Aesthetics of Uneven Development

This document is a syllabus for the course Aesthetics of Uneven Development, developed by Professor Talinn Grigor, Cornell University.

Course Description
The course traces the cultural history of rapid and uneven development in the modern Asia, predominantly based on the experiences of 19th- and 20th-century Iran. Topics cover a wide range of debates on the constructs of high culture, aesthetic values, archeological policies, colonial rivalry, local resistance, gendered metaphors, racist rhetorics, secular nationalism, and national historiography. The readings and discussions are focused on the following themes: Asia before the birth of the Orient; Imperial structures and the politics of archeological digs in the 1890s; the development of an Aryan theory and its origin in Iran at the turn of the century; Iran’s Constitutional Revolution and the invention of a universalistic cultural expressions in the 1910s; the climax of nationalism and the crystallization of Cultural Heritage in the 1920s; the revival of antiquity as a form of political legalization in the 1930s; the pathology of destruction and the appeal to the avant-garde; the arrival of tourism and its impact on conservation tactics of historical sites in the 1940s; state-sponsored racism and the fetish with museums and displays in the 1950s; the Algerian War and the origins of anti-West movement in the 1960s; and feminism as a manifest myth of masculine modernity in the 1970s. The problematic of self-Orientalism that was followed by the Iranian (r)Evolution of 1979 will be central to the inquiries into current events such as postmodern cultural tropes and veiling; fundamentalism and claims to cultural purity; as well as post-9/11 neo-imperialism and its manifestations in western cultural milieus.

The viewing of selected local and western films and the reading of primary sources, as differing (re)presentations of the West/non-West, constitute a critical component of the course. Through a close examination of the built environment and material culture, the course reveals the perils of Iran’s rapid modernization and the ensuing social tensions of its modernity. Their investigation hints at the often unbridgeable gulf between how things worked and how they looked in modern Iran. For in 20th-century Iran, aesthetics was not only a mere allegory of modernity, but also the supreme (re)presentation of the image of an unevenly developed modern nation, that would eventually succumb to a popular (cultural) revolution.

  • McClintock, A. “Post colonialism and the Angel of Progress,” Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (NY 1995) 1-17
Third . World
  • Davis, M. “Millenarian Revolutions,” Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (2002) 177-209
  • Kashani-Sabet, F. “Fragile Frontiers: The Diminishing Domains of Qajar Iran,”
  • International Journal of Middle East Studies 29/2 (May 1997) 205-34
  • Film: Brazil (Terry Gilliam 1985)
  • Said, E. Culture and Imperialism (NY 1994) 3-14
  • Baudrillard, J. “The Violence of the Global” [“La Violence du Mondial,” Power Inferno (Paris 2002) 63-83]

Archeology . Imperialism
  • Schnapp, A, “The Invention of Archeology,” The Discovery of the Past (NY 1997) 275-315
  • Abdi, K. “Nationalism, Politics, and the Development of Archaeology in Iran,” American Journal of Archaeology 105 (2001) 51-76

Universalism . proto-Hybridity
  • Kristeva, J. “Might not Universality Be…Our Own Foreignness?” Strangers to Ourselves (NY 1991) 169-92
  • McClintock, A. “The Scandal of Hybridity: Black Women’s Resistance and Narrative Ambiguity,” Imperial Leather, 299-328

Anxiety . Modernity
  • Nochlin, L. The Body in Pieces: The Fragment as a Metaphor of Modernity (NY 2001)
  • Escobar, A. “Development and the Anthropology of Modernity,” Encountering Development: the Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton 1994) 3-20
  • Grigor, T. “(re)Cultivating ‘Good Taste:’ the early Pahlavi Modernists and their Society for National Heritage,” Journal of Iranian Studies 37/1 (March 2004) 17-45

Tourism . Historicity
  • Gamboni, D. “Introduction,” The Destruction of Art (New Haven 1997) 9-24
  • Choay, F. “Historic Heritage and the Contemporary Culture Industry” & “Epilogue,”
  • The Invention of the Historic Monument (NY 2001) 138-78

Race . Taste
  • Colomina, B. “Museum,” Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (MA 2001) 201-29
  • Hedayat, S. Blind Owl (1935)
  • Film: Turn Left at the End of the World (Avi Nesher 2004)
  • Fischer, M. “Islam: the Odd Civilization Out?” NPQ (Winter 2002) Pezeshkzad, I. My Uncle Napoleon (Tehran c. 1970)

Avant-garde . Utopia
  • Manfredo, T. “Ideology and Utopia,” Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development (MA 1979) 50-77
  • Wigley, M. “The Emperor’s New Paint,” White Walls, Designer Dresses (MA 2001) 2-33
  • hooks, b. “this is the oppressor’s language / yet I need it to talk to you”: language, a place of struggle,” Between Languages and Cultures (Pittsburg 1995) 295-301
  • Colquhoun, A. “The Concept of Regionalism,” Postcolonial Space(s) (Princeton 1997) 13-24
  • Serageldin, I. “Shushtar New Town” The Architecture of Empowerment: People, Shelter and Livable Cities (London 1997) 99-101
  • Bakhtiar, L. & N. Ardalan. The Sense of Unity: the Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture (Chicago 1973) skim

Cinema . Pathology
  • Friedberg, A. “The Passage from Arcade to Cinema,” Window Shopping: Cinema and the
  • Postmodern (CA 1993) 47-94
  • Naficy, H. “Islamizing Film Culture in Iran,” Iran: Political Culture in the Islamic Republic (London 1992) 178-213
  • Film: The Cow . Gaav (Dariush Mehrjui 1969)
  • Deleuze, G. “Cinemas,” Negotiations 1972-1990 (NY 1997) 46-67

Self-Orientalism . Camp
  • Sontag, S. “Notes on ‘Camp’,” Against Interpretation (1964) 275-92
  • Lowe, J. Celebration at Persepolis (Geneva c. 1971) 33, 41, 95

Feminism . Myth
  • McClintock, A. “No Longer in a Future Heaven,” Imperial Leather, 352-89
  • Najmabadi, A. “Hazards of Modernity and Morality: Women, State and Ideology in Contemporary Iran,” The Modern Middle East (London 1993) 663-87
  • Film: Live from Tehran (ABC 1999)
  • Nafisi, A. Reading Lolita in Tehran (NY 2003)
  • Dabashi, H. & P. Chelkowski. “From the Myth of Revolution to the Art of Persuasion,”
  • Staging a Revolution: The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran (NY 2000) 32-43 1979

Architecture (r)Evolution
  • Buck-Morss, S. “Dream and Awakening,” Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of
  • Mass Utopia in East and West (MA 2000) 174-211
  • Afary, J. & K. Anderson. “Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism,” New Politics 10/1 (Summer 2004) 1-9
  • Abrahamian, E. “Structural Causes of the Iranian Revolution,” MERIP Reports 87 (May 1980) 21-26

Iconography . Repression
  • Sreberny, A. “The Islamic Republic and the Process of Islamicization,”
  •  “A New Cultural Atmosphere,” & “Epilogue,” Small Media, Big Revolution (Minneapolis 1994) 163-93
  • Ram, H. “Multiple Iconographies: Political Posters in the Iranian Revolution,” Picturing Iran: Art, Society and Revolution (London 2002) 88-100

unVeiling . disObedience
  • Adelkhah, F. Being Modern in Iran (NY, 2000)

Diasporas . Fragmentation
  • Spivak, G. “Culture,” A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (MA 1999)
  • Satrapi, M. Persepolis (Paris 2004)
  • Film: Vodka Lemon (Hiner Saleem 2003)
  • Zizek, S. Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle (NY 2004)
  • Film: The Children of Heaven . Bacheha-ye Aseman (Majid Majidi 1997)
  • Zizek, S. “The Seven Veils of Fantasy,” The Plague of Fantasies (London 1997) 3-44
Grigor, Talinn. "Aesthetics of Unveven Development." Syllabus, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, [date not provided.]
Talinn Grigor
urban development
architectural history