Full text of The Mythical Leader of the Iranian Revolt

Full text of Foucault’s “The Mythical Leader of the Iranian Revolt” published in Corriere della Sera, November 26, 1978.

Tehran – Iran’s year-long period of unrest is coming to a head. On the watchface of politics, the hand has hardly moved. The semi-liberal September government was replaced in November by a half-military one. In fact, the whole country is engulfed by revolt: the cities, the countryside, the religious centres, the oil regions, the bazaars, the universities, the civil servants, and the intellectuals. The privileged rats are jumping ship. An entire century in Iran – one of economic development, foreign domination, modernization, and the dynasty, as well as its daily life and its moral system– is being put into question.

I cannot write the history of the future, and I am also rather clumsy at forecasting the past. However, I would like to try to grasp what is happening right now, because these days nothing is finished, and the dice is still being rolled. It is perhaps this that is the work of a journalist, but it is true that I am nothing but a neophyte.


2 Responses

  1. Thank you for link – Zizek has recently written an article on Foucault’s involvement with Iran, in Critical Inquiry.
    (no. 34 I think, which has not yet been posted up)

  2. “One can claim that [Foucault] did the right thing for the wrong reason; the way he theorized and justified his engagement is misleading. The frame within which Foucault operates in his analysis of the Iranian situation is the opposition between the revolutionary event, the sublime enthusiasm of the united people where all internal differences are momentarily suspended, and the pragmatic domain of the politics of interests and strategic power calculations––the opposition that…directly evokes Kant’s distinction between the noumenal (or, more precisely, the sublime that evokes the noumenal dimension) and the phenomenal. Our thesis is here a very precise one: this general frame is too abstract to account for different modalities of collective enthusiasm––among, say, the Nazi enthusiasm of the people, the enthusiasm of the people united against the stagnating Communist regime, or the properly revolutionary enthusiasm. The difference is simply that the first two are not events, merely pseudoevents, because they were lacking the moment of properly utopian opening. This difference is strictly immanent to enthusiastic unity; only in the last case, the common denominator of this unity was the part of no-part, the downtrodden, those included in society with no proper place within it and, as such, functioning as the universal singularity, directly embodying the universal dimension. This is why the opposition between noumenal enthusiasm and particular strategic interests does not cover the entire field. If it were so, then we would remain stuck forever in the opposition between emancipatory outbursts and the sobering day after, when life returns to its pragmatic normal run. From this constrained perspective, every attempt to avoid or postpone this sobering return to the normal run of things amounts to terror, to the reversal of enthusiasm into monstrosity. What if, however, this is what is truly at stake in a true emancipatory process: how to unite the political and the police, how to transpose the political emancipatory outburst into the concrete regulation of policing? What can be more sublime than the creation of a new liberated territory, of a positive order of being that escapes the grasp of the existing order?”
    Zizek, S. Intellectuals, Not Gadflies, Critical Inquiry No.34/5 (2008)

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