On "Persepolis Unbound"
Research notes from affective exile
This new venture is titled Persepolis Unbound, with an eye toward Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. The tyranny of Jupiter is here eclipsed by what I’m calling my “affective exile.” Protesting against the discourse of authenticity (so common in late twentieth-century Iranian intellectual production) I want to bring to light the vagaries of my experience as a desiring being who speaks from the habitus of the Iranian American diaspora.
Research notes from affective exile.1
The identification of wandering with suffering has its main social referent in the practice of exile, which the Greeks, as the language shows, conceptualized as wandering (alētēs, planētēs, and their cognates describe also the condition of the exile). Unlike the Romans, the Greeks did not understand the condition of the exile as a change of place. Whatever the etymology of exilium, from the early Roman Republic exiles tended to choose certain places (e.g., Tibur) and to become citizens there. Correspondingly, exilium means both the act of exiling and the place of exile: one was “received in exilium, that is, into another community” (Cicero For Caecina 34.100). Seneca’s Madea blames Jason not just for exiling her but for sending her off into exile without providing a place: “you order exile but do not give a place for the exile [exuli exilium imperas nec das] (Madea 459-60).2
Exile as wandering. And what of an affective wandering? What does it mean to be an exile of affect—of the felt impact of the “ideoscapes” described by Arjun Appadurai? What does it mean to wander through the lineaments of feeling—not so much trapped, but constrained by vectors of sentimentality and folk psychology that frame not only what is seen but what is seeable?
By no means do I want to shift the much needed focus on the experiences of political exiles, cultural refugees, and economic migrants to a self-congratulatory exegesis of my biography. Indeed, my own academic research seeks to amplify these and other voices. Rather, I want to write my symptom—to expose the fracture lines of my subjectivity. I want to invite you into the story of my own internal displacement.
I also want to write about pressing issues in history (imperialism, race, migration, student activism), in critical theory (queer theory, the history of sexuality, affect), and in theology (New Testament studies, Neo-orthodoxy, Barth studies).
So why another blog? Why now?
It’s not as if I’m lacking venues.3 And you (I imagine) certainly don’t have a shortage of things to read. Why would you want to read what I have to write, keep up with my research, or support my endeavors financially?
My name is Keanu Mehdi Heydari. I find myself caught between two (three, four?) worlds without being able to speak from a fixed vantage point. This is an affective exile: beyond Lacanian formulations, my subjectivity is fractured not simply by language, but by languages, not simply by social location but by locations. I speak through the prism of dreams deferred. I speak through feelings already felt by virtue of my thrownness.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I got my B.A. in History and minored in French at UCLA. I’m now in a History Ph.D. program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. My dissertation examines the activities of Iranian student activists in Paris in the second half of the twentieth century.
My parents are immigrants from Iran: both my mother and father came to the United States before the Iranian Revolution in 1979. My experiences of cultural hybridity in the post-Fordist landscape of West Los Angeles do not easily map onto traditional narratives of the migrant experience in the United States. Iranian global cultural flows are unique in their antimonies: high academic achievement and assimilation/integration are usually coupled with feelings of cultural isolation, estrangement, and alienation vis-à-vis the dominant culture of the host society.
With Persepolis Unbound, I hope to provide compelling articles that weave together my own experience with insightful criticism about the issues that matter most to me: topics historical, critical, and theological. Will you join me in this exile?
From the Online Etymology Dictionary: c. 1300, from Old French essillier "exile, banish, expel, drive off" (12c.), from Late Latin exilare/exsilare, from Latin exilium/exsilium "banishment, exile; place of exile," from exul "banished person," from ex "away" (see ex-); according to Watkins the second element is from PIE root *al- (2) "to wander" (source also of Greek alaomai "to wander, stray, or roam about").
Silvia Montiglio, Wandering in Ancient Greek Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 30.