Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Listserv as Text

A request from a scholar at a British university went out over one of the listservs a few weeks ago for American literature that deals with Iran or the Persian and Persianate world in some manner. I wasn't particularly impressed with the request, which rather explicitly made it seem as if the individual were compiling the text corpus for his forthcoming project based entirely on what "teh internetz" had to say, but that's really none of my business. Suggestions have flown across the listserv, and I've paid only minimal attention, keeping one ear to the proverbial ground in case there was anything I might be interested in reading.

The query was informally closed today, when the questioner sent out a list that he had compiled from the responses received, with a message that included the sentence:

Although I was looking for American texts, amongst your replies were many hyphenated works produced by the émigré community of Iranians all over the world.

At first, I understood this to mean that he wasn't interested, for example, in Marjane Satrapi, a French-Iranian writer and artist; I thought that American literature could include the Iranian diaspora in America, but not the diaspora in other countries. All fine up to this point. But upon consultation with the list, it became clear that his distinction between "American" and "hyphenated" people and their works was, in fact, that white Anglo writers of Northern European heritage fell into the one category and everyone else fell into the other; Iranian-Americans are not considered to be Americans in this grouping.

If you want to write about Anglophone, Europeanish people writing about Iran, or people with no personal connection to Iran writing about Iran, then define the project in terms that reflect that goal. Perhaps that is all made clear in this scholar's project. But from the limited perspective of the listserv, and reading sola scriptura, by the text alone, the definition of this corpus struck me as an elaborate performance of a sort of time-release colonialism in the purported service of dismantling the rhetoric of Orientalism. It's not to say that British scholars shouldn't work on American topics, just that I hope that when they (or anybody else, Americans included) do so, that there is more that underpins their work than a few declarations, seeming ex nihil, about the validity of the hyphenated American. This sounds more like a parlor game to be played spoken through the nose at the expense of some former colonials than it does scholarship.

How much is worth explaining or delineating within a listserv post, though? To what extent should subscribers see it as a text, or as something else? Is it fair to critique a project description promulgated in this informal way for its lack of a thoughtful theoretical or textual or historical  or anthropological (or sensible) framework?


Postscript: I've been thinking about this idea of the Listserv as text for the last month or so, when there have been two conversation threads that have promulgated some really misguided ideas about transliteration and the relationship between Arabic and Persian

Post-postscript: I'd have added Davar Ardalan's My Name is Iran to that list.

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