years ago in the deserts of turkistan
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Books acquired over the weekend.

Books acquired over the weekend.

What I did this summer, or: the result of doing a lab rotation while lonely in Iowa.

Snippet from “What is meant by Zuhd [asceticism]” by Leah Kinberg, in Studia Islamica, No. 61, 1985 *

Snippet from “What is meant by Zuhd [asceticism]” by Leah Kinberg, in Studia Islamica, No. 61, 1985 *

proof that I am finally sort of settling into this place: making plans to build a book collection here, after having left the vast majority of my books at home.

Niloofar Haeri, from “The Private Performance of Salat Prayers: Repetition, Time, and Meaning,” in Anthropological Quarterly (86:1; Winter 2013)

“It is hard to find California now, unsettling to wonder how much of it was merely imagined or improvised; melancholy to realize how much of anyone’s memory is no true memory at all but only traces of someone else’s memory, stories handed down on the family network.”

Joan Didion, from “Notes from a Native Daughter,” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem

The last book I (re)read before leaving home was Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a collection of essays, some of which are centered around California, that are still mostly accurate despite being rather dated.

Another quote from the collection that I found to be quite true, though I’m from Orange County, not Los Angeles: 

"Los Angeles weather is the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse, and just as the reliably long and bitter winters of New England determine the way life is lived there, so the violence and unreliability of the Santa Ana [winds] affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability. The wind shows us how close to the edge we are." 

— Joan Didion, from “Los Angeles Notebook,” circa 1965-67. 

next week at this time, i will have arrived in the relatively small city that is to be my home for the next 7-8 years. the program that i will be joining is really great and has many more opportunities for me than do similar programs at other universities i was considering. this is certainly one of the reasons why i chose to matriculate into this particular program, but i think i was also drawn to it because my parents have a history in this particular state. my father spent a little over a year in surgery training in the state’s capital, after leaving iran in his late twenties and being trained in a nearby state for several years. my mother, when she was only a year older than i am now and had recently married my father, traveled more than six thousand miles from tehran to join my father for a few months. they both lived in this state only briefly decades ago, and my journey will be one of less than 2,000 miles — only a fraction of theirs — but i somehow feel as if i will be retracing their steps, even if only in the vaguest of ways. 

Over the past four decades it has become increasingly possible to manipulate the boundaries and demarcations of biological entities. Emerging technologies that we term “techno/biologicals” have the potential to challenge boundaries assumed to be unassailable – to perform “border crossings”—between what is normatively accepted as nature or as culture, self or other, life or death. The application of such technologies inevitably results in hybrid entities, and questions are brought to the fore about what is normal or abnormal, what is moral and just, and what should be the limits, if any, of human intervention into the “natural world.” In other words, techno/biologicals intervene powerfully on life itself. Donna Haraway, focusing specifically on the biotechnology industry, has argued: “bodies as objects of knowledge are material-semiotic-generative nodes”; their boundaries materialize in social interaction, and through this interaction bodies and body parts are constituted as objects; as sites for manipulation. […]

Among their many key applications, techno/biologicals enable the transformation of living cells, tissues, and organs into agents that facilitate research, or else substitute or replace faulty, inadequate, or failed body parts and mechanisms. Among such technologies are “immortalized cell lines” kept “alive” in nutritive media; the creation of transgenic and synthetic organisms; organ transplants; and extraction and preparation of stem cells for research purposes from embryonic tissue. There are similarities in the effects brought about by techno/biologicals with medical traditions where substances are trafficked between humans in order to enhance wellbeing and provide protection from danger. Practices of witchcraft, spirit possession, shamanism, initiation rites, to name a few, often involve grafting, or the hybridization of humans, with entities taken from the material and spiritual worlds with preventive or therapeutic intent. […] Such activities thereby transform body and society, and effectively challenge locally understood boundaries between self and other, and nature and culture. However, such indigenous practices cannot have the same portability as do techno/biologicals because the efficiacy of healing ceremonies, witchcraft practices, and so on, is not detachable from the specific contexts where they are applied.

Techno/biologicals of all kinds are quite different from earlier, ubiquitous forms of hybridization because they rely on procedures of standardization and normalization that facilitate the treatment or transformation of bodies deliberately decontextualized from history, society, and social relationships. It is this ability to treat bodies-out-of-context – on the twin assumptions that all bodies are essentially the same and that taxonomies of diseases and conditions are applicable everywhere – that gives these technologies great portability and translocal effectiveness in connection with many medical conditions.

—Margaret Lock and Vinh-Kim Nguyen, on “techno/biologicals,” in An Anthropology of Biomedicine
“The landscape," he said, "it’s one sad landscape.” —Roberto Bolaño, 2666, translated by Natasha Wimmer 

Ammar Al Attar, from the series Prayer Rooms, 2012 (source).

"Ammar Mohammed Al Attar surveys prayer rooms across the UAE. These informal worship areas are ubiquitous, providing Muslims a place for their five prayers a day regardless of their location. The decorative elements of these interiors are incredibly humble, in line with Islamic architectural tenets and in contrast to the exterior opulence of the UAE’s architectural development. Serenity and stillness are common elements in these makeshift rooms, transforming their spatial reality as industrial caravans or rooms in malls and business centers, to that of spiritual sanctuaries." (source)

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