Persian miniature writing: An ethnography of Iranian organizations in Washington, D.C.
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy thesis
Based on eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork (2004-2005) amongst Iranian non-governmental political, civic, human rights, and scholarly organizations in Washington, D.C., this dissertation makes two major observations: One, that many Iranian scholars and activists as well as lay individuals see Iranian political culture as an ailing and malfunctioning body, suffering from fissures, inactivity, personalism, organizational chaos, and sentiments such as fear, distrust, suspicion, submission, alienation, indifference, envy, paranoia, hypocrisy, insecurity, and pessimism. Second, that the two major organizations that I worked with, one human rights and the other civic education, saw the cure in what I call an "ethos transplant" operation through which these traditional structures, affective landscapes, and patterns of socialization are transformed and replaced by new norms and attitudes (beliefs, knowledges, and sentiments pertaining to political processes). Whether through training Iranians in the practical skills of participation in democracy such as voting or petitioning or by teaching Iranians how to reconfigure their understanding of the individual, rights, life, sovereignty, and will in democratic as opposed to totalitarian terms, the sheer feasibility and affordability of becoming (instead of the existentialist concern with being) characterizes these organizations' mission to make American citizens (in their minds, i.e. democratic subjects). Instead of a mere critique of neo-liberalism (teaching docile subjects the norms of the capitalist world order) or resorting to National Character and Culture as Pathology studies, this dissertation aims to evoke and give form, through major native artistic traditions (Persian manuscript paintings, circa 14th-18th centuries AD) as well as non-native literary forms (Bram Stoker's Dracula), to the above-mentioned shifting and contrasting structures, affective landscapes, and patterns of socialization. In doing so, it destabilizes the categories of native and non-native, modern and traditional, democratic and totalitarian, and their utility in conceptualizing and articulating affects, ethics, and socialities. By appealing to artistic styles and writerly sensibilities, this dissertation offers a creative engagement with the age-old anthropological question of life versus mechanisms of pinning down and making sense of it.