Dispatches & Ephemera: Issues 12-20
A compilation of my newsletters from Paris; March - July 2022
From November 2021 to July 2022, I kept a newsletter, Dispatches & Ephemera, hosted through Revue. Having once again decided to move to Substack, I’m moving my posts here. Below, please find issues 12-20, from March to July 2022.
Persepolis Unbound is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
March 5, 2022 (#12)
Welcome to Dispatches and Ephemera, my (hopefully) weekly newsletter. My name is Keanu Heydari. I’m a doctoral candidate in History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I study the Iranian diaspora in France in the twentieth century. I’m also interested in New Testament studies and modern theology.
I spent this week preparing for my research trip to Tübingen on Sunday. Most of the week, I read from books and articles about the history of immigration in France, questions about whiteness and identity, and the racialization of immigrants in France throughout the twentieth century. I applied for a fellowship application and took stock of the research I’ve done to date. I also submitted a paper proposal for a conference in November.
On Friday, I went to the Musée Rodin in the 7th arrondissement. See some of my favorite pieces from the collection, below.
On Saturday, I went on a tour of the French senate.
The Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Lent (03/06/2022) is Luke 4:1-13 (NRSV).
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’" When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
In place of a reflection for this passage, I will write a blog post reflecting on Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on temptation as recorded in his “Bible Study on Temptation, June 20–25, 1938,” in DBWE 15, pp. 386-415.
March 13, 2022 (#13)
I spent March 6-12 in Tübingen, a city of about 90,000 people in Baden-Württemberg, in Southwest Germany. I was drawn to the Universitätsbibliothek, where I was able to locate a treasury of sources about the CISNU (the Iranian Students Confederation). Before I get into my research findings, take a look at some of the sights I captured!
I tried German food, picked up some amazing new reads at local bookshops, and spent time with a new friend and colleague.
Towards the tail-end of my stay, I was finally able to complete a research update to send to my advisors, incorporating some of the discoveries I made at the university library.
Here’s an excerpt from my research update that I hope you will find interesting.
There is a difference between questions that raise problems and those that do not raise problems. It thus behooves the researcher to move from a broad topic to a focused one. Therefore, “Iranian student activism from the 1950s – 1990s” will become “conflicts within the Franco-Iranian student movement in the history of its development (1950s-1990s).” Booth et al. note that “A project falls short if it is seen as just a pastiche of vaguely related facts. If a writer asks no specific questions worth asking, he can offer no specific answer worth supporting. And without an answer to support, he cannot select from all the data he could find on a topic just those relevant to his answer.” My topic schema requires that I ask about its larger developmental context. That is: What came “before” the Iranian diaspora in France? Why did Iranians come to France in the first place? Why did Iranian students come to France? What is the past and what is the future of the Iranian diaspora? I also need to ask about the topic’s own internal history: How has the Iranian diaspora in France changed? How has the Iranian student movement in France changed? Moreover, how does the Iranian student movement fit in with other student movements in the postwar period in France? Which Iranian student groups were most significant for the Iranian diaspora in France? What about for the student movement as a whole? How many types of Iranian student movements/associations were there? What were their ideological commitments and what were their practical strategies for realizing them? How does the Iranian student movement in France differ from that in Germany and in the United States? Modeled after section 3.4.3 in Booth et al., the wordy and bloated version of my topic schema looks like this: I am studying the Iranian student movement in France from the 1950s to the 1990s because I want to find out how its activities contributed to both secular internationalist ideology and Islamic religious discourse in postwar France in order to help my reader understand how a small diasporic population had an outsized influence on the broader landscape of politically motivated student activism.
The librarians and archivists in Tübingen were eminently helpful, and they will certainly see my appreciation reflected in my dissertation’s acknowledgements.
Today is Sunday, 13 March 2022, the Second Sunday in Lent. The New Testament reading comes from Luke 13:31–35, Jesus’s Lament over Jerusalem. Rather than focus on this week’s reading, however, I wish to direct you to two new resources I put together on last week’s readings, about the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness. I spent some of my free time in Tübingen thinking through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s essay on Temptation, and ended up writing a two-part blog post about it. Please feel free to read them below; I hope you’ll find them thought provoking and encouraging for your own theological reflection.
On Temptation (Versuchung) in Bonhoeffer (I)
On Temptation (Versuchung) in Bonhoeffer (II)
March 30, 2022 (#14)
Since last Wednesday (March 23rd), I’ve been in Amsterdam. I made the trip to consult the archives at the International Institute of Social History and to meet with Prof. Touraj Atabaki, Senior Researcher at the IISH and Professor Emeritus at Leiden University.
The visit to the archive has been fruitful—I’ve made copies of the 184 declarations of the Confederation of Iranian Students, National Union (CISNU) as well as the IISH’s collection of declarations by political organizations and student associations of Iranians in Europe and in North America (1960-1990). I also discovered Hamid Shokat’s two-volume history of the CISNU, which should be a very helpful guide in navigating the structure of my dissertation.
While in Amsterdam, I visited the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum with my friend and colleague Paige Newhouse. On March 27th, I visited extended family who live in The Hague.
Upon returning to Paris, I will begin work on my second big research update to my advisors, laying out what my research findings to date have been and continuing to specify my chapter outline.
This Sunday (April 3rd) is the Fifth Sunday in Lent. The Gospel reading comes from John 12:1-8.
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
What do we do with Judas Iscariot? George W. Stroup includes a discussion of Barth’s theology of Judas in his “Theological Perspective on John 12:1–8,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year C, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 2 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 142–144.
Karl Barth concludes his five-hundred-page discussion of the doctrine of election with forty-eight small-print pages on the figure of Judas. Is there a redemptive significance even for Judas in the death of Jesus? That is not, he admits, an easy question to answer. Yet Judas, the betrayer, the one who rejects Jesus, although he may not know it, “is still an elect and called apostle of Jesus Christ.” In his betrayal and handing over of Jesus to those who would kill him, Judas, no less than any of the other disciples, serves God’s great purpose of saving the lost. “Can it be,” therefore, “that the ‘loving unto the end’ of Jesus does not reach him [Judas], the very one who in his person and act simply makes manifest the fact and extent that without His death Jesus had not yet loved His own unto the end?“ In other words, if Jesus came to save the lost, surely there is no one in the gospel story who is more lost than the one who betrays Jesus, even if that is what Judas is called by God to do. If the Good Shepherd can and does go to any length to save a lost sheep, is Judas beyond the saving grasp of the Good Shepherd? Are there those Jesus is not able to love and save? Is there a limit to the reach of Jesus’ saving arm? Barth admits the New Testament does not give us a clear answer. However, Judas is not simply the man who rejects Jesus. Judas shows us who the elect are in the New Testament. “The rejected as such has no independent existence in the presence of God. He is not determined by God merely to be rejected. He is determined to hear and say that he is a rejected man elected.”
April 10, 2022 (#15)
The week of April 3rd was filled with surprises. I discovered that the paper proposal I submitted to the American Academy of Religion in early March was accepted! I’ll be attending the 2022 AAR conference in Denver (November 19-22).
The topic of the article is one that I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. The work originated in a seminar paper I wrote in the the winter semester of 2020. This is the abstract for the paper I submitted to the AAR:
Through an examination of autobiographical literature produced by celibate gay Christians, such as Wesley Hill and Gregory Coles, this paper uncovers attempts of justify a uniquely coded sort of gayness that employs arguments, ideologies, and tropes associated with the discursive structure Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner identify as “national heterosexuality.” It further suggests that contemporary gay Christian celibacy is a form of heterosexuality in as much as it adjudicates between secular liberalism and fundamentalism and yields a workable, if fraught, synthesis, becoming a form of “cruel optimism.”
Working with the late Lauren Berlant’s scholarship has been a blessing and an opportunity to hone my engagement with texts of a more theoretical nature. I concluded my proposal by writing
Ultimately, my paper serves as a contribution toward the study of how people agentively turn religious discourses in modern contexts to carve out a place for themselves. CGCs like Hill and Coles engage in reparative readings of “traditional” Christianity that combine the high social and cultural capital of theological conservatism with the increasingly dominant acceptance of gays and lesbians in American society. Perhaps this discourse is a way of inhabiting or creating seams between these two social movements and carving out space for new queer subject positions that, although seeming initially unintelligible, become embodied through discourse.
After meeting with one of my advisors, I learned that I must return to Amsterdam and visit the International Institute of Social History again to digitize and transcribe oral interviews of participants in the CISNU. These interviews will be vital for providing data to fill out some of the chronological blindspots in my research.
On Tuesday, April 5, I visited the new exhibition, “Juifs et musulmans. De la France coloniale à nos jours” at the Musée de l'histoire de l'immigration. Click through the tweets below to see more photos.
The exhibition was also notable because my advisor, Joshua Cole, contributed an article for the catalog.
I wanted to share two pieces of media here. First, after cleaning up my hard drive, I discovered a sermon I delivered in 2017 to students at UCLA. It’s a homily about the significance of Christmas. I hope you’ll find it encouraging as we begin Holy Week.
Next, I was invited to join my friend and colleague Katherine Spearing’s podcast, “Uncertain,” part of the Tears of Eden organization, to discuss the very difficult topic of the sexual abuse and humiliation of Jesus during the Passion. Referring to an article I wrote (see below), the podcast episode reflects on recent scholarship that interrogates the reason for which churches are reluctant to discuss the dimension of the suffering of Christ. Relevant content warnings are appropriate here, including sexual assault and torture.
To listen to the podcast episode, click here, or follow the link below.
April 17, 2022 (#16)
I spent the week of April 1oth meeting with my advisors (virtually) and taking stock of my research inventory—an ongoing process that I expect to take about a month. During the week, I focused primarily on housekeeping: taking care of errands that I had neglected for several weeks. I figured out how to navigate the Parisian dry-cleaning scene (riveting, I know) and got some alterations to a few pairs of pants that were too long.
As the week of the 10th was Holy Week (and today is Easter, in the Western calendar), I made a commitment to slow down this week to reflect on my achievements and areas of improvement. At the Easter vigil service last night, seeing one of my friends get baptized was a reminder of the many opportunities for newness of life that this season affords.
As it pertains to my dissertation work, my advisor’s comments provided in the History department’s yearly advisor evaluation form were helpful in framing what I learned in high school to articulate as my “strengths” and “stretches.” In terms of the former, my advisor wrote that
Keanu’s strengths are his enthusiasm for the project, his diligence, [and] his pursuit of a broad range of readings in several languages that will help frame his work. He has taken the difficult transition from prelim[inary exam] studying to archival research in stride, and I am confident that he is uncovering some very interesting material.
As far as suggestions for improvement go, my advisor wrote that I have yet to “identify a clear narrative line for [my] thesis,” while the “periodization of [my] story also remains somewhat in flux.” This chronological fuzziness, I think, will be ameliorated the more I work on inventorying my sources and becoming aware of the full scope of content contained therein.
Another area of inquiry that I’ve been thinking about is the national (transnational?) range of my dissertation. To what extent am I telling an Iranian story? And, moreover, to what extent is this a French story? The problems diaspora and political exile pose are pertinent at both a theoretical and empirical level, and I’m hoping that my sources will help clarify a healthy balance between the two national narratives.
Today is Easter in Year C of the Episcopal Revised Common Lectionary. The principal service offers two Gospel reading choices: John 20:1–18 or Luke 24:1–12.
In Fleming Rutledge’s year of weekly devotions, Means of Grace, the author reflects on the theme of light and darkness in John’s dramatism. The “night,” for John, is “the night in which Sin and Death reign” (115). We learn that “[the] liturgy of Holy Week is designed to show that as Jesus dies, every human hope is obliterated” (115).
The realm of darkness appears to be victorious. There is nothing left of the Messiah but the grave. And so we read that Joseph of Arimathea came to Pilate to ask permission to take down the body from the cross. Nicodemus also, we are told, ‘who had at first come to [Jesus] by night,’ brought spices for anointing, which were traditionally used in an admittedly vain effort to fend off corruption. They bound the body tightly with the spices wrapped in linen bands, ‘as is the burial custom of the Jews,’ and placed it in Jospeh’s own new tomb (John 19:38–42). This would have been late Friday afternoon. There the corpse lay all during the night and all day during the Sabbath, the day in which all work, including the visiting of tombs, was forbidden (115-16).
“The reign of Death,” Rutledge writes, “is stark, merciless, irrevocable” (116). But, she continues, John wants “us to know that the resurrection was truly inconceivable. The two disciples did not know what had happened until they got there. It was the sight of the cloths that revealed to them what was otherwise unthinkable” (117). Furthermore,
The resurrection happened at night. No one was there when it happened. When the women and the disciples arrived, he was gone. He arose from the kingdom of Death and carried away its spoils. The rising sun revealed the victory already accomplished. And so the risen, living, reigning Christ says to us today as he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26) (117-18).
Does Rutledge’s highlighting of the night/day dynamic resonate with you? In a Christmas sermon I gave in 2017, I said
In the violence, and in the uncertainty, and in the catastrophe of the world today—in light of human frailty and brokenness—Jesus is the pioneer of the voyage into the unknown and he has returned to us with the most wonderful news—he has emerged as the victorious one, trampling over sin and death, and in doing this, those who are united to him have victory over their doubts, their alienation, and their estrangement.
This Holy Week, I watched Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1964 neorealist drama, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, whose soundtrack I found especially moving.
Listen to the mass setting, “Gloria,” below.
April 25, 2022 (#17)
I spent the week of April 17th reading and taking notes on secondary sources. I’m making my way through Abbas Amanat’s hefty tome, Iran: A Modern History. The breadth and depth of his erudition has helped me understand some of the broader continuities in Iranian history since the sixteenth century.
If March was a month of traveling and substantial archival research, April has been somewhat of an underwhelming resort in shallow water: I’ve been inventorying my sources, thinking through various frames of analysis, and seriously questioning chapter demarcations in my dissertation, as far as they’re individually linked to specific chronologies.
In other news, my new podcast, Explain Things to Me, has officially launched!
Explain Things to Me is my newest adventure. With it, I hope to interview people I find fascinating and to discuss topics that resonate with me.
I hope you’ll forgive the brevity of this update and the foregoing of any theological reflections this week.
May 22, 2022 (#18)
I last wrote to you on 25 April 2022. You’ll have to forgive my delay in posting regular updates since then: I’ve been working on a special article for inclusion in a forthcoming edited volume about the Iranian diaspora in Paris—I’ll keep you updated on the status of this publication as I continue to write my newsletter.
While light on archival research, this month has involved substantial inventory and transcription work of the archival material I’ve already collected. I’ve started working with a new software, Roam Research, which has thoroughly revolutionized the way I interact with my notes, sources, and archival materials. I anticipate writing more about the ways in which Roam is changing the way I approach content creation and academic writing. (Click here for part one and here for part two of my “Workflows” series.)
This month, I also piloted a GoFundMe campaign to help defray research expenses as I wrap up my time in Paris.
If you’re feeling generous, click through the link above or through to the tweet below it to access the campaign. You can also support me directly through this link on my website.
In the beginning on the month, a piece I wrote for the Society for the Study of French History’s blog was published. In it, I write about the difficulties of doing research on diasporic communities and my experience at Nanterre’s La contemporaine archival repository.
In May, I also ventured to the south of France to visit some friends.
Explain Things to Me
My new podcast, Explain Things to Me, has gotten off the ground with two new episodes:
For the time being, my goal is to publish one episode a month. I hope you the breadth of topics discussed interesting and fruitful.
June 21, 2022 (#19)
I last wrote to you on 22 May 2022. Since then, I’ve been conducting archival research, putting the finishing touches on the special article I mentioned to you, and working on indexing and transcribing my archival sources.
I’ve started a new Substack, Persepolis Unbound. I anticipate this new venture to be a home for short pieces related to my dissertation research. Take a look at the first two posts from the new publication:
As my time in Paris ends, I wonder if I should continue with this venue. I’ve found attempting to transfer all of my posts from Dispatches and Ephemera to other platforms to be burdensome. I anticipated this newsletter to be a means of keeping myself accountable during my research year. Now that I’ll be leaving Paris on the 30th of June, I think I’ll be shifting more of my time and attention to the Substack blog mentioned above. What do you think?
Alex Hofmann (see tweet below) included a reflection on what an archive is. He and his students wrote,
An archive is one source of evidence consisting of collected, preserved, curated, and organized fragments deemed valuable by individuals, organizations, and society, which people and societies use as sites of resurrection, world-making, and creative memory and narrativization.
I’ve been reflecting on this definition of an archive to inspire thoughts about my own conception of archive.
The next issue (#20) of Dispatches and Ephemera will likely be the last one that I write for a while as I get settled in Los Angeles.
July 6, 2022 (#20)
It’s 6 July 2022 and I’m writing to you from Los Angeles, California. My flight from CDG to LAX arrived safely last Thursday. I’ve spent the last few days unpacking and getting settled back home with my parents. I’ll be heading back to Ann Arbor, Michigan towards the end of August to begin my fifth year in the Ph.D. program.
Today I presented a paper (virtually) at Durham University as part of the Modern Travel, Modern Landscapes conference. I spoke about my second graduate seminar paper, “Persian Shah, Parisian Shah: Cultural Anxiety, Orientalism, and Militarization in Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar’s 1873 Visit to France.”
If the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are too early to speak of an Iranian “diaspora” in France—what indeed can we say about Iranians in France during this period? If Qajar-era sources like travelogues and memoirs (received in translation) were, for better or worse, used as political tools—as forms soft power—by the Iranian monarchy to situate the nation in a global and imperial field, what can we learn about how Iranians themselves were received in the French cultural and political imagination? Where do Iranians of this era fit in the frame that Gary Wilder, in a much later context, has described as the “French imperial nation-state?” My work argues that the Shah, Nasser al-Din, was “read” and made legible through contested vortices of ambivalent cultural feelings. The Shah as a French Iranian became, as it were, a cipher into which the Parisian press could displace and negotiate the meanings of the nation in the context of cultural anxieties developed in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War.