Forty Years and More: The First International Conference on Iranian Diaspora Studies
March 28-30, 2019
Seven Hills Conference Center
San Francisco State University
800 Font Blvd, Mary Ward Hall
San Francisco, CA 94132

Objects of Difference:
Diasporic Bodies, Translocal Affects, and the Primacy of Passage over Positionality

In 2009, the IMF reported that Iran’s brain drain—its loss of trained professional workforce to other nations offering better opportunities—sits atop the global list, with an annual loss of 150,000–180,000 of its academic elite to “developed” countries. Following the bloody post-electoral street protests of the same year, it could be surmised from stories coming out of Tehran and other urban centers that if not the actual number, then the number of those wishing to leave the country has been on the rise. My essay concerns itself with asking: What translocal affects has this specific form and high level (of talk) of travel helped deploy?

As Georges Van Den Abbeele has argued, to speak of travel is inevitably to engage in it, to embody the movement implied by the words; i.e. our speech utterances effectively change our position as matter in the world, transport us. We speak, we shift; we shift, we change; we change, we speak differently—and speak differently, an immigrant population always does. Speaking differently poses a problem, a threat that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have addressed in claiming the unity of language to be “fundamentally political.” Can a population whose accents often betray their foreignness and whose grammar is frequently faltering, fully submit to the social laws of their host nations to ease the apprehension with which they are likely received? I take up José E. Muñoz’s adaption of “identity-in-difference” to discuss the struggles of assimilation the Iranian diaspora has faced, both from their host and home nationals.

On the flipside of this equation are the migrants and their discontents. If “travel” comes from the French term “travailler”—to work—we must go beyond the physical to ask: What is the emotional work of travel? Exemplary of this labor, my paper closes on an analysis of how Iranians have been employing mixed linguistic fabrications in various social media outlets—“Penglish” and “Enarsi”—to change the negative prevalence of a sense of dépaysement (disorientation as a result of not being in their home country) common to Iranian diaspora, to a more positive one rooted in potentiality.

Screening Performance, Performing Screens: New Projections in Theatre and Media
May 13-14, 2019

The Graduate Center
City University of New York
365 5th Ave
New York, NY 10016

The Performance of Unvisibility in Postrevolutionary Iran:
Martyrdom on Display and Self-Surveillance in the Age of Necropticism 

Skin is what we show of ourselves and see of others, how we know and come to be known. Steven Connor suggests that the reason skin—in and of itself—figures so prominently in our current moment is due to “the multiplication of skin-surfaces… [and] signifying screens” and not merely a result of its evermore visible presence in social representations. Identifying the photograph as “[t]he first such modern skin-surface,”1 he joins together the acts of touching and looking. Roland Barthes too was fixated on the ways in which light operated as “a carnal medium, a skin [he shared] with anyone who has been photographed,” as well as radiations that “touch”ed the photographed body “to [his] gaze.”2 However, what both of these thinkers overlook in their meditations on the allure of the photograph is their own participatory role in this linkage, leaving all the work of touching and feeling up to the image, the photograph, the other.

Taking its cue from this missing link, this paper interrogates the affective work of a particular spectator. That is, it looks specifically at how the interplay of the images of the martyred dead of the Iran-Iraq war (1980–88)—ubiquitous in the urbanscape as well as in private domains—along with the living dead, blistered bodies of veterans and civilians exposed to mustard gas during said war, work to create the architectural form I dub the “necropticon,” in which the aforementioned spectator is a direct collaborator. In turn, this disciplinary mechanism, obtained from exteriorizing the markers conventional to interior spaces, functions to hierarchize the population and their dead, along with public feelings. Crucially—as I argue through an analysis of Gohar Dashti’s conceptual photo series Today’s Life & War (2008)—this opto-architectural technology of power does so not in spite of but precisely because of its performance of unvisibility, promised through the normalization of the sights of the memorialized dead and the living dead among Tehrani spectators. 

 1. Steven Connor. 2001. “Mortification,” In Thinking through the Skin, edited by Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey, 36–52. London: Routledge, p. 36.
2. Roland Barthes. 1981. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang, p. 81.