yourbeloved finger and like, like, like. That's it.

Your food is ready.

Well ... You have come to the end of your social participation.Good job. Now keep your finger ready for the next event.

Editorial note: From Shargh newspaper #1710, "Totally Harmless" column, April 18,2013.

Relations with the US, Types

No relationship: In this situation, Iran has no relations withthe US or vice versa.

Neighbors: In this situation, Iran and the US do not have anyrelations, but the US feels assured by having a house in the sameneighborhood.

Just friends: In this situation, Iran and the US haverelations, but they appear not to. This means they are friends, but theyare just friends. In this situation, neither communication nordifferences are strong.

Childhood friends: In this situation, the two have beenneighbors while growing up and have even played doctor together, but nowthey have grown up and know those days are gone.

Indirect relations: In this situation, Iran and the US areindirectly connected, and between them people are feathering theirnests, acting as the connecting cord.

Direct relations: In this situation, the two sides gettogether, but others in the neighborhood make fun of them and startcirculating rumors.

Phone relations: In this situation, the two sides are justfriends, but they have something over the phone.

Logical relationship: In this situation, the two sides arehoping to have a platonic relationship, but history has proven that, inthe end, no relationship is platonic.

Serious relationship: In this situation, the two sides areplanning to get married.

So-so relationship: In this situation, the relationship isso-so.

Oil and water relationship: In this situation, the two sidesare like oil and water, not mixing, not mingling, but ... fear the daythat oil and water do mix in your car engine ...

Long-distance relationship: In this situation, the two sidesare far from each other and nothing really happens. However, once a weekthey get together via new technologies such as Viber or Skype.

Web relations: In this situation, the two sides are far fromeach other and don't have much to say, but they don't mindwebbing each other--turning on their webcams.

Light of one another's life: In this situation, each isthe light of the other's life, but these lights have long sincebeen dim or extinguished.

Editorial note: From Shargh newspaper #1847, "Totally Harmless" column, October 2,2013.


Translations from the Persian

By Poupeh Missaghi

Editing by Adam Seth

Translating Humor

Three Questions for Poupeh Missaghi

Q Translating humor across cultures is particularly challenging. Whatdifficulties did you confront while translating these newspaper columnsand how did you resolve them?

A One of the main challenges was translating linguistic wordplay. Forexample, Pouria had suggested one form of relationship (in the US-Iranrelations) based on a Persian proverb. The proverb could be translatedfor meaning, but then it lost its wordplay and the entry would becomessenseless. If the proverb was translated literally, it did not get themeaning across. We talked about it and ended up deleting that entry.Other issues were sentences with literary and cultural references thatwere not known to the English reader. I translated them focusing ongetting the sense across rather than using the references, which wouldbe pointless for most English readers.

Q The New York Times quotes Myrsini Gana, saying, "I feel that when the translator islaughing, the humor will manage to get across." What in PouriaAlami's writing made you laugh?

A The dark humor that brings forth the stupidity and absurdity ofpolitics and related social issues. However, I was not totally sure ifmy laughing with the texts meant that an American reader would laughtoo; so before finalizing the selection of the texts, I discussed themwith Adam (the editor of the pieces) to see what he, as someoneunfamiliar with the culture and language, felt about them.

Q Is it possible to fully convey the humor in the original, or are somethings simply lost in translation?

A I think the choice of the pieces, what we selected to work on, plays animportant role in the success of these translations. Losing someelements of the original texts in the translations, or recreating them,is perhaps inevitable, as in any form of translation, but I feel thesense of humor still gets across to English readers, and theauthor's intent is still realized.

Pouria Alami is a satirist who entered the world of journalism when he wasseventeen. He has published four books; five other books of his havebeen denied publication permission by the Iranian Ministry of IslamicCulture and Guidance. For the past six years, he has been writing dailypolitical satire columns for various reformist newspapers, except forthe thirty-one days he spent in solitary confinement in Evin Prison lastyear. Now he is out of prison on bail, awaiting trial, and writes thecolumn "Totally Harmless" for Shargh. His most popular columns have been "Reading Coffee Cups"in Etemad-e Melli, "The Couch" in Etemad, and now "Totally Harmless" inShargh.

Poupeh Missaghi is a writer and translator. She is a PhD candidate in creative writingat the University of Denver.

Adam Seth is a writer and editor. He is a PhD candidate in creative writing atthe University of Denver.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL SECTION
Author:Alami, Pouria; Missaghi, Poupeh
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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