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Why 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 impressions", 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 predicament. 

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 on "gendered, sexualized, and racialized bodies." Politics for her is "coming 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 enterprise.

But I fear the discourse of Otherness, and the incessant attempt to establish a hierarchy of suffering, results in an almost tragic 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 who suffer 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 of empathy 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 the Wonder of This-ness?

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 complex interplay 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 of empathy? 

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 down the 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 to 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 and its murder and mayhem. Once in appreciation for gentle, reassuring caress and safety, the dog smiles and reciprocates with myriad gentle gestures, indicating "knowledge" of 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 that 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 jousts. Hazer Javabi, and Rajaz khani-- the insane desire to humiliate loudly, callously and pointlessly-- might have made one overtly sensitive to the boisterous, unkind rhetoric. 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. Allowing 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 dare comprehend.

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 matter. These 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, and intensely 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 forever be the Serendipitous Rhizome.

.................... Peef Paff spam!

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Lost Wisdom
Rethinking Modernity in Iran
By Abbas Milani
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