Hamid Dabashi

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The World is My Home: A Hamid Dabashi Reader

Edited by Andrew Davison and Himadeep Muppidi

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As recent events indicate, Iranian, Middle Eastern, and Islamic politics more broadly have been deeply influential in world affairs. Hamid Dabashi has been a highly visible and prominent commentator on these affairs, explaining, interpreting, and providing a critical perspective. This volume gathers together his most influential and insightful writings. As one of the foremost contemporary public intellectuals and scholars of our time, Dabashi’s interests and writings span subjects ranging from Islamic philosophy and political ideology to Iranian art and Persian literature, from Sufism and Orientalism to Iranian and world cinema and contemporary Arab and Muslim visual arts; and from postcolonial theory and globalization to imperialism and public affairs. There is a direct connection between his theoretical innovations and the angle of his public interventions on the urgently global issues of the day. This book brings together some of his most important writings, especially those which offer new ways of understanding Islam, Iran, Islamist ideology, global art, and the condition of global modernity more generally. The book shows the underlying conceptual themes that unify Dabashi’s wide-ranging and brilliantly insightful corpus. Dabashi combines deep knowledge of the subject matter about which he writes, and highly refined sociological, hermeneutical, and cultural interpretive skills, moving far beyond the limiting, distorted, and intellectually stifling character of reigning absolutist conventions. He places existing authoritative frameworks under close scrutiny in order to produce novel and penetrating insights. These essays reflect historical and geographical worlds that are best viewed when Hamid Dabashi’s work is read as a whole, which this one volume work makes possible for the first time.

From the Introduction by Andrew Davison and Himadeep Muppidi

I stumbled across Hamid Dabashi, by chance, in the basement bookstore of the University of Minnesota in the early 1990s. I was a graduate student and, as was my habit, was browsing the shelves of “the Middle East” section when a provocative title framed on the thick spine of one of the volumes caught my eye. Theology of Discontent, it said. Theology of Discontent? I needed to look at it again. Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

I had been reading books and articles about the Iranian revolution and was fairly dissatisfied with most accounts. None of them seemed to address the revolution’s motivating ideas in any significant depth. Some tired me with their narcissistic description of the revolution as America’s failure, while others confounded me by instructing me to think of Ayatollah Khomeini and his revolutionary associates as anachronistic beings, somehow out of place in the contemporary world. My hermeneutic disposition rebelled against these suggestions. It was in this context that discovering Theology of Discontent was profoundly satisfying — a conceptualization of the revolution in terms of its ideological foundations, an impressively comprehensive theoretical analysis, entire chapters devoted to the main revolutionary ideologues. Dabashi’s study immediately transported me into the languages of revolutionary politics in Iran. I bought the book right away and have been teaching it in one form or another since then. Though I only met him in 2005, Hamid Dabashi has been a constant companion in my classrooms and in my thinking for the last fifteen years.

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. His work spans subjects ranging from Islamic philosophy and political ideology to Iranian art and Persian literature, from Sufism and Orientalism to Iranian and world cinema and contemporary Arab and Muslim visual arts; and from postcolonial theory and globalization to imperialism and public affairs. But more than anything else, he is a postcolonial and cosmopolitan intellectual who has made significant, original contributions to global political thought. He is that rare thinker whose scholarship exhibits both a systemic, theoretical dimension as well as a rich understanding of the interwoven character of historically and culturally complex societies. He is also a scholar who, somewhat uncharacteristically for scholars today, is oriented towards a public, and proudly dissident, role. This often means that there is a direct connection between his theoretical innovations and the angle of his public interventions on the urgently global issues of the day.

Dabashi’s writings have cast new light upon some of the most spectacular, world-historical changes and dynamics of the post-Cold war era — the Iranian revolution, the collapse of communism, the wars in the Persian/Arabian Gulf, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the “global war on terrorism,” and The Green Movement in Iran. He has helped rescue and refurbish public understandings of the plurality of Islam and its diverse ideological, philosophical, literary, and aesthetic traditions, and he has brought home the profound political, social, and cultural importance of a global philosophical and aesthetic consciousness.

My introduction to Hamid Dabashi began as my friend Andy’s mischievous and cryptic way of saying to me: “Look, you want to “provincialize Europe?” Here are the byways, highways, secret tunnels, oases in, around, and through the European desert. Don’t waste your time with them. Dwell in these lanes. Here lie the ways of other life-worlds, other wonderlands, in which we and millions of others are already at home.”

Endorsements

“If anyone can lay claim to Nima Yushij’s statement that this world is his home, it is Hamid Dabashi. His book of that name is learned, poetic, ranging from philosophy to film, every word written with a commitment to the possibility of a just world. I have worked with him in the past and will work with him again in the future. I want a very broad readership to know the quality of his writing and thinking, of his immense epistemic and historical scholarship. This book serves that purpose.”

— Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, University Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University

“Hamid Dabashi is one of the foremost exponent today of postcolonial critical theory, whose work deserves to be called post-colonial with all the multivalence of this description. In his work, post-coloniality does not mean a denial or denunciation of the modern European tradition of philosophy and social theory, but their effortless absorption into a larger, more complex reflection. This collection shows the strong, inimitable particularity of his voice, which articulates a thinking with a wide universalist appeal. Dabashi has an astonishing ability to range over some of the most complex issues of modern intellectual life — the strange, unpredictable transformations of religious thought in the peculiar crucible of modernity, the complex interaction between authority of religion and the power of the modern state, and the new strands of aesthetics that some peculiarly modern forms like cinema has produced. Equally fluent in philosophical reasoning, literary interpretation, visual hermeneutics and writing with a rare combination of penetration and lyricism, Dabashi’s work continues values of both modern criticial theory and the highly sophisticated and subtle intellectual traditions of Iranian Islamic reflection — for both of which he is an wonderfully sympathetic reader. From the deep interrogation of the intrinsic paradoxicality of the tradition of Shi’i Islam to the formation of the state, to the constitution of the national subject — this collection covers an immense range of subjects. Additionally, as a writer, Dabashi has a gift of language which is adequate for the demands that all these dissimilar subjects place on his thinking. This is an excellent collection which places before its readers a truly wide-ranging and astonishing body of work.”

— Sudipta Kaviraj, professor of Indian Politics and Intellectual History, Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University

“Hamid Dabashi’s writings on Iranian culture and politics brilliantly re-imagine the rich heritage of a shared past and a conflicted present. His reflections on revolution and nationhood, poetry and cinema, philosophy and the sacred, are urgent, provocative, complex, and highly original.”

— Timothy Mitchell, Columbia University

“Hamid Dabashi belongs to a marvelous tradition of poetic thinkers, whose deep insights are crafted in magnificent poetic prose, thus providing his readers with the wine of literary pleasure along with rich food for thought. This nicely introduced and judiciously selected anthology of his writings is a very welcome addition to the literature on Iran, Islam, cinema studies and cultural studies.”

— Gilbert Achcar, professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London

The World Is My Home:

A Hamid Dabashi Reader

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 3
Introduction 5
PART I. Counter-imagining Islam and Iran 27
Islams 28
     1. In the Absence of the Face 29
     2. Shi’ism as Paradox 85
     3. Counter-imagining the Sacred 97
Islamic Ideology 125
     4. The Power of Interpretation 126
     5. Blindness and Insight: The Predicament of a Muslim Intellectual 141
Iran 168
     6. On Nations Without Borders 169
     7. Khomeini’s Revolution 194
PART II. Emancipatory Aesthetics 201
Poetic Revolution 202
     8. Nima Yushij and Constitution of a National Subject 203
     9. Forugh Farrokhzad and the Formative Forces of Iranian Culture 265
Cinematic Palpitations 302
     10. Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf 303
     11. On Signs and Signation 335
New Global Visual Arts 348
     12. Whither Iranian Cinema? The Perils and Promises of Globalization 349
     13. It was in China, Late One Moonless Night 388
Hamid Dabashi: A Selected Bibliography 428

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Array ( [2] => Array ( [title] => [text] => "A leading cultural observer." Washington Post "Our most prominent intellectual." Shirin Neshat "Renowned Columbia University scholar on Iranian culture." Boston Globe "Spectacular, important, and incisive. Dabashi's work is crucial for our times." Zillah Eisenstein
Ithaca College, NY
"Hamid Dabashi lovingly writes about the history of Iran that teaches us how to understand a people overshadowed by the grand narratives of political (mis)representation." Gayatri Spivak
Columbia University
"You are with a humanist who deeply loves his country, and invites you to feel very much at home." Susan Buck-Morss
Cornell University
"Superb authority... Dabashi provides a tour de force on Iranian art, politics and culture." Shirin Neshat "Great erudition and imagination... bringing out rich aspects of Iranian culture that are little known or not recognized." Vanessa Martin, Royal Holloway
University of London
"Hamid Dabashi, is one of the most significant intellectual voices outside of Iran since the Islamic revolution." Shirin Neshat "A leading light in Iranian studies." The Chronicle of Higher Education "Cuts through the myths, past and present, that Americans have been told about Iran... presenting Iran's history through the lens of its literary cosmopolitanism." Susan Buck-Morss
Cornell University
"Magisterial." Houchang Chehabi
Boston University
"An important man in New York." Sir Ridley Scott "Much-needed in our troubled times." Gayatri Spivak
Columbia University
"Exemplary of a new Leftist discourse that is undogmatic and non-sectarian... open and intimate." Susan Buck-Morss
Cornell University
"Hamid Dabashi beautifully lays out the alluring dynamic between Iranian art and politics." Shirin Neshat "A rare cultural critic." Mohsen Makhmalbaf "Dabashi's passion and extraordinary vision, gives us the knowledge and commitment to stand against war and build the possibilities for peace and global justice." Zillah Eisenstein
Ithaca College, NY
"Hamid Dabashi's piercing revelations have been as instrumental in fashioning my own films as have Scorsese, Rossellini and Bresson." Ramin Bahrani "Superb and brilliant." Bruce Lawrence
Duke University
"Fresh, provocative and iconoclastic." Ian Richard Netton
University of Leeds, UK
"Learned... sparkles with verve and a sometimes punishing wit. Hamid Dabashi is the perfect guide." Edward W. Said "There are few better places to begin than with Dabashi's subtle and vividly presented wealth on Iran." Said Amir Arjomand
SUNY, New York
"Objective and empathetic... unlike many others on contemporary Iran." Ervand Abrahamian
Baruch College, New York
"Enthusiastic... clear and accurate... impressive." Oliver Leaman
Liverpool John Moores University, UK
"Original, creative and insightful." John L. Esposito
Georgetown University
"Extraordinary." Daniel Brumberg
Georgetown University
"Dabashi has an astonishing ability to range over some of the most complex issues of modern intellectual life." Sudipta Kaviraj
Columbia University
"If anyone can lay claim to Nima Yushij's statement that this world is his home, it is Hamid Dabashi. I want a very broad readership to know the quality of his writing and thinking, of his immense epistemic and historical scholarship." Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Columbia University
"Dabashi is learned, poetic, ranging from philosophy to film, every word written with a commitment to the possibility of a just world. I have worked with him in the past and will work with him again in the future." Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Columbia University
"Hamid Dabashi is one of the foremost exponent today of postcolonial critical theory, whose work deserves to be called post-colonial with all the multivalence of this description." Sudipta Kaviraj
Columbia University
"Hamid Dabashi's writings on Iranian culture and politics brilliantly re-imagine the rich heritage of a shared past and a conflicted present. His reflections on revolution and nationhood, poetry and cinema, philosophy and the sacred, are urgent, provocative, complex, and highly original." Timothy Mitchell
Columbia University
"Equally fluent in philosophical reasoning, literary interpretation, visual hermeneutics and writing with a rare combination of penetration and lyricism, Dabashi's work continues values of both modern critical theory and the highly sophisticated and subtle intellectual traditions of Iranian... reflection -- for both of which he is an wonderfully sympathetic reader." Sudipta Kaviraj
Columbia University
"Hamid Dabashi belongs to a marvelous tradition of poetic thinkers, whose deep insights are crafted in magnificent poetic prose." Gilbert Achcar
University of London
"Dabashi provides his readers with the wine of literary pleasure along with rich food for thought." Gilbert Achcar
University of London
"In Dabashi's work, post-coloniality does not mean a denial or denunciation of the modern European tradition of philosophy and social theory, but their effortless absorption into a larger, more complex reflection." Sudipta Kaviraj
Columbia University
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