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.