“Chaos” in Middle Eastern Thought, Society, and History

AHA Session 95
Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Crystal Ballroom A (Hilton Atlanta, First Floor)
Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, University of Toronto
The Audience

Session Abstract

In explaining the notion of 'chaos' in the context of the Middle East today, recourse is often made to the repercussions of state failure, such as civil war, infrastructural shortfalls, illegal human movements and displacements, the interruption of the quotidian, black market expansion, and the like. Through global consensus, the reassertion of state power, and the penetration of capitalist linkages, this chaos can be reversed, according to many commentators. Another popular use of the term is evident in sweeping observations of Middle Eastern society and life. From the uncoordinated street movements of the major metropolises to the unpredictable lag in bureaucratic response, it is thought that chaos permeates the social order, as opposed to the charming and eloquent orderliness of European and North American existence.

The purpose of this panel is to repudiate the normative monopolization of the notion of 'chaos' by exploring its subterranean life in the contexts of Middle Eastern thought, society and history. It envisions the potential for different methodologies to divulge the chaotic in unsuspecting domains of inquiry connected to the very experiential heart of Middle Eastern identity as exteriority. The papers are both topically and temporally diverse, reflecting the fluidity and diversity of the chaotic.

The first paper, "Chahar Khvan-i Tiknuluzhi: From Autonomous Mechanical Organism to Divine Instrument of the State," explores the connection between chaos, technology and Iranian demonology during the early-twentieth century. By analyzing technology under the shadow of a chaotic demonism, 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. The second paper, "The Maniac, the Fatalist: Chaotic Emanations of Middle Eastern Thought," undertakes a creative mapping of “manic” and “fatalistic” trends in the recent evolution of Middle Eastern literature and philosophy, deciphering the particularized gestures of various authors from the region as they embark upon a little-known history of chaotic writing. The works of Nazim Hikmet, Mahmoud Darwish, Amal al-Jubouri, and Ahmad Shamlu provide insight into the outsider compulsion, the deceptive architecture of thought that one must build around one’s own self-image in order to transform into a deviant or threatening grain of sand. The third and final paper of the panel, "'Deviance' Wears Adidas: When Iran's Government Morality Meets PLWH (People Living With HIV/AIDS)," focuses on a select group of ordinary Iranian women in Tehran living with HIV whose stories relay crucial information not only on the medical, social, and public health interventions available, but also expose clashing values on spousal intimacy, femininity, and moreover, sexuality. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, the paper examines the narratives of a unique group of women who illuminate the chaotic processes of negotiation as well as how to effectively manage desires of motherhood, respectability and health in an Islamic republic.

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