Chahar Khvani Tiknuluzhi: From Autonomous Mechanical Organism to Divine Instrument of the State

Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:30 AM
Crystal Ballroom A (Hilton Atlanta)
Arshavez Mozafari, University of Toronto
As part of a broader project to elucidate the epistemic foundations of modern Iranian demonology during the Qājār (1785-1925/1199-1343 gh.) and early-Pahlavī (1925-1941/1304-1320 sh.) periods, this paper will exemplify how it is possible to use four poems by Dāvarī Māzandarānī (fl. 19th/13th gh. century) and Malik al-Shu‘arā Muḥammad Taqī Bahār (1884-1951/1301-70 gh.) to identify four movements that contributed to modern technology's shift within Iran away from a chaotic and autonomous mechanical organism outside the reach of rational comprehension and control, and unconscionably supercilious vis-à-vis the perennial demonological imagery of Mongolian hordes, to a divine instrument of the secularized and nationalist religion of the state. At the end of these movements, there was a fragmentation of the early-modern union between traditional demonological signifiers, nature, chaos and hyperbolic extension on the one hand, and modern technology on the other, resulting in the latter's confrontation with its existential locus, the former. The reptilian rifle, the diabolical oil extraction facility, the insidious telegraph lines, and the Mosaic trans-Iranian railway system—each of these technologies, as they are expressed in the four movements, will help to clarify the role of overdetermination, semantic reconfiguration, incommunicability, foreign ownership, ritual purification, technical expertise, and instrumentalization in the expression of the time's epistemic demonology. By analyzing technology under the shadow of the demonic, this exposition seeks to redefine the status of technology within this period as not being exclusively tied to the theory of modernization, scientific rationality, importation strategies, and utility, but rather as an integral site of demonic transformation.
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