Citation as Future in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 10:00 AM
Room 207 (Hynes Convention Center)
Setrag Manoukian , McGill University , Montreal, QC, Canada
This paper discusses the ongoing protests following the 2009 presidential elections in Iran and shows how the acts of people on the street are citations of images, words and actions of the revolution of 1979. Most of the protests are held on anniversaries of those events, most of the chants either replicate or modify slogans of 1979 and many gestures reenact photographs or videos from thirty years ago. By citing gestures and slogans from 1979, people appropriate for themselves the revolutionary rhetoric of the Islamic Republic and use it to question the policies of the current government. However, rather than proposing an alternative order, these appropriations (détournements) empty gestures and slogans of their referent. They both invoke and disavow the current order of things and use revolutionary rhetoric to articulate a new form of politics more concerned with self-expression than with state power. Impossible to codify as either “secular” or “religious,” often ironic and self-referential, the actions and words of the people on the street are reinventing political practice as a non-referential language. In this sense, current events also offer a new perspective on the institution of the Islamic Republic. The revolutionary movement of 1979 was itself largely structured on citations, referring to Shii rituals and figures. Most interpreters have analyzed these references as evidence either of the “political use of religion” or of the intrinsic “religious culture” of Iran, and have argued that this is the base of their mass appeal and their continued relevance in the Islamic Republic. In light of recent events, these citations were neither a return to the past nor the modernization of Shiism, but an opening towards the future. The potentiality of the citational process is still in the making.
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