It worries me to see only a certain number of Iranians voicing their experiences, stories and opinions. It seems to me that only a small number of Iranian voices are being heard throughout the world and the concerns of many other Iranians are not being disregarded in different ways. As an Iranian who lives in the United States, I worry that we are getting too distracted by our own voices and experiences of immigration, exile and nostalgia.
I worry that many of us forget that Iran still has a population of almost 70 million peopleó 70 million individuals. Not all of these individuals are privileged enough to have a chance for voicing their own stories and opinions. I wish, one day, we realize that some important voices of the Iranian people are being lost among the more privileged voices. I know that unheard voices do not only belong to Iran. But, at this point, I could only worry about the country that I love, its millions of people and their stories. The following is my reflections about a piece called ìThe Small Voice of Historyî by Rantija Guha. I hope you find it useful.
Could the Unheard Voices of History Ever Become History?
As I was reading Rantija Guha’s article ‘The Small Voice of History’, I was constantly thinking about the fact that even if the subaltern voices are being heard, they are being heard as the softer side of historyóas the less dry and more story-like side of history.
The historic deeds and events that are chosen by those in power, become so fundamental to our understanding of history that it is hard even for usóas the people who are seeking the unheard voices of history — to detach our knowledge from what we have been taught as history. As Guha writes, the institutionalizing of the study of history meant first that, ìthe study of history developed into a sort of ‘normal science’ in Kuhnian sense.
It seems to me that once something is considered science, it is very hard to compete with its credibility in the society. I know this might sound pessimistic, but I do not see how historic narratives written or told by the subaltern could be head by all of those people in the world who have learned history as facts that are blind to the subaltern.
This being said, I respect Guha’s argument in saying that we should find ways through which the unheard voices find a space to tell their stories. And I also think that making these stories and voices heard is not at all impossible and that in fact, in the past there have been narratives in the past that have revealed the unheard stories of the subaltern.
Guha’s article is in a way the call for realizing the urgency in hearing the stories that are constantly filtered in the writing/constructing of history by the hegemonic voices. He writes,
These are small voices which are drowned in the noise of the statist commands. That is why we don’t hear them. That is also why it is up to us to make that extra effort, develop the special skills and above all cultivate the disposition to hear these voices and interact with them. For they have many stories to tellóstories which for their complexity are unequalled by the statist discourse and indeed opposed to its abstract and oversimplifying modes.
This passage makes me think about the limitations that the new unheard voices — some of which are being heard in the present time — have to voice in the process of being heard and read by others. As Guha accurately says, we need to develop special ways and skills in order to hear what is being lost in the noisy history that is the territory of those who are in power. My worry is that not all the audiences of history — in its scientific and factual form — are willing and will ever be willing to do the extra work in order to see beyond the facts that are conveniently presented to them.
The small voices of history are not only facing the obstacle of not being able to reach a sufficient audience in number. It seems that they also have to face another kind of hierarchical problem that is embedded in the current nature of history. These voices and narratives — the voices that are now being heard — are often placed after presenting a series of historic facts. It seems that they need to be accompanied by these facts in order to make sense for their audience. They are not given the chance to construct history. Even when these unheard voices become prominent and gain credibility in the process of telling their stories, they still have to be an amendment to history in its scientific form.
For instance, it is fascinating to me that even Guha — the advocate for hearing the unheard voices of history — has no other way other than abiding by the historic facts that have taken place in the hegemonic countries of Europe, in order to explain to us the flaws of this constructed factual history. In other words, he, too, has to explain things through that same factual history that he seems to be criticizing. In only a quick look at the structure of his article, I see that he starts his argument with a brief explanation of the effect of the Italian Renaissance on the creation of the modern historical thinking.
While I understand that Guha is map out an argument — a critique — for which he has to first talk about these European historical events, I consider this choice of starting an argument with European historical events, an inescapable obligation dictated by the science of historyóconstructed by the statist voices. In short, it makes me worried that not even Guha is able to find a way to fully reject this pre-established-and-ongoing-path of history.