The insurgent, the poet, the mystic, the these are four modes of subjectivity that have emerged amid Middle Eastern thought's attempt to reverse, dethrone, or supersede modernity. Providing a theoretical overview of each of these existential stances, Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh engages the views of thinkers and artists of the last several decades, primarily from Iran, but also from Arab, Turkish, North African, Armenian, Afghani, Chechen, and Kurdish backgrounds. He explores various dimensions of the Middle Eastern experience at the threshold of the postmodern moment, including revolutionary ideology, avant-garde literature, new-wave cinema, and radical-extremist thought. The profound reinvention of concepts characteristic of such work—fatalism, insurrection, disappearance, siege—provide unique interpretations and confrontations with the modern period and its relationship to those who presumably fall outside its boundaries of self-consciousness. Expanding the conversation, Mohaghegh contrasts the impressions of the Middle Eastern figures considered with those of the most incisive Western thinkers of modernity, such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Baudrillard, to offer an original global vision that crosses the East-West divide.
Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Babson College. He is the author or editor of The Chaotic Imagination: New Literature and Philosophy of the Middle East (2010), Inflictions: The Writing of Violence in the Middle East (2012), The Radical Unspoken: Silence in Middle Eastern and Western Thought (2013), and Insurgent, Poet, Mystic, Sectarian: The Four Masks of an Eastern Postmodernism (2015).
Typically innocuous pomo discussion for the most part--an interesting framing of four, IDK, ideal types of subjective identity formations to be found in the Middle East as responses to the 'manifold aggressivities' of Western modernity. (That's my cute phrase but it could easily be the author's.)
Part two of the sectarianism section is easily the best thing in the book. Not a surprise that the most rewarding part is the one where Mohaghegh just lets go of any pretense that this is analysis and not lyricism. And so, a sort of thematic-topical glossary of aphorisms on the "sectarian gaze." Most of it is fairly standard conceptually--familiar to anyone who's thought about apocalyptic religion, extremist ideology, and cult psychology--but there are some neat phrasings:
The sectarian views all conquest as mercy killing (in which murder is decency).
The sectarian appreciates the delight of seriality (the domino effect), smiling in the wake of gravity's pull, as pieces fall one after another in consecutive agonies.
The sectarian is often found in the throes of a becoming-vessel: inhalation, frothing, panting, shrieking (the demolished and the absorbed), drowning, sinking (into the cleft), waves of irradiation, outstretched on one's back, amid the strangulation of divine love (to be wanted, and so used). And then, let go of by the fleeing god (the discourtesy of the poor host), which inflames such longing all the more (sudden lovelessness).
The sectarian combines two outlooks: that of ultimate desire (to want everything) and ultimate death (to fear nothing). The pure fantasy of the sectarian: to rule over a dead world.
The sectarian directs the training of the swarm: to preside over indoctrination, the coagulation of the fringe, and the maturation of the follower.
The sectarian often refers to earth-bound reality as a dreamscape or shadow-version, for this smoke-like redefinition allows its mistreatment (it is only a sleeping state that one punctures).
The sectarian posits an alternative principle of individuality: unlike the modern humanist definition, whereby the self must remain primary, autonomous, and responsible only to its own presence, the sectarian's singularity is fully enhanced by its sense of lineage... One does not feel secondary or derivative, but rather included within the stress of ages.
The sectarian is the luminary of an antiethics: dying-for-the-other (the willful demise), so as to begin the haunting-of-the-other (to return against the enemy as phantasmic anger). ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ And then there's the book's peroration, a rough gem of sheer nihilistic pomposity:
And so, in search of an Eastern gradation of the postmodern, we must climb the rungs of the sectarian ladder, to endure its sanctuary, helix, thawing, and chimera, for it holds bottled within itself the calendar for another passage across. It is in this regard that the once-anorexic ones now become the most omnivorous: that those long left unseated at this epoch's spread, eating only of the nothingness therein, not plot their appropriation of the next everything. Let them be well, and shown favor.
The last part of the book “Sectarian” is in my view, the best and most innovative part of the book which presents a complex cultural and historic image of the east as I know it. A great choice for the ending chapter because of its density and uniqueness. Understanding sectarian requires a foundation that the author establishes in the first 3 parts.
On chapter 6 of sectarian, he is quoting short pieces from the many notable poets of middle east (stretched from Afghanistan to Egypt) to take the reader into the deep psyche of sectarian with the aid of these radical artists. He is starting the book with a very Western academic and male dominated language –using a lot of hard and complicated vocabulary such as “pseudosalvational intentionality”– but ends with the language of middle eastern avant-garde poets. For example, the poem on “being both the killer and killed” by Ghada Samman; “…how past altercations run through the mind once more as scenes projected and looped across theatrical halls. Consciousness enters an almost cinematic zone, as prior unspoken clashes become part of a spectral infrastructure of reenactment and resurrection (images of various long-lost enemies are now everywhere).”
The third part of the book is dedicated to the mystic and its features in cinema. There is a reciprocal relationship between post-modernism, its characteristics (including speed) and mysticism with its slowness, and sunken tranquility. Mohaghegh examines the Iranian cinema and emphasizes on works by Bahram Naderi and Forough Farrokhzad. He is interested in how these artists used and misused sound (and silence) to convey this mystical element in contrast to the conventional spiritualism of middle east.
Overall this book is a great read, made for those who want to understand more about the middle eastern art and thought, through a radical post-modern lens. In Mohaghegh’s words, “…text does not present itself as an exhaustive, comprehensive, or all-inclusive narrative on some absolute notion of Eastern postmodernism. It is a theory that does not speak for the East (a construction) but rather an East (a radical illusion).”