Sunday, June 21, 2009

Foucault in Iran: What is at Stake?

From One Way Street: Aesthetics and Politics
Foucault in Iran

With no abatement in the anti-government fury now gripping Iran, it’s worth recalling Michel Foucault’s remarks on the 1978-79 Iranian revolution, which toppled the Shah. In a career full of provocative statements, Foucault’s most notorious stance was his enthusiastic endorsement what he called the “rapture” (ivresse) of the rebellion that killed thousands of Iranian civilians and left the country in the grip of a repressive theocratic order.

I haven’t heard anyone describe the current uprising as rapturous, but there’s certainly been some degree of romanticization of the role of the Internet in fomenting rebellion in the IRI. It’s easy to imagine that the thunderous voice of Iranian rebellion is a Tweet, but that’s mostly because Twitter is virtually the only source of news from the streets of Tehran. Iranians themselves are much more likely to communicate through cellphone text messages.
Daily life was the primary political battleground for Foucault, and it was here that the 1979 Iranian revolution failed, as he recognized. In this sense the stakes are the same today. In the US we have some valid interests in seeing political change in Iran. After all, Iran is a state spinning its way to a nuclear bomb. But there’s also a sense of American triumphalism in the commentary here: Iranians chose the ayatollahs while we chose the Internet, and now we’re winning. It’s worth keeping in mind what Foucault would say is really at stake in Tehran right now: not the freedom to use Twitter, but the very possibility of risking everything to become more of what one is.

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