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June 22, 2004

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Kaveh Khodjasteh  [info|posts]

A few weeks ago, I and a friend of mine were listening first to some nice songs by the Swedish folk-rock band Garmarna and then to "Voice of Compassion" music arrangement [I am not sure what it is, a concerto, or simpy uncategorized] by H. Alizadeh, an Iranian Musician. The similarities between the texture of the melodies and in fact some melodies themselves were very interesting to observe.

Garmarna uses folk music from Scandinavia reclothed in rock and electronic music to create a dark and menacing world of distrust, violence and "natural" misanthropies. The overall effect can sometimes be spellbinding. The "Voice of Love" piece, which accompanies the famous "Ney-Nava" [a mystical composition for the Ney, the Iranian reed Flute, and the classical orchestra, also by Alizadeh] is a classical composition narrating the story of the tragic Earthquake in North of Iran a few years ago.

We listened to some of these pieces over and over and were forced to admit that the similarities were profound and of possibly a very ancient origin, maybe back to the time when the Iranian culture was still a part of the Indo-European tribes still undecided were to settle down.

Then there came the moment of truth, that the real similarity is that most of the folk and regional cultures share the same fate: they will soon be eliminated by the global Hamburger culture, the lowest form of what many think of as American culture. Don't get me wrong, I believe that the true American culture, has been the first victim of the Hamburger culture.

I sometimes like to amuse myself with the fact that Iranians, along with few other nations, are among the luckiest, as they have salvaged a considerable amount of their ancient culture after various occupations [from Helenization that followed the Conquest of Persia by Alexander the Macedonian, Invasion of Arabs, and the Mongolian invasion as the major ones]. My amusement is transformed as soon as I remember that the Persian-Shi'ite culture that dominates the Iranian plateau, has already eliminated many other Iranic cultures such as Median and Parthian and even the dialects and languages associated with these groups have vanished.

I do not want to haste into conclusions or recommendations, as it would be simply out of place for me, but let me ask you what you think about this "Cultural Natural Selection"? Do you also feel it? Or maybe the globalization of culture does not necessary mean the Hamburger culture? Have your say!

saeed s at June 23, 2004 02:02 AM [permalink]:

This might not be so related to your post:

We tend to be proud of our heritage or "culture" ,in my view, because that fills us with some sort of a power ,which is of course not "real". We tend to say we are Persians or Iranians or whatever in the appropriate situation because that connects us to the glorious history and to hide our Iranian background in other situations because people will be reminded of our current miseries. I donít see any problem with the current flow if it ends up with N individuals than P GROUPS of individuals and I donít see any problem if we donít celebrate norouz in the next 100 years.

Well there are of course many negative aspects when it comes the more practical issue of ďglobal economyĒ. But the way I understand globalization, it doesnít have to be accompanied with globalization in economy.

Future might emobody borders of ideaolgies and philosophies and tastes in art. I prefer the future if that happens.

Eswin at June 23, 2004 02:03 AM [permalink]:

Although I am a bit unsure if the real American culture ever happened to be as settled, I agree with you on one point that I conceive the Yankee, Massachusetts style of American culture as very original one.

It is fair to back you up by saying that “the real” one is and was the basic denominator of a much idealized cultured US culture as I identify it with the US' founding fathers and their outstanding scientific (Franklin), philosophical, and political contribution (Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson), not to mention Henry David Thoreau. This was the US that Alexis de Tocqueville observed and celebrated in his much renowned Democracy in America.

It started around mid-1600s and perhaps its prominence died around late-1963.

As per our Indo-European origins, with much confessed and confused bias of mine, I still believe that if you get lost somewhere in the mountains of North, in the valleys of Tabarestan, Deilaman,! On the other hand, it is amazing that of late has been so much talk about giving "linguistic autonomy" to all sorts of originally non-Iranian languages, such as Turkish that is often nostalgically and confusingly called "Azeri" (my reference is the great Ahmadeh Kasravi, peace be upon him).the Kurdish heartland of Uramanat, you can find much similarity between different cultural practices that we share not just with Germanic tribes but with our older cousin the Celts, of which one can just name the celebration of solstices and equinox to bonfire festivals!

As to cultural natural selection, I would say, you are to a point right. Look how Iran has entrenched the protection of Arabic in the Islamic Republic Constitution. Almost no other country in the region, except Afghanistan, has done such a thing to a foreign language that actively constantly, and according to Dr. Abdolhossein Zarin Koob in Two Centuries of Silence, often Genocidally, attempted to replace and undo “the Persian” culture and language.

However, the efforts to revive the Old Persian languages of Semnan, the closest to Parthian perhaps, Damghan, Beerjand, Kashan and Kerman, plus our Kurdish, and Systani cousins are not receiving much attention by our most Islamic government in Taheran.

Well after all, the language of Heaven is Arabic, the Language of the Earth is Mac-English, and Language of Death and Hell is Arabic again.

Ok, Big Old Clock-maker, we blame you after all for inventing the natural selection.

The Pagan at June 23, 2004 02:06 AM [permalink]:

First and foremost, I am not sure I quite understand what you mean by Hamburger culture.

The discussion is of course out of my league as well, and I am not going to elaborate on it. Abstractly speaking though, I believe there is a simple rule that covers almost every country/culture, and that is so to speak: "mediocrity rules".

I do not want to sound cynical, but in the old times that the culture was conducted only by the elite, the results used to be much more impressive, compare to the late 20th century that pop culture emerged, and now is ruling the world. And frankly, most of the products of this culture are out there to satisfy the "high" intellects of bunch of philistines.

Does that mean that I am an elitist? not really. But I cannot help wondering whether the "law of excluded middle" holds in this case, between these two extremes. I can personally keep fighting for either standpoint untill the end of time.

This is a fascinating subject, and I am sure that there are books written about the subject in modern philosophy.

SG at June 23, 2004 10:24 PM [permalink]:

In circumstances that do not merit explanation, I forced, without intending to be mean, a European who hadn't even heard Persian music to that date to listen to Hossein Alizadeh's NEY-NAVA. What he said made horns grow on my head, as we say in Persian. He said the sound of the music (or the NEY , I don't recall) brings to mind longing and makes you feel you miss something that is lost. I immediately remembered Rumi's first line in Masnavi and envied my friend for his pure grasp of the music without any need for words to mediate.

Coincidence, you say?

Well, you may want to repeat the "experiment" with your non-Iranian friends. The result is not clear to me.

Kaveh Kh. at June 24, 2004 01:32 PM [permalink]:

Saeed, this is what happens to you, if you don't celebrate Nowruz in a 100 years: You loose a part of your identity. That is the same if, Iranians for example in a 100 years, stopped practicing Shi'ite Islam.

It is a sad fact of life that people tend to be the most brutal and unforgiving when it comes to their own kind, and hence go against the evolutionary instinct of the survival of their own species. Being reminded of their common origins, people are reminded of their instinct for survival, and thus act in favour of it with compassion and cooperation. As an example look at the way Jews, Armenians, and to some extent the Irish and the Indians tend to remind themselves of their identity and compare it to the Persians, the Italians, and to some extent the Muslims do so. The difference, I believe, is fundamental. The first group usually celebrate their identity as a whole, with the good and bad aspects together, while the second group goes for the bright side of the package.

Maybe I went to far in my discrimination but I still I do not understand your leniency when it comes to the future. First of all, "I hate the future, because I will not be there", and secondly, I will use all my capacity as a human being, in order to affect the future, that is the only place we have in this world.

Ps. Yes I went really too far this time.

saeed s at June 24, 2004 06:45 PM [permalink]:

Kaveh, some clarifications on my comment:

1) I don't think of norouz as part of my identity the same way that I don't feel celebrating ashoora -the way we used to do in Iran - as part of my identity. My philosophy (the way I think of "life") ,on the other hand, is part of my identity. I think of Islam - as I know it- as part of my identity. My love for my parents is part of my identity. My concern for humanity is part of identity. My memory -even norouz- is part of my identity. But nourooz itself is not part of my identity and I am as eager to celebrate norouz as to watch a football match.

2) My "leniency" about the future was with the assumption that "everybody" thinks of his identity as I tried to describe. I was not living in the same phase as we live now. I was imaginning a 1st order phase transition.

3) I am not proud of my feelings! Maybe I have reached to this point because of being away from Iran and having no hope for Iran ... however I think it might be for good!

sweet potato at June 24, 2004 07:52 PM [permalink]:

we're all mortals and so are our cultures.
and so was god.

death is the ultimate irreversible process.

Marco Ferreri at June 25, 2004 09:33 AM [permalink]:

Identity is not equal to ego.

Mohammad at June 25, 2004 03:24 PM [permalink]:
I read this text and the comments. Simply said, I could not resist writing down my ideas on the issues mentioned. The idea of just "high Culture" as "True Culture" and "Popular Culture" as "anti culture" is not new. Problem is that we take this flawed idea too seriously. I give just some examples: in late 19th century Pucini's operas were considered pedestarian, low, and way too middle class to be considred "artictic" and hence "cultural". Today you can hardly argue that they are not cultural works. Being middle class, far from discrediting the works, bought them credibility. Another example: all of us have listened to Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd. In late 60s and early 70s, if you claimed that these bands are producing revolutionary music in "high society" circles, at best you could recieve condescending smiles and some smirks, and at worst, someone would call you an idiot to your face. 30 years on, they are considered original and influential masters. Bitching about global culture (as the French so lovingly call it McCulture ) first and foremost shows the fact that the critic is mixing two issues. At the same time that we have a global market for pop culture, we laso have gained access to a global market to high culture. How else would you listen to a folk band from Sweden if this market was not global? Or how else Korean and Iranian art house movies could find a market globally? On a different level, it shows that on the popular level (that mau very well morph into high art/culture level at some point in the future) the culture (or the imagined culture) of the critic has lost its vitality. Culture is not a static entity. By definition it is dynamic. If it does not exchange with other cultures, it rotts! Take the example of our very own glorious Iranian culture. Our cinema is heavily influenced by Italian, French, and japanese cinema of 1950s and 1960s. Our music has so much in common with Arabic music that it is virtually indistinguishable unless you are a native! We have borrowed heavily from all other cultures around us, as well as Western cultures especially in the last century. We should not be dismissive of the global culture. Putting it more bluntly, if in the exchange between two cultures, people choose one over the other you can not and should not blame the choice. There are two other points here that I quickly mention: 1. Altough it is considered "fashionable" to blame everything on markets, liberalism (or more fashionably neoliberalism), capitalism and globalization, these claims are not supported by a bit of evidence. To put it even more bluntly, the cases for free trade and superiority of market outcomes over centrally planned outcomes are settled in economics. Both on empirical and theoretical levels. So claims like those made by our friend Saeed, and many anti-globalization and so-called progressive activists, altough merit respect as personal opinion, totally lack credit as serious issues worth discussion. Also, I think, as well educated individuals, we should form our opnions on something better than partisan politics of 10-member pressure groups of bored 19-year-olds or ex-hippies. 2. While in principal I agree that the right of speaking and learning a person's mother language is acknowledged, we should be careful about how far we want to push this argument. What I have noticed is that the activists pushing this issue in Iran have a very rudimentary familiarity with governence issues. Also, they see ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Eswin at June 25, 2004 05:20 PM [permalink]:

Mohammad's point reminds me of a very old speech of Taghizadeh in which he was arguing trying to revive ancient Persian culture and embarking upon Westernism are commensurable projects.

I am just wondering if natural selection is really an appropriate terminology. If one wants to cite Sadegh Zeebakalam, then of course thing will look differently.

I think the elites of each society have their own way of redefining the high culture and the low culture. This is specifically the point that Kaveh is trying to make when he refers to Parthians being Helenophile.

In fact, Orod (the Thirteenth Ashk) was informed of the victory over Romans when he was watching a Greek play.

Being selective, as you mentioned, is an attribute of resistance and adaptation.

I think you and Kaveh are saying the same thing, but taking different approaches.

I definitely agree with you that Persian culture has been very dynamic, especially in view of constant foreign occupations.

I still take a more cultural nationalist approach, with no apologies and yet criticize Iranians for not being able to achieve some degree of recognition about their diverse identify. This is now a historical fact that the Sassanian destroyed most of the non-Zoroastrian literature, history, and temples of the Parthians and even Hakhamaneshian. Fundamentalism in Iran really starts with Persian-
Sassani monarchy.

Are we responsible for our cultural misfortunes? Does this extend to the previous generations as far as 1357 years ago, or should we focus on post-1922 epoch?

How can we arrive at a better way of measuring our cultural progress or decadence? What is the measuring scale?

The Arab occupation was perhaps the most important one in creating further divisions, because it received a very mixed reaction from both the elite and the public. For example, many of the Persian aristocrats hated Babak because they hated anything that was Barmaki, which speaks volumes about Afshin's selfishness and treason that betrayed the Khorramdins.

A public disgruntled by the elites' selfishness partly opted to embrace Islam, but on the other hand, Arab's utmost oppression under Omar and Osman and Bani Omayeh led to tens of rebellions by the common people, from Shoobeeyeh to Khorramdinaan. Admittedly, some wanted to embrace a culturally adjusted understanding of Islam.

To a more modern period, some sections of the Pahlavi dynasty did not embrace some Iranian, yet rural, cultures mainly because they were found to be too backward (like the Systani cultural traditions).

Wellesley Girl at June 27, 2004 04:35 AM [permalink]:
Let's put this Iranian Patriotism aside for a sec. I like to assert one thing: if we want people to accept and respect our culture, we first need to accept and respect their culture. If we sit here and claim our culture is superior and bash the other cultures, they have all rights and power to do the same to us. I personally believe in, practice and preach Aristotle's famous saying: I am a citizen of the world. I take whatever is good from any culture, religion, etc and employ it in my everyday life. Ofcourse in the process I use my brain, logic and ability to analyse (Thank God for being a math major). I am thinking about becoming a vegetarian, because I don't like to consume animals, whatever the Iranian culture says about this, I don't care! Though my birth certificate says I am a muslim I believe men and women (of any religion, race, ethnicity, etc) are equal entities, and should be treated respectively. I am not even sure if I believe in God, but whether God exists or not, I do good not because of an overseer who will reward me after death. As long as there is brain in my head, I am not a child to need someone to look and evaluate my work to make me do good. I counsel friends, help elderly, am nice and friendly, and don't hurt non-human creatures because it makes me feel good about myself, because I believe in respecting other living beings! In my brain there is absolutely no difference between prostitutes and people who are molested as children. Aren't they both victims of the society? One thing that's quite prominent among Iranian culture is to blame the victim. A girl is ra.ped, not only she was victimized by being ra.ped in the first place, the family blames her to be at fault for the, thus she is victimized again. Do we have a speck of compassion in our being?!!! I have been blamed as a victim on many instances and it felt horrific, I am not going to let any living creature share that experience, so I wouldn't do it to someone else. And then we label prostitutes as perverts and we don't want to even get close to them as if they have this contagious disease(just because their activities were s.e.x related -goodness what's the obsession with s.e.x?) while the other group is highly protected by the society. Do we ever think about how these people are victimized, do we even care, while we are sitting in our comfy chair checking our emails, reading These are human being we are talking about, and there is nothing in the world more important than the life of a human. And you want me to believe in a religion that puts difference between human beings because of the number of their s.e.x partners or the career path they choose without even caring for why these people got where they got?? A religion where a child out of wedlock is left in the cold to die! That's sick! You know it disgusts me to know there are people who care more about their family's reputation than the life of a child! And I don't EVER discriminate against! Why should there be a difference between homo.s.e.xuals and heteros.e.xuals! I mean I don't even understand why we label and call people by their se.x.ual preferances! I am not going to believe in a culture or religion or cult or institution or whatever you want to call it that categorizes people like that! I don't need to believe in Islam to tell me how to see people, I have realized I am a better person without those instructions, to tell me how to have s.e.x ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
An Iranian Student (AIS) at June 28, 2004 10:51 PM [permalink]:

I'm not sure I agree with the 'McDonald culture' idea entirely, although I can feel the attraction of this point of view.
What cautions me are two things:
1- It is not at all clear to me that the roots of todays cultural crisis are here and not in other more 'intellectualized' spheres of society which have constantly eroded any positive and hopeful or even realist view of future and the world instead. The general term of 'consumerism' sounds just too easy to blame. Although again this is what makes me more careful in this regard and is not necessarily a rejection of it.
2- What is relayed of any era in history to be read by the future generations is the works and struggles of the greatest or most active people of that time. So looking back at the glories of the past might blind us to the real condition of all the other 'masses' of that time that were not part of the stuff of which good history is made. So again it is not clear to me that previous generations didn't have 'McDonald cultures' of their own in every era as well(Think of superstitions or the treatment of children en mass back then as an example) and that when the history of the most active, advanced and open minded people of our time will be written, it would not be as nostaligic for those to come as is the past for us.

So to sum it up, I am a bit suspicious! :)

An Iranian Student (AIS) at June 28, 2004 11:20 PM [permalink]:

I really don't understand how Noruz itself' can be part of anybody's identity! But celebrating noruz like any other ritual is the external manifestation of sets of values, worldview and the feeling of community...that is all that make parts of ones identity. Yes it gives a feeling of power, but what is wrong with that?! That is the FUNCTION of community and belonging to a community. Noruz is one of the most enduring bonds that defines us as a 'people'. It is precisely the destruction of such bonds in a society that results in chaos and demise of that society. The fact that many others oof OUR bonds has been ravaged by barbarians of different origins together with unattached among our own is the main cause of lack of 'discipline' that we all wail about today. that even a single task is not performed correctly in Iran, be it driving, economy or earth quake policy.
Those who PREFERE such 'individuality' that is comes not out of a functioning free COMMUNITY, but a lack of it, are the ones who astound me the most!
Of course healthy community building is verfy subtle. The rituals and norms are followed as a result of intricate cultural interactions. I'm not surprised that the comparison with Islam arose here. Because the vulgar reward/punishment attitude that defines the core of Islamic view and very balck and white pictures of good and evil that is clear cut (and interestingly enough is also the hallmark of primitive societies) distorts the subtle nuances. as I said elswhere it is like gettiing used to loud drum beats. Afterwards the ear can not understand or enjoy the beauty of real music anymore.
in a sense the two kind of 'norms' and 'standards of conduct' are analogous to a cop/prison force ever present over sections of any society in comparison to the 'rules' of etiquette that governs another section.

As for the other topic of your article,Kaveh, the connections of Iranian culture with that of many others, including the 'Nordic' one :) (if it makes any sense to be called like that) , I share the fascination with you!

Atmikha at July 1, 2004 01:16 AM [permalink]:

The connection between the Nordic music and the Iranian music is probably not completely coincidental. After all, both languages have the word daughter (dokhtar, tochter) in common. The word Iran comes from Aryan, which is the name of some mythological celtic people coming through the Caucusus mountains from the North. Pretty much the only claim to fame the Norsemen have is their history of shipbuilding, sailing and being the most fearsome and far-ranging pirates ever. The conditions of the composers and the instruments have something to do with this also. Long melancholy nights in the desert or the steppes can speak to each other very well. Ultimately, we are probably all more connected than not.
PS, Hamburg-er itself comes from a food preparation technique made famous in northern Germany, probably to tenderize tough old horsemeat, or something. It is the Ford mass production technique of service that is American, or modern. At the end of the day, people will choose the most efficient, elegant way to the desired objective, and the old-fashioned becomes quaint, then obsolete. NoRuz will never die, even if it has to turn into Easter. It was there before Islam, and as long as winter dies and stuff keeps bursting out of the ground halfway between the invernal and vernal equinox, there will be a party and abgusht.

SG at July 1, 2004 01:00 PM [permalink]:

Nice speech, WG!