Newsletter: August 30, 2022 (#24)
Persepolis Unbound: Dispatches & Ephemera
Welcome to my newsletter and blog: Persepolis Unbound. 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.
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I returned to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to begin my fifth year in the History Ph.D. program last Thursday. On Monday, movers brought the items I’d stored away during my research year in Paris into my new apartment. The place has a lot of natural light and, I suspect, will be very conducive to writing.
An update on the box situation: the two missing parcels of books from Paris finally arrived while I spent my last days in Los Angeles! One other box, however, remains trapped in American customs—hopefully, I’ll be able to figure out its whereabouts in the coming weeks.
This semester, I’m taking a Persian language course to facilitate reading comprehension skills. I aim to translate the manifestos of the Confederation of Iranian Students, National Union (CISNU) into English this year. Having a better sense of the internal architecture of the organization will allow me to understand better how the French section of the CISNU (the UEIF) aligned (or differed) from the views and perspectives of the Confederation.
I’m also a GSI (teaching assistant) for the university’s course on the World Wars in Europe, this semester it’s taught by Prof. Kathleen Wroblewski. I’ve taught this course once before with my advisor, Prof. Joshua Cole. The benefit of teaching the same content twice under two different professors is seeing how each approaches the narration of history in terms of systems, structures, and processes. The selection of primary sources for students to read differs and will shape how I approach discussion sections.
One of the themes I want to focus on this year is the idea of the “epistemological break,” which Althusser, in a 1963 essay, “On the Materialist Dialectic,” ascribes to Gaston Bachelard. Althusser writes,
The theoretical practice of a science is always completely distinct from the ideological theoretical practice of its prehistory: this distinction takes the form of a ‘qualitative’ theoretical and historical discontinuity which I shall follow Bachelard in calling an ‘epistemological break’. This is not the place to discuss the dialectic in action in the advent of this ‘break’: that is, the labour of specific theoretical transformation which installs it in each case, which establishes a science by detaching it from the ideology of its past and by revealing this past as ideological.
I want to develop Bachelard’s notion of the epistemological break for my own purposes. He describes this in his 1938 book, La Formation de l’Esprit Scientifique (The Formation of the Scientific Mind). Foucault and Althusser’s interaction with the concept is especially important, as well.
Oxford Reference outlines the epistemological break/rupture in this way:
The moment of rupture separating science from its non-scientific past. After the rupture the non-scientific past comes to be seen as so much superstition. In this way, the history of science is understood not so much a process of discovery as the overcoming of the obstacles to thought posed by knowledge itself. It thus entails not simply the addition of new knowledge, but the reorganization of the very possibility of knowledge. It changes the conditions of what is and can be known. The concept was conceived by Gaston Bachelard and further developed by Georges Canguilhem, but it is perhaps the work of Michel Foucault which has done the most to demonstrate the importance of this concept by taking it outside of the strictly scientific domain Bachelard and Canguilhem remained in. Foucault described epistemological breaks not only in the history of medicine, but also in the history of prisons, sexuality, and psychiatry.
I aim to analyze the historical trajectory of secular, New Left Iranian identities from the vantage point of epistemic rupture. In other words, I believe my sources point to a rupture in Iranian political self-understanding in the twentieth century. Some intellectual historians of Iranian modernity have stressed continuities with the past—with my work, I want to show how something thoroughly new arose in conjunction with a cosmopolitan diasporic consciousness.