assume the worst?
Why reduce us even further into isolated communities
of the hateful?
By H. Utanazad
March 18, 2004
In her article "Gay
geography", the author perceptively highlights
certain narrowness of perspective evident in my "Disgruntled
raising a number of provocative questions. I thank her
for her attentiveness and hope this piece can serve to further
enunciate what may lie at the heart of our disagreements.
Her essay begins with an anecdote, a poignant "memory
of otherness," and ends with an exhortation to not forget the
genesis of the movement we still debate today. The middle consists
mostly of a criticism of the limitations inherent to a crude and
binary opposition of inner self and outside other. Viewing the
world through the prism of plethora of sophisticated categories -- the "polysemy
of hermeneutics," and "heteronormative discourses," and
such, she insists, will help us better grasp the reality of our
The reality, of course, appears such that the "hegemonic
conventions," and "regulatory regimes," trap,
regulate and reproduce "docile subjects", reiterating
the norm, absorbing transgressors and forever interpellating them
in "new ways": the omnipresent Foucaultian "regime
of knowledge, power and truth."
To insist on the "discursive production of reality",
she correctly insists, is not to "deny its materiality." At
issue is how one understands the fragmentation and diffusion
of power--a power that in subtle or blatant ways exerts violence
"gendered, sexualized, and racialized bodies." Politics for her
to terms with fragmentation."
She and I use a different language, but the problem
as always remains with the assumptions. The danger in an obsession
with the discourse
of "otherness" is the risk one incurs in underestimating
the callous "I" and the marvelous "This." What
may appear as the crudeness of a binary inside/outside paradigm
is in fact the mediating link between "I-ness" and "This-ness."
At issue is what the ancient called "Wonder."
The anecdote she tells is familiar and as old as
the first tales of human tribulations -- the story of the rejected
supplicant. The tale of the helpless and the butchered in Homer;
or the account
of the rueful conversation of the Sumerian and his heart, and of
course of Job's lamentations: "Have pity on me, have
pity on me oh my friends, for that hand of God has touched me."
It is also "our" very own touching tale of Rostam's
tearful request for nooshdaru to save Sohrab.
Long before the emergence
of the fashionably convoluted discourses of the present thinkers,
the ancients struggled with the same "issues."
I am not certain of the how, but their wisdom still permeates
our "crude," "inadequate," vocabulary.
Memory, and remembrance, to be sure, might not quite have the
zing of a "discursive articulation and interpellation",
but they are evocative nonetheless.
Recall that the root for memory/remembrance
is Indo-European and as such intricately bound with mourning, as
well as with the giant
Mimir guarding the well of wisdom -- also manifest in the Persian
Doshman, Hooman and Bahman. Suffering, and comprehending
and overcoming it have been an essential preoccupation of our collective
But I fear the discourse of Otherness, and the incessant
attempt to establish a hierarchy of suffering, results in an almost
oscillation between an arrogant, overtly self confident disregard
for all speech the forms of which one does not approve of and an
almost infuriating wallowing in self pity. A Dismissal of myriad
voices as outbursts of morons, coupled with the illusion of the
uniqueness of one's own ordeal, and prospective.
What then emerges is an exclusive club of the self-proclaimed
Seers of Truth who feel entitled to arbiter the claims of those
assigning points for the supposedly sufficient degree of agony
before qualifying some for the right speech, or the right gestures
assuming of course those are in the precise forms expected.
The Seers uncover privation everywhere they look
-- they disclose an omnipresent inadequacy. . A new suffocating
trinity: the colored, gendered and sexualized
body, the select academics, and that limitless undifferentiated imbecility.
The near death of imagination and the annihilation of the possibilities
follow. Too little introspection, too little self doubt.
Why assume one's interlocutor will move in the exact
direction one expects? Why assume a positing of inside/outside
is rooted in obliviousness to "what's
in a name?" Why assume that beginning with the body cannot be as fecund
as the one with discourse? Why assume that the assertion of a particular local
is a prelude to the ironic "implicit claim to authenticity of knowledge?" Why
assume "authenticity of knowledge important at all? Why assume that the
perception of one who enjoys cosmopolitanism shuttling between Tehran and the
suburbs of US to be the full story?
To be sure, texts are multilayered and meanings multiple
and multipliable. But what of the particular beings? What of
the possibilities of discovering
With or without the despicable phrase, "highjack
this -- fag," why assume that an observant soul, who takes note
of the appellation "mother
of all bombs" for the monster in the incineration and destruction business
with absolutely no connection to nurturing or sustaining life, is unable
to move to a nuanced understanding -- in today's jargon--of the
between the signifier, signified... and signs? Why assume the worst?
Why not consider starting with the mortal body? If
the suffering you recognize is what counts, then begin with the
sick body, the allergic body. A body
with a "mind" of its own and its own "wisdom." A body whose
reactions the discursive does not control and the scientific can not heal.
Why not start with the possibilities inherent to the outlook of one who
is open towards
experiencing the marvel of wandering and of discovery?
Discovery of the impulses and of the visceral reactions
in oneself and in others? The joys and the pains of the senses?
And of the fears? And the relation
with the categories one then comes to choose, among so many? And the inherent
possibilities for connection through an anguished appreciation of the body's
fragility; through recognition of mutual suffering; and through the contingency
Why overlook the probably identical impulses that
lead one to drugs while another to puking on the sidewalks simply
because of a pale face? Why shut
possibilities of forging connections, of mutual transformations and of
an endearing expansiveness
of being? Why reduce us even further into isolated communities of the hateful?
And of the self absorbed?
A fraction of the money paid for tuition at the Ivy
League, for rent in the vicinity of the "Snobhills" and the for
coffee in a Westwood cafe, after
all, can go a long way towards subsidizing watching the sunset in the Adriatic,
discovering enchanting beings in the margins of Frankfurt, London, Paris,
Tallinn or Amsterdam, and of mingling with the exciting, kind, and open
hearts in the
deserts of North Africa, and naturally also of discovering the violent,
the grotesque and the repulsive. And yes, even perhaps some day
in finding one
sitting in an
Apartment in Tehran.
There is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to
explain. The sky is the same color. The same moon and the same
stars and the same rainbow. Life is as
enthralling and as painful; the struggles almost identical; the "non-docile" as
bewitching and unique, and well, even the ëdocile' as anguished and
perhaps even more agreeable and full of life.
It is a cosmopolitanism, yes, but not the false,
murderous kind of those that start somewhere in the Middle East,
stopping in the heartland of Europe
only end up in the US to leave a trail of blood, dismembered bodies and
a sea of torn,
incinerated flesh, and vise-versa. One may also even discover the limits
of discursive knowledge though choosing not to abandon the fun completely.
The recognition of the pain and of the fragility
of the body might lead to a heightened sensitivity to the evanescence
of things and amplify one's
appreciation for this particular flower, this particular scenery and yes
even this particular individual, thought not "suitably articulate", and
not of the desired "right" complexion. A recognition of the
intensity of pain each time a bombs reduce a multitude to nothingness, and the
realization of the urgency to stop the madness. One may also begin to adore the
diverse eclectic communities forged in the margins and their possibilities.
There is after all nothing like the feel of a bond
even with a dog, with dread filled eyes escaping the wrath of
children with stones and sticks, under a
bridge overlooking a historical waterway witness to the siege of the Carthage
murder and mayhem. Once in appreciation for gentle, reassuring caress and
safety, the dog smiles and reciprocates with myriad gentle gestures, indicating
the exact location of a lung in pain, the illusions of the power of discursive
vanishes. Even the theological discourses of centuries about the nature
of dogs will immediately begin to sound hollow.
Focusing excessively on the discursive production
of reality and on "otherness" runs the risk of aloofness to the
impulses within, with the ironic consequence
this lack of a pause and hesitation can often lead to the avoidable misreading
of others' intentions. When encountering an indication of another's
location, why not think simply this a gentle reminder that he now lives
in the land where the inhabitants pride themselves on derogatory
and Rajaz khani-- the insane desire to humiliate loudly, callously
and pointlessly-- might have made one overtly sensitive to the boisterous,
Why settle instead on a perceived attempt to claim authenticity and pain?
Once one begins to be open to the possibilities of
being surprised, of forging bonds, of recognizing anguish and joy
in the unfamiliar and the alien and
doing so unexpectedly, perhaps then one might be more forgiving of oneself.
oneself to marvel and wonder at the Particular can quickly disabuse one
of the illusion of one's own unique ordeals no one else should
The possibilities of mutual bond, the ability to
fight for and to open individual and collective spaces and yes
also the possibility of losing, of being defeated,
re-absorbed, and neutralized offers altogether exciting potentials for
transformation, and for healing.
It might not be important to have answers, but the
right questions matter. Hesitation and doubt matter; introspections matter,
carefulness and empathy
after all, are some traits that allow one to be assertive as subjects
and also to acknowledge and value the assertiveness of others,
and to forge
connections working for a better, more civil future.
If not for this exchange, I would not have known
of a multi-talented, multi-dimensional being that reads, learns,
marries in tuxedo; one who once was seduced by/or
seduced a straight woman; she who cares for the homeless and the drug addict,
feels social responsibilities. Consequently, I have gained shadow of an
understanding for her pains, desires, wants and needs as well as
her tendency to be impatient
with fellow Ivy League students who can not properly pronounce Shirin and
for an old man who knows a thing or two about Iran and hopes to converse.
If we were to ever meet, we would have to negotiate
in order to navigate our differences. I, after all, am limited
to my own body and so are you. We
might succeed, develop affections and respect, decide to act and organize
collectively for mutual space, or fail and grow to loath one another.
That, my friend, is
life. Our difference, though, and our distinct outlooks, is no more clearly
evident than when it comes to self pity.
The difference is stark and ironically most manifest
in a simple name. To me -- from here on -- you who pseudonymously
write as Choobe Dosar-Gohi, will
be the Serendipitous Rhizome.