- Border Crossing
To be unhomed is not to be homeless, nor can the "unhomely" be easily accommodated in that familiar division of social life into private and public spheres. The unhomely moment creeps up on you stealthily as your own shadow and suddenly you find yourself . . . taking the measure of your dwelling in a state of "incredulous terror." And it is at this point that the world first shrinks . . . and then expands enormously. . . . The recesses of the domestic space become sites for most intricate invasions. In that displacement, the borders between home and world become confused: and, uncannily, the private and the public become part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting.—Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture
The displacement and "unhomeliness" Homi Bhabha describes in his introduction to The Location of Culture resonate deeply with my experiences of crossing borders and recently moving from Canada to the United States.1 Drawing on Bhabha's conceptualization of the "unhomely moment," I would like to chart my trajectory across national boundaries (Iran, Canada, and the United States) as a means of grasping the creative, albeit unsettling, potential in my encounters with the "state of 'incredulous terror.'" Analyzing the different subject positions I have occupied at different moments of crossings has helped me reevaluate my most cherished notions about myself, including my relationship to my work as a scholar of Iranian studies. But this is not a confessional account aimed at uncovering dark recesses of my mind. Instead the personal archives help me lay bare the threads that link certain moments of displacement to phases of my work as a scholar of Iranian origins who, after years of living in Canada, has recently moved to the United States. From the vantage point of national crossroads I have gained glimpses into the different iterations of the self and the accompanying changing boundaries of the self and the world. The question at the heart of my inquiry is, how do we scholars of Iranian studies position our scholarship on these shifting borders? At a time when so much is at stake in the discussions of Iran, there is even more urgency to this question.
The most notable example of the debates concerning the perils of representing Iran in the United States is Hamid Dabashi's article about Azar Nafisi's best-selling memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran.2 Over against the anxieties that what we, scholars and writers engaged with Iran, say about the country is or might be recuperated by particular political agendas are [End Page 225] the realities of censorship, imprisonment, or worse fate faced by our counterparts in Iran.3 In these troubled times it is incumbent on us to reflect critically on the politics of our location not so much to establish a fixed personal or professional creed but to see how time and place affect our voice and vision and determine the scope of our internationalism. The debates surrounding Reading Lolita in Tehran, particularly Dabashi's critique of Nafisi's co-option by neoconservative politics in the United States, and the Iranian government's tightening rein on intellectuals and university professors highlight the problems we face today within and across national boundaries. While these phenomena appear to limit the possibility of traversing borders, they also raise the potential to rethink facile assumptions about our own internationalism. Is it sufficient, for instance, to believe that scholarship on Iran is ipso facto international in focus? What kind of dislocations and jarring juxtapositions might render our awareness of borders into a different paradigm for internationalizing Iranian studies? By putting my own development as a scholar under the microscope I hope to be able to challenge myself and others involved in studying Iran to inscribe the unhomely into our critical practices.
Following the path pinpointed by Arjun Appadurai, we could begin by opening ourselves up to questions about how we view and maintain our field and mode of research. The "deparochialization of the research ethic" that Appadurai sees as a step toward a different form of internationalization and globalization underwrites my attempt at deciphering how national borders, passports, and work authorizations...