Hamartia: Foucault and Iran 1978–1979 (1: Introduction and texts)
AbstractIn 1978 Michel Foucault went to Iran as a distinguished intellectual but novice political journalist, controversially reporting on the unfolding revolution, undeniably compromising and wounding his reputation in the European intellectual community. Given the revolution’s bloody aftermath and its violent theocratic development, is Foucault’s Iranian expedition simply to be understood as hamartia, a critical error in judgement, with disastrous consequences for his legacy? What
exactly did Foucault hope to achieve in Iran in 1978 to 1979, explicitly supporting the cause of the revolting masses and effectively isolating himself from the European intellectual community and the Western liberal tradition? This series of two articles attempts to shed light on these questions by, in the fi rst article, 1) introducing and contextualising the philosophical issues and 2) discussing
the relevant texts; then, in the second article, 3) elaborating on three explicit contributions (Janet Afary and Kevin Anderson; Ian Almond; and Danny Postel) that recently have been made on this neglected issue in Foucault scholarship and 4) eventually indicating the possible philosophical signifi cance of Foucault’s peculiar mixture of naïveté and perceptivity – indeed his peculiar hamartia – regarding the events in Iran. Presenting Foucault as a ‘self-conscious Greek in Persia’,
the argument in both articles is that Foucault’s ‘present-historical’ writings on the Iran revolution were closely related to his general theoretical writings on the discourses of power and his cynical
perspectives on the inherent risks of modernity. Foucault’s journalistic writings on Iran in 1978 to 1979 are therefore to be appreciated as essentially philosophical contributions to his extensive modern-critical oeuvre. Foucault’s perspectives on power, revolt, Otherness, ‘political spirituality’ and his ‘ethics of Self-discomfort’ may prove to be as signifi cant for an understanding of our world today as the author considers them to have been during the events of September 1978 to
April 1979, with Tehran’s self-esteem still radiating in the desert skies 30 years later.
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