To Consider a Claim

The Realm of Memories is the title of written memories of Dr Fatimah Tabatabaee, the wife of the late Hadj Seyed Ahmad Khomeini and the Imam Khomeini’s daughter-in-law. The first edition was published in 1389 (2011) in 600 pages.
The aim of these lines, considering that it is a valuable book in learning about Imam Khomeini, is not to clarify the look and purpose for which the memories have been told or written or even to find out the points of its weaknesses or strengths. But in here we intend to discuss this claim of Mrs. Tabatabaee, in her short introduction to her book, that her written memories are oral history document. Mrs. Tabatabaee is very respectable in terms of her individual personality, family attributions, her relationship with the family of revolutionary and combatant religious authorities and the learned men of contemporary Iran.
She writes: “The present book is written in the field of oral history, with all the weak and strong points dominating on this field. Since any written history is firstly an oral history, the present book is one too”. She elaborates this view on oral history more. To her, oral history is the outcome of the work of someone who writes what he/she has heard or seen. In other words, it is the work of someone (called narrator) who has been too close to the time of the happened events or accidents. This narrator is sometimes within the context and sometimes in the margin of the events” (introduction- p. 2).
 Considering her point of view about oral history and maintaining the memories in this field, some questions intrude into the mind, which their answers will help to elaborate the opinion of the writer of the present text in reviewing the claims expressed:
1. What is oral history? Is her look at oral history a right one?
2. Can The Realm of the Memories be considered a work in this field?
3. Are written memories oral history?
4. If we consider the interview as the most important component of oral history, which place interview will take in the present work?
5. Why Mrs. Tabatabaee insists so much to introduce her book as an oral history work?
To answer the first question, it should be said that there is not a clear-cut and distinct definition about oral history among the experts, but a simple definition is: "Oral history is a method and style in documenting and writing the contemporary history". This method elaborates what has been remained in mind through speaking and makes it permanent. If the memories are elaborated in response of the questions of an active, inquisitor, clever and skilled interviewer, then it can be claimed oral history has been realized. On this basis if the memory reciting is done in absence of an active and questioner expert, it cannot be considered oral history. In other words, it can be claimed that clever questioning is the distinctive aspect of oral history from memory reciting. So Mrs. Tabatabaee’s opinion about oral history is not exact and right.
To answer the second question, it can be claimed that the book text is not clearly the outcome of a dialogue or an interview. Because there is no questions mentioned in the text firstly, and the content conveys the style of the writer not the memory reciting, secondly.  In addition, she repeatedly calls herself as the “writer”, defining the pictures published in the book. Putting all these together and considering that she has no reference in the introduction to any interview for the documentation of her memories, this book can be easily categorized as a written memory and the values of an oral history work cannot be attributed to it. One may guess that Mrs. Tabatabaee has told various parts of her memories to a person (or persons) in different and limited times, then she, reviewing the content the final text, has published them as the present form. Here again it can be questioned why this has not been mentioned in the introduction.
Based on the content of the introduction, the third question can be answered as follow: Undoubtedly a questioning interview is the most important sign of oral history and is the distinctive point of it from memory reciting. On this basis, The Realm of the Memories, being a written memory cannot be considered as oral history.
It should be noted that there are distinct and clear lines between oral history, memory reciting and memory writing, so that they can be distinguished easily. How a written memory can be considered as oral history, if the parts in which Mrs. Tabatabaee introduces herself as the writer of the memories be taken into consideration?
The answer of the forth question is that no traces of interview cannot be found in the book, showing the exchange of questions and answers between the owner of the memories and others. Thus the published text lacks the signs of an interview with the purpose of documentation of memories. So once again it may be said that the claim of this book being an oral history work, cannot be correct.
In response of the fifth question, you can guess that Mrs. Tabatabaee, having in mind the validity of the oral history works in comparison to written memories, was willing to increase the credit and citation of her work by putting it in line with oral history works. Introducing the text as a more reliable one in comparison with other published works about the family of Imam Khomeini and other learned men and societies can be another reason. On the other hand, from an especial point of view it can be claimed that lines between oral history and reciting and writing memories, has not been completely clear for her.
But finally,  there remains a question from the publisher, which considering the complete dominance of its authorities and experts in Islamic Revolution and Imam Khomeini Research Center on theoretical and scientific discussions of history (and taking into consideration their close relationship with The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini's Works), especially in the field of oral history and memory writing, how such a view has been published in the introduction while the content is in complete opposition with the claimed view? The publisher, based on its operation in contemporary and Islamic Revolution history has many years of experience and has published many books of memories beside others.

Jafar Golshan Roghani
Translated by: AsgharAbutorabi

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