Reading the chapter from Hamid Dabashi’s IRAN a people interrupted
‘The Islamic Republic is a categorical contradiction in terms- it is neither a republic nor Islamic. It is not a republic because it is a theocracy; it is not Islamic because Islam (Shi’ism in particular) cannot be in power without instantly discrediting itself. From its very earliest manifestation, Islam emerged as the religion of protest, and in its long and tumultuous history, both political and doctrinal, it has never lost that initial defining moment of its political potency. The dialectical paradox that has remained textual to Qur’ranic revelation- its Meccan chapters charismatic and revolutionary, its Medinan verses somber and institution building- has never abandoned the long and arduous Islamic
history. In these terms, Shi’ism is the quintessence of Islam as a religion of protest and can only remain valid and legitimate as long as it posits itself as a revolutionary project. The instant that Islam (Shi’ism) becomes a dominant (state) ideology it contradicts itself. This paradox is definitive to Islamic political and doctrinal history. The Islamic Republic, as a result, and ipso facto, has placed Islam in a position of tyranny, which in turn discredits and dismantles Islam itself- in the most basic tenets of its doctrinal principles. From Umayyads (661-750) to the Abbasids (750- 1258) down to all other major and minor Islamic empires and dynasties, there has never been a Islamic form of government that has not been radically challenged and opposed in precisely Islamic terms. As soon as a dynasty has come to power in Islamic terms of legitimacy, a revolutionary movement has arisen to challenge it in precisely in Islamic terms. This paradox is now the central dilemma of the Islamic Republic, in which it is trapped and from which it has no escape, except dismantling itself. A regional integration of the most progressive forces in both the reformist and the conservative camps in Iranian politics is the only way it can at once sustain its domestic legitimacy and pose a highly effective politics of resistance to the predatory demands of globalized capitalism and the empire it engendered. But it cannot do so without radically revisiting its very doctrinal basis- and thus the self defeating paradox that at once animates and contradicts it.
A radical reformulation of ‘Islam’, now incarcerated within the clerically anchored ‘Islamic Republic’, effectively amounts to (1) recognizing its own polyvocality- its jurisprudence historically checked and balanced by its philosophy and mysticism; and (2) allowing the cosmopolitan context of its contemporary anti-colonial modernity to work the dialectic of its polyvocality out- its Islamism placing itself next to to the nationalism and socialism that have historically checked and balanced it. Among the myriad consequences of such an emancipatory reimagining of Islam in its modern and medieval history is the effective abandoning of the faulty Eurocenticity of a singular modernity, by which the rest of humanity must abide. In its contemporary context, this full-bodied version of Islam will posit the terms of an anti-colonial modernity that is worldly in its roots and cosmopolitan in its consequences.’ (217/18)
‘Trapped in the charismatic appeal of that abiding memory [‘the collective sentiment of the earliest nucleus of revolutionary Shi’ism], Ahamdinejad may indeed go to war- with the United States, with Israel, with any of the Persian Gulf states (or perhaps the United States and Israel may hand him the opportunity by invading Iran)- for the fire of war cleanses and purifies the evil that this zealotry sees dominant in the world […] The effective transmutation of a popular vote into populism , its alliance with the militarism will put Ahmadinajad’s presidency on a catastrophic course leading to a frightful fascism. [the book was published in 2007]…The republic of fear..will result [that] will impose draconian limitations on the latitude that has, in the past, been allowed to the social behavior of middle-class Iranians, the flamboyant youth, and the Gucci revolutionaries. [even though, I think, the recent Ahmadinajad’s speeches included talking about relaxing the activity of the ‘moral police’] This will scare and dishearten the middle-class Iranians and force them even more into belligerent secularism, vulgar consumerism, and ultimately escape the claws of the Islamic Republic[..] The impoverished classes will most certainly not be the beneficiaries of this exodus of capital. The Islamic Revolution never had the economic courage of its political imagination, never dared to opt for a socialist economy, even from its very ideological basis in the ideas and principles of ideologues such as Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleqani and Abu al-Hassan Bani Sadr. So called Islamic economics are fundamentally based on a secured niche in global capitalism. But this economics wants to have its cake and eat it too. It needs foreign investment and a robust capitalist economy, but it doesn’t want the Bourgeois International and its preference for tight jeans, loose scarves, and the democratic institutions that go with global capitalism. [although, someone like Chakrabarty would disagree: individual freedom is not a necessary condition for capitalism as it is for Marx] The Iranian economy under Ahmadinejad will thus remain heavily dependent on oil revenues. Jobs will remain scarce unless A. can transmute the oil revenue into a productive, labor-intensive economy- a critical task that all his predecessors have failed to meet. Chances are that he will not succeed, for he is very much at the mercy of the global economy, which allots Iran only a role as an oil producer […] (235)
The hope for the restitution of that cosmopolitan culture, now compromised by a militant Islamism that has no patience or tolerance for anything it deems un-Islamic, can come from an entirely unexpected corner if we consider the flowering relationship between President Hugo Chaves of Venezuela and his Iranian counterpart….Chaves has a categorical admiration for the Islamic Republic, and sees it as a potential ally across the globe. This admiration can extend beyond a mere transcontinental but vacuous camaraderie, with occasional economic benefits for both, only if Chaves uses his leverage with the Islamic Republic to have it open up its medieval gates to political dissent and institutional changes in its theocracy. The relationship is of course reciprocal- namely, if Chavez fails to raise principled questions with the Islamic Republic and thus help restore the Iranian cosmopolitan political culture, then the theocratic disregard for human rights and the mutation of Iranian cosmopolitan political culture into a clerical tribalism of the worst kind, now definitive to the Islamic Republic, will turn around and corrupt the social democratic aspirations of Chaves.’ (237)
What seems to be exciting about the Iraninan movement now is that it got organized precisely without such a benevolent intervention from the outside, but by the people, across the class lines, themselves. Hopefully, it will have implications beyond the conservative reformism of Mousavi and contribute towards the re-articulation of the cosmopolitanism of Islamic anti-colonial modernity again.
Here is the recording from the recent Arjun Appadurai opening speech from HKW coference Beyond Multiculturalism
Beyond?! and where? Multiculturality blog has a nice review of the event
It was fun and rigorous, with Dipesh Chakrabarty joining us for a Q n A, which put some issues into focus and rather opened a lot more questions then we had time to discuss.
One of the most interesting things that came only in retrospect to me was Dipesh mentioning his current work on global warming and the postcolonial perspectives on the issue of environment. I don’t know how it happened that we didn’t ask him to talk more about the exciting prospects of the postcolonial philosophy of science, which to my knowledge (and I still feel quite new to the debate, so let me know of any useful literature) is a rather underdeveloped and not widely discussed topic.
Because of the pre-analytical ready- to-hand breaking into our everyday present-at-hand of the technology (the mic’s batteries ran out) we recorded only around 10 min of Dipesh talking. So, it seems, we’ll have to rely on the tradition of typing. My and Enrique’s thoughts and reflections are on their way and should be up in some time soon.
Anna suggested we do some other session on Chakrobarty again in June to finalize some points. We could read some of his more recent stuff then!
I work part-time in a Factory in Berlin, on a traditional assembly-line. Its 12hours shifts so i thought there would be plenty of time to think about what occurs according to Marx’s theory of value. Although the occassional mental reliefs when one can gasp at the theoretical implications of work were rare. So i sought mental relief not in a theorized rationalization but in reflections on the concrete activities of working and farting (or rather the burned sulfur smell on the assembly line), through a Benjaminian ‘Profane Illumination’
Marx writes of work: ‘He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be. (Capital Chapter Seven: The Labour-Process and the Process of Producing Surplus-Value)
This was quite obvious when subjected to traditional disciplnary assembly-line procedure. It is an insight that doesnt emerge in service-jobs where your communicative personality is subsumed into some sort of production process, since the labour-activity is expirienced as an authentic ‘being yourself’, like a bartender or something. Although the line is thin, call center jobs involve an equal mechanization of bodies, minds and voices. Alienation it seems should be a self-evident concept, but i suppose its out of fashion since yuppie/media jobs involve now some sort of project of self-realization, of the pursuing of the prescribed inner purpose, like being a creative and autonmous market actor.
Im posted at the sulfur-section of the solar panel assembly line. A group of 3 workers waits every 5 minues for a box containing the panel-to-be to come out of an oven onto a portable conveyor belt, that looks like a foosball table. Someone weighs a few grams of Sulfur, which are distributed on the side of the box that will contain the next unprocessed panel that will be inserted in at the front of the conveyor belt oven. A second worker takes the hot panel, where the sulfur has been burnt onto to the next station in the assembly line. I was mostly unscrewing and screwing the bolts of the box after the processed panel had been replaced by a new one to be inserted into the front.
I made some jokes to entertain during the occasional free minute. But i aimed to deploy a humour that employs its immediate surroundings, that designtes the immediate symbolic surroundings through their materiality. This strategy emerged, as a counter to the jokes of another worker, who put a piece of black tape on his upper lip and did the hitler things. I also passed through a stage of conservative joking. There was an air-brush to blow away dust, and while waiting i used it to fan my sweaty forehead and made the same joke “Im in a convertible car, or on the Titanic”. This joke like the Hitler makes external references and introduces them to the immediate surroundings, but doesnt challenge them, they are just a prop like the square bit of black tape to put on your face. Its an escapist joke, wishing to be somewhere else, more bourgeois (The joke wouldnt work as an escapist relief i had said “Im in a hurricane”)
A subverisive joke would have as its butt the concrete, or more specifically the arbitraryness and fragility of what we assume to be the concrete. A made a fart joke that brought in the materiality of the situation, not of the general economic materiality, which people there were quite aware of, but of what we were up to. When the boxes were opened for the processed panel to be taken to the next stage, there was sometimes still a wiff of the burned sulfur, so i said “Either someone farted or someone has been burning sulfur nearby”. The fart is just a signalling to the joke and its butt, because if someone had actually farted it would be embarassing rather than funny. If the joke had just been “Did someone fart” it would have been incomplete, what was added was the concrete dimension, the literal incorporation of the surroundings: that we were burning sulfur. The comic signalling of the fart allowed a suspension of what we were seamlessly and continually doing. It brought to display our material surroundings, momentarily bringing the activity of burning sulfur into a fragility. This seemed clear since one of the workers quickly responded in a serious tone “No, the smell comes from the burned sulfur in the box”, in order to performatively reassert the taken for grantedness and self-evidentness of our material undertaking, in order to pull back the symbolically suspended material process of the assembly line that was the butt of the fart joke.
Might a Fart be something subversive (if we read it into “bodily collective innervation” and “revolutionary discharge”)
“The collective is a body, too. And the physis that is being organized for it in technology can, through all its political and factual reality, only be produced in that image sphere to which profane illumination initiates us. Only when in technology body and image so interpenetrate that all revolutionary tension becomes bodily collective innervation, and all the bodily innervations of the collective become revolutionary discharge, has reality transcended itself to the extent demanded by the Communist Manifesto”” (Walter Benjamin – Surrealism The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia)
I have a Marxist Fart-Joke: What does one do when “all that is solid melts into air”?
Andy Bichelbaum from the Yes Men was in Berlin for a workshop, where he discussed with activists their plans for actions in a YesMen tradition. In the evening we went to see his new movie ‘The Yes Men Fix the world” and here are a few thought about their strategy.
This is fantastic, spoiling the glamour of the red carpet and shifting the spectators gaze onto the rotten core of the glamourous spectacle, bringing into focus the absuridity of the festivity and its pomp.
The YesMen exemplified this intrusion and subtraction well that i talked about in my previous post on the G20 protest. Their innovative strategy is revealed when their at their comic best, when they play the corportate exaggerations (like WTO representative, McDonals, Halliburton and the Survivaballs), rather than in their simulation of Corporate Social Responsbility (like Hurricane Kathrina or the infamous 300 million viewed Union Carbide Bhopal disaster intervention, that is when they’re strategy is “identity-correction”, where they demask and denounce the individual corporations negligence, putting up logos of corporations and personifying the cause of troubles). In these latter Corporate Social Responsibility stunts, the aim is somekind of positive project, an alternative agenda/possibility. In the first variation of YesMen stunts, exaggeration and grotesqueness’ are the main techniques. I think they differ from Billionares for Bush and the like, because they go through the process of intrusion and therefore undertake the work of breaking the binary to get at that non-binaric stance momentarily reached by the subtraction. For Example when you see those security / weapons manufacturers ask questions about how the new Halliburton Survivaball suite could withstand biological attacks then you witness their state of being duped of their dupidity, which shows how the whole weapons industry depends on the nodding support and forced awe and applause directed at positions of power (also in the classic WTO example of the yesmen, where people still clap at the end). Somehow the systems symbolic power is revealed, to the viewer, or the non-dimwitted. But it seems its not so much a matter of wit, as the fact of not being materially immersed in the structuring envirments that ritually calls for your mental and bodily obidience to those with the sceptre and crown. But by switching these insignias of power in the immersed environment (the survivaballs at the Conference-Hall for Corporates listening to the hotshots) they reveal the relations which sustain the corporate fests. As with the survivorballs suits when the crash the BMW gala in Berlin (the video above), the grotesqueness of the gowns and all those bodies dressed in suits is amplified.
So the intrusion is the mimicking /performing of the e.g. Corporate-Capitalist symbolic identity, but the attendees dont notice these impersonations, for them it would be ‘buisness as usual’”. This is more destabalizing than ‘denouncing’, since it allowes a momentary burst of laughter, an incredulity and anxiety that contains an awareness of the fragility and arbitraryness of the Symbolically based mechanism of corportate power.
(Ill try to post radical jokes at the end of each post)
Stephen Colbert – what happens if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it – then my illegal logging buisness is succeeding