Aramesh Dustdar's sentences
are pure delight, wonder and excitement on top of enlightenment
August 13, 2005
In response to a comment about Iranian
thinker, Aramesh Dustdar:
Sorry for not responding in time. You asked me what is
it that makes me fond
of "this fellow," Aramesh Dustdar, if anything worth two cents. How
can anybody with half a brain chide Hafiz for not being rational?! I suppose
you didn't expect an answer as it's so obvious to you that I'm wrong about all
Let me first ask; Are you in possession of his books? They
are not widely available, only recently they've gotten some
limited distribution, and a lot of people hadn't heard of
him until a short time ago. What he has said in a handful
of recent talks and interviews does not have much to do with
his books, and must not be a basis for forming an opinion
of his published work.
tafakor dar farhang dini", "Molaahezaat-e
falsafi dar deen o elm"]
Unlike almost anything in Farsi, his work is not easy-reading.
His first book was written around the same time that "Asia
vs. the West" and "Vaz-e Konooni-e Tafakkor dar
Iran" were written (typical easy-readings-passed-as-philosophy-tracts).
As you might know, he belongs to the same generation of
Tehran's academic "philosophers" in the early
1970's, people like Shayegan, Davari, Enayat, Nasr and
a few minor figures
around them, who were thinking within the same problematic/
discourse that Ahmad Fardid (via Al-e-Ahmad) laid its parameters
the destiny of our culture against the onslaught of Western
civilization; questions of History (capital H), faith, modern
science and technology and what lays ahead, our future in
the world. Aramesh Dustdar was the black sheep of the gang,
the antichrist among the gatekeepers of Hekmat-e-Elaahi.
Then something strange happened which is not dissimilar
to Germany in the 30s. Amazing parallels! History took a
grave turn and everybody got caught up in its tremors. We
don't get in to that story but one immediate result was a
moratorium on thinking, the kind which had just started.
Regardless of what we think of these individuals and the
weight and caliber of their thinking (I happen to think the
majority were ersatz-philosophers), we should grant them
that they were the first group of post-Mashrootiat intellectuals
who could be called "thinkers" or "philosophers." All
the others before them were Adeebs, Mohaghgheghs, encyclopedists
and Alems, and of course a mass of journalists that we can
loosely call our modern intelligentsia.
But among that crew of thinkers, Aramesh Dustdar was the
oddball; he did not have the nativist peasant attitude sporting
a tassbih, clearing his throat with verses of Hafiz (or hooey
from Sepehri) every step of the way, and he certainly was
not a dilettante-tourist-philoshophe with Parisian accent
searching Illuminations from the East. He was a true German
mandarin of strong atheistic stripes, a heavy-weight. And
he was bent to grapple with all those mystifications generally
known as farhang-e Irani-Islami. Only one person before him
had done something similar, a serious wake-up call, little
understood up until even today: a man named Ali Esfanidari,
otherwise known as Nima Youshij.
As a sociologist of the intellectuals, you must have (I'm
sure you do) some sort of mental map of post-Mashrooteh generations,
a book of Who's Who, some sort of relational locator. Based
on your classifications, you place people and trends on the
map. I know you've attempted to do so in a couple of articles.
That's why I don't see any reason for your comparing Kassravi
to Aramesh Dustar.
Kassravi was, for the most part, a brave
journalist and an amateur historian with iconoclastic pretensions,
but not really a thinker of any depth. A lot of people have
expressed their hostility to Islam, Sufism and Erfan. We
should not put them all in the same bag because of that fact.
That would be a superficial reading of Dustdar's
work. (Believe it or not, he has some staunch supporters
who have no clue what he has written, championing his
'cause' simply on account of his hostility to Islam.
Similarly superficial and clueless are those detractors who
identify Dustdar's work as old-fashioned Enlightenment tracks,
championing naïve scientific rationality against superstition.)
In reading Dustdar's prose, a major hurdle is in
the way and that is our habits of reading. This is a long
story I don't get into now. A certain kind of prose, Nasr-e-shiva,
popularizing and simplifying complex ideas, sprinkling them
with bits of poetry by Hafiz and Molavi, mixing it with rhetorical
(Manbari) tropes; all this has come to be known as the yardstick
of good, clean writing -- Nasr-e-del-neshin!
like Ghormeh-Sabzee, everybody likes it, and each Ghormeh-Sabzee is
different from the next, but they're all overcooked, darkened
vegetables and meat where the gooey greasy mixture
certain immediate satisfaction (with gas producing aftermath)
but we cannot call it exactly refined taste. And we're
all grown up with it; it did not require hard training of
taste buds! Same goes with Abgoosht, and Abgooshti prose
that is Nasr-e-fassih-va-baleegh!
Until you are overcome by a grave sense of boredom with
Nasr-e-fassih-va-baleegh, you cannot appreciate Aramesh Dustdar's
prose. Like every good intellectual, he is a stylist. His
is acquired taste; dense, packed with multi-directional insights,
unconventional adjectives, and full of twists and turns that
kicks everything that appears habitual or familiar. There
are both tight analytical sections, and broad-stroke interpretive
passages, but they always build up upon themselves both conceptually
If you don't lose the thread of his sustained
arguments, you'll see the thinking process in action, going
up brick by brick before your eyes, which forces you to think
along, or give up and not go further. (A gentleman friend,
Mr. Mehdi Khalaji, described his experience of reading Dustdar
as "torture." He is a fan of Abdolkarim
Soroush's prose. My experience is the opposite. But if this
is torture for some, I tend to think it's a necessary one,
the beginning of an awakening! But really, his sentences
are pure delight, wonder and excitement on top of enlightenment.)
There are a few honcho philosophy
students fresh out of classroom (and there will be more)
who are out to "get" him,
to establish their own name and reputation. What they have
jotted down so far is laughable, but the serious among them,
if they're really sincere and careful, might learn a few
things about rigorous thinking in the process of their criticism.
Ultimately that's what counts, learning how to do rigorous
thinking, not regurgitating oft-repeated polemical cheap
shots. And that's how we all learn, by serious criticism.
In that regard, Dustdar's work is certainly not beyond
criticism. It demands it.
So, with these assertions and provocations, did I manage
to get your attention in perhaps sitting down and carefully
reading his books? I wouldn't expect a sympathetic reading,
since you are a Muslim intellectual and a translator of Soroush's
into English. But I count on your Weberian sense of scholarly
Abdee Kalantari is
the editor of Kankash and Nilgoon magazines
as well as the moderator for the "Donkeys Party" mailing
list of academics who discuss current events.