Interview with Faisal Tehrani

FT - 1“Literature is sacred.”


What has been your trajectory as a writer? What has been your encounter with censorship, both direct and indirect?

I believe that Literature with capital L is sacred. I have faith in Literature. It is one kind of religion, a way of life, with diverse rituals and approaches that we all – the literary practitioners -understand it as Literary Traditions  and because of that, as authors, we are kind of Secular Prophets. Hence our loyal readers are the faithful followers of this religion. Because of that only, people outside the realm of Literature look at us as a certain cult.

And this creates competition between us and the establishment be it the clerics, or the politicians. Our fight with the status quo motivates us to write, or to produce edicts upon edicts to challenge those in power. When as a Secular Prophet, the author manages to gain a lot of followers, or at least creates or renew certain debates and arguments, those people in power are envious, they are afraid, they tend to believe that we are challenging, destabilizing the society, putting chaos etc. Thus the censorship arrive.

Since I have started being invited to literary festivals, I have found out that we talk a lot about, for instance can ‘Literature as religion’ live with others, let’s say Culture, Politics, Race, Technology, History, Ideologies and etc etc? Good Literature is Meaning. Meaning is Revolutionary. Once you are a good writer you are taking revolutionary road. Meaning is word. The original Greek for Word here is Logos, and Logos is not just Word but also sense, meaning. Literature is playing with Words. And Words are Meanings. Meanings are Revolutionary. Meanings are Solution. Meanings are Liberation. Words are supposed to be solving. Words are supposed to be liberating. Can Literature in this conceptualisation works with others? It has to. In fact Literature has to, because it is only Reason.

And Literature is disregarded, when we ignore this fact and that Literature is merely stories, purely entertainment, carelessly without principle, without attitude. This stand and this attitude, this Word and this Meaning put Literature in a supreme rank, status, function that above Cultura, Politics, Race, Technology, History and Ideology. Because Literature does not only documenting era. It does not only tell the society and the next generation what happens. It smashed others because it is Word. It is Science and it is Law. It is above theology. It is itself Theology. Literature in the East, in the Malay World has always been that. It is an authoritative centre. It is ultimate knowledge. It is an activity, a transcendental one. It give you no doubt.

And because of that Literature is sacred. Literature is revealing. However the respect towards Literature can be crushed, subjected to the way we reduce Literature to useless role by focusing only the creation, the creative writing process. It is not always about that. When we reduce Literature to that, Literature loses its Meaning, thus the Word, thus the function, thus the enigmatic supreme status. I write because of Words, Meanings, Revolution, Solutions and that is scary enough for certain quarters. Thus the censorship arrive.

I keep asking myself, what am I? What is  an author? Authorship gives the author authority. An author can be authoritarian. They can be anti-authoritarian. Depends on what side he or she chooses. An author can be Saint like and can be evil like. There’s something diabolical about Literature. We exposes our characters  to tragedy, happiness, death, bankruptcy, fame, put them in cage, made them raped murdered dead, made them get married, have sex, have children etc; that’s so ruthless, uncompromising manners. So Literature can be demonic, entrancement, possession, invading, that Literature has an evil streak, that Literature can shake our thoughts and beliefs and trigger new ones, previously unentertained. Literary texts can be dangerous, it have to be dangerous. Thus there is censorship.

To deal and control this, censorship arrive as a system. It has many layers.

How does your literary work intersect with your work as an academic?

Screen Shot 2019-12-23 at 10.12.22 amI don’t really differentiate literary writing with academic writing. To me academic writing can be literary. It’s like this what is creative writing? Firstly, my understanding of Creative Writing it is also Critical Writing, just like academic writings. I have stated it so many times that I write to argue. Second, creative writing is not just about writer being creative, I believe it should also about the reader thinking creatively. Above all, how to judge one writer for not being creative, and how to measure creativity? Third, creative writing is about identity or “signature”, you can call it style or the way of looking at the world, how I give expression to it. Fourth, creative writing should be radical, and revolutionary. And in my view, academic writings fit these agendas.

As an academic writing literary works, my approaches have always been pushing didacticism. My works are lavish with facts, lectures, notes, and points above stories because I write to argue. All of us know that didactic tales are meant to pass the cultural values. Because of that my writings are serious business – they are not a kind of  entertainment, it is not merely stories or causality. In fact I am not looking for logical plots or strong characters when I read a book, I look for arguments, I long for ideas that stimulate my cognitive process.


Faisal Tehrani’s novel, The Professor, will be published by Reading Sideways Press in 2020.


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