Thursday, December 23, 2004

Flu talk

I arrived late at Timoshenko Lounge last night. Having driven more than an hour from Berkeley to get to the plantation I have come to call “school,” I mumbled to myself as I pulled the car into the parking lot, “it’s too late. I should go back; it’s almost 8 PM.” But the light was on and through the window, I could see dark-haired (and some hairless) heads, whose ears were attentively listening to someone in that room. “Thank god for the Iranian time,” I mumbled again, as I parked my car and lazily dragged my flu-struck body to the room filled with Iranian bloggers, students, and Internet savvy Bay Area residents. For once, I felt more “authentic” than any Iranian in the room, as I was by far the most fashionably late person there! But, too fashionable for my wits, as I had missed Hossein Derakhshan’s talk all together!
Fortunately, however, I got to hear a discussion about the political potential of blogs. In this discussion, Hossein said something that was interesting to me (a point that I had noticed when reading the comments on his blog before). He said that he doesn’t know why many people who visit his blog are neo-cons. The laziness of the “Left” for not noticing the potential of blogs, he said, was perhaps one of the reasons for this. His statement led to a discussion about the disillusionment of the “Left” in the U.S., with the concept of democracy. As my fashionable tardiness had excluded me from the earlier discussion, I decided to shut up and listen to what was being said. But I decided to jot down my scattered thoughts about last night’s discussion here in this post --and don’t expect any coherence, as I am drugged by Tylenol Flu capsules, which seem to be working pretty well!
My thoughts: It seemed to me that there was an underlying assumption about what constitutes the “Left” and what characterizes it. I noticed a slippage back and forth between what “Left” means in the U.S. and what it has connoted/does mean in Iran. I think, one needs to recognize that what is known as the “Left” in Iran now- and in the U.S. for that matter- is very different than what it has meant in different historical junctures. The outcome of this sort of generalization, I believe, can be the wholesale rejection of an assumed unity (“the Left”).
Having said this, I want to embark on a little engagement with Hossein’s statement. Let me also say early on, that to critique someone is not to reject them. Unfortunately, many times we seem to take a “naqd” as a “naf-y.” This is certainly not my intention. How else are we to have productive discussions, if we don't engage in critiques of each others work? I am putting these issues forward, hoping that we can have further discussions about them. I don't want to have the last word on these issues and know that there will probably be no agreement on many of the things I say here.
Unlike Hossein, I don’t think that the internet is the turf of neo-cons. In fact, different groups that may identify as being a part of the “Left” have utilized this form of communication in organizing and disseminating information (obviously, there is always the “digital divide” and issues of accessibility that one has to take into consideration, when talking about the political possibilities of the Internet. But we won’t go there in this post).
Now, why is that neo-cons seem to favor a blog such as Hossein Derakhshan’s, is a totally different matter and can have many reasons. I am not in the position to give a causal explanation for what seems to have bemused Hossein, as I don’t think it is clear why someone such as, say, Michael Ledeen would leave supportive comments for this loveable Iranian blogger. But, I want to point to one aspect of this dynamic... and that is: despite the intentions of the author, his/her text will produce different meanings at different times and different places. This point- Derrida’s famous “the author is dead”- seems to be an obvious observation, but one that is often taken for granted and missed. So, while Hossein’s intention may not be to get the support of neoconservatives, it happens that many of his readers in fact belong to this camp. Why? Because it is only within discursive fields that what one writes (or says) produces different (and deferring) meanings; AND these meanings are not separate from relations of power (notice that I am not just referring to the somewhat obvious fact of multiple meanings or polysemy, but pointing to discourse as embedded in power) . So, within a transnational field of power, it is certain hegemonic discourses (such as, say, neo-Orientalist ones that have a particular history) that produce “preferred meanings” and organize particular subjects into the realm of representation. What we say or write is not outside of these discourses and is informed by them. It is at the intersection of competing discourses (and I am not excluding Islamic fundamentalist discourses that are very much transnational at this point) that subjects, such as “Iranian bloggers” who aspire to democracy come into being. Often, this production of subjectivities is implicated in the process of Othering. For example, notice the extent of Othering and violence that is embedded in this comment, sent to Hoder: “They are part of a world-wide Islamic Insurgancy that has taken up arms against the West, primarily the citizens of the United States and Israel. These are enemies, not criminals and need to be treated as such, that is, killed or captured when we can - not subject to the rights of citizens. Bravo to you for sticking your thumb in their eye. Posted by Greg Johnson at November 8, 2004 05:39 PM.”
Or, this other comment: “hoder - be careful. this is serious. your ideas and insights are important, but it is necessary to separate your web and real identities, as nihilia suggested. one day 'they' will be an adult and able to argue - but today 'they' are more than a few and are willing to live in a death culture. take care - an american christian who values your mind and ALL the people of the books. Posted by r at November 6, 2004 10:36 PM.”
Notice the way “they,” in this comment have been infantilized and juxtaposed to the rationality of the “American Christian.” The messianic promise of “one day they will be,” is perhaps the hope for an outcome that a missionary crusade can bring to this American Christian. There are many more of these examples that one can find among the comments sent to Hoder. Although, there seems to be a distinction made between him and the “bad Muslims,” this form of Manichean logic often homogenizes people and places them in camps of “good” and “evil,” while prescribing what is “good” and what is “evil.” Let me clarify that bringing these examples is not to minimize the level of threat that Hossein Derakhshan, as a pioneer blogger has felt. I, too, am concerned about his safety and would encourage him to take necessary precautions. But, Hossein's intentions notwhitstanding, his blog does not escape the politics of location.
One last Tylenol-flu inspired point and I will end this long post: To point to the discursive production of Iranian blogger subjectivities is very different than thinking of them as being victims of “false consciousness.” False consciousness- something that was not named as such, but seemed to be implied last night in talking about the dismissal of democracy by the “Left” in the U.S.- is not certainly a theoretical concept to which I subscribe. Being skeptical of uncritical uses of notions of democracy (which are by the way, the noql-o-nabaat of every diasporic Iranian political gathering, and the legitimizing factor for (neo)colonial projects that we are witnessing today), does not necessarily translate into the wholesale abandonment of this concept . Nor does this skepticism mean that the skeptic perceives Iranian bloggers as “puns of Imperialism.” Perhaps there should be room for an in-between position that neither assumes fully constituted sovereign subjects, nor denies any form of subjectivity to people who are subjected to different discourses. Perhaps this is the reason as to why I have chosen to do an ethnographic project among Iranian bloggers: To see the way Iranian bloggers negotiate their subjectivities both online and offline, as they are subjected to multiple discourses that surround them.
And finally, a not- so-irrelevant piece of news that may be of interest to some of you: The NY Times article about SF's battle against the conservatives' ban on gay marriage: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/23/national/23marriage.html?th
I am off to get some rest. By the way, my apologies to people whom I greeted with a hug and kisses on both cheeks yesterday. I hope I didn't pass on the flu virus!
Post-script: As I was reading Alireza Doostdar's blog, I noticed that there was a comment for me in his comments section. I think my comments link is not very user-friendly and that is probably why Sahand has left his comment in Parishan Blog. I posted the comment here and will respond to it soon. I thank Alireza Doostdar for adding me to his links. I will try to change my comments format in both of my weblogs soon.


The sidebar image is taken from Mahmoud Pakzad's "Old Tehran", Did Publishers, 1994. Thanks to Jahanshah Javid (www.iranian.com) for sharing it.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com