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159 Objects of Knowledge, Subjects of Consumption 9 Objects of Knowledge, Subjects of Consumption Persian Carpets and the Gendered Politics of Transnational Knowledge Minoo Moallem Connoisseur books, as a genre of knowledge production, have been crucial sites for the formation and transformation of material culture and for the production of racial and gendered differences, especially in the modern structure of empire. The genre has led to the creation of a decontextualized knowledge in which commodities such as the Persian carpet are disconnected from the circuits of labor and complex hybrid trajectories of cultural meaning. This chapter examines the ways in which connoisseur books have mediated and mediatized Oriental carpets in general and the Persian carpet in particular as a commodity. Connoisseur discourses have invested in mediating the meaning and exchange value of the Persian carpet and have mediatized it through the circulation of the carpet as a commodity via photography, advertisement, museum exhibitions, and books. Connoisseur knowledge has been supplemented by a visual and textual intertextual discourse1 (of journalism, travelogues, anthropology, and feminism ) regarding the conditions and pain involved in the labor of carpet weavers. However, this discourse, which is both constitutive and constituted by gendered subjects positions, mostly serves the moral economy of consumerism by uniting pain and pleasure in the commodity in order to influence consumer affect and desires. The transnational circulation of the commodity relies on the discourse of difference in order to produce both subjects of production and consumption . The connoisseur text’s interweaving of the tribal female carpet weaver’s labor with the sensory and exotic appeal of Orientalia transforms the carpet into a sublime and mobile object. This enables the texts to circulate an aesthetic education which prepares subjects of consumption with the affect and civilizational optic of empire. This process of mediatization produces the Oriental and Persian carpet as a highly mobile object of desire that attaches social subjects to particular notions of time and space regardless of their location or dislocation within the territorial boundaries of the nation or the empire. The world of carpets and connoisseur literature provides a rich intersection to examine the significance of knowledge production for the transnational circulation of commodities and also the importance of the politics of mediation in the global marketplace. 160 Fig. 9.1. “The most enjoyable and gratifying rugs to own are endlessly enigmatic: there is great pleasure in discovering a hidden motif or a pleasuring color pattern—even after you’ve owned the rug for sometime. Look for a rug that speaks to your soul.” (Quotation from John B. Gregorian, Oriental Rugs of the Silk Route [New York: Rizzoli, 2000], 151. Photograph by the author taken at a carpet exhibition in the Carpet Museum of Tehran in 2008.) 161 Objects of Knowledge, Subjects of Consumption Subjects of Knowledge, Objects of Consumption From a luxury item in the Safavid courts of the sixteenth century, the Persian carpet has now joined the assemblage of modern commodities—“things with a particular type of social potential.”2 The importing boom for Oriental carpets began in the late nineteenth century,3 just around the time when a systematic form of knowledge of Oriental carpets in general and Persian carpets in particular emerged. This knowledge industry, located mainly in France, England, and Germany, brought together academic and nonacademic writing (travelogues, trade guidelines, collectors’ books, exhibition catalogues) in producing the connoisseur book—a particular genre of publication which offered a lush combination of words, pictures, and plates on the exotic appeal of the Persian carpet. This space for cultural and aesthetic knowledge was filled by a vast group of male and white specialists, traders, and experts who created the profession of specialized research. Oriental and Persian carpets and connoisseur books are a powerful example of how desire and demand for commodity production are created through value and the politics of knowledge. Connoisseur books are first an important site of the “visualization of knowledge ,”4 which relies on both Eurocentric and masculinist epistemic assumptions. Indeed, as argued by Barbara Stafford, this process of opticalization and visualization remains invested in logocentrism and the devaluation of sensory, affective, and kinetic forms of communication.5 Second, the sheer quantity of connoisseur discourses has over the years created “the empire of merchandise.”6 Third, these mediated discourses, carried mostly over print culture to now newer virtual formats , have enabled the complicity of the nation and empire within the context of a free-market economy and aided the expansion of consumer capitalism beyond the territorial...


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