101. ⛈️ despair! at the archives ⛈️
thinking about emotions and textual encounters
Hello, and happy Monday.
Last week marked the end of my 5-week class on “Foundations of Asian American Studies,” and I couldn’t be more pleased with the course and the community we created this summer. To the folks who signed up for the course and came to our sessions: thank you so so much. Thank you for making this class what it was because of your vulnerability, openness, and commitment to engaging with this history and each other. Getting the chance to facilitate such a community was truly the highlight of my summer.
✏️ Still processing.
If you don’t already know, my biggest and most long-term project is turning my dissertation into a book. I finished my dissertation in Spring 2020, and since then I’ve been working on turning that piece of writing into a publishable monograph for a univeristy press.
Much of last year, I was working “on” my book, rather than “in” my book. By working “on” my book, I mean doing a lot of the big picture thinking about its topic and significance. Through many, many hours of freewriting and brainstorming, I worked through my dissertation’s contents to figure out what should stay and what should go. I did a major overhaul of my book’s organization, I cut out chapters and made plans for adding in different chapters, I thought about the main ideas that I wanted my book to communicate and how to center those ideas in the book’s structure. I ended up coming up with a book project that I am really excited to bring into reality.
This month, I began the process of working “in” my book, meaning that I’m diving back into the actual writing of the chapters. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this moment of turning inward—of finally moving into my evidence and retooling it to showcase my arguments.
One thing that I hadn’t realized was the way in which I “felt” so many of the archives I encountered while writing my dissertation. By “felt” here, I mean the emotion feelings that would come bubbling up when I read a historical document that seemed to have impacted my family directly.
My book is about Iranian foreign nationals in the 20th century United States, and my family migrated here from Iran during the 1970s. So, when I look into documents on US foreign policy during the Cold War, and I see the way that US policymakers talk about Iran and its inhabitants, I always think of my family. In diplomacy briefings written during the 1960s, for instance, I read the words of ambassadors who believe the people of Iran are better served under the Shah’s dictatorship because they are not capable of democracy. I read briefings where Iranian government individuals are referred to as petulant and moodly and sensitive and slippery. I read the ways in which the US has constructed narratives that I can only refer to as diplomatic gaslighting. Similarly to that tweet above, I feel a certain type of despair.
I know this history. I am aware of this history. And yet, seeing these moments in print still manages to affect me emotionally almost every time. This week in particular has me wading through many of these documents, which has contributed to general feelings of sullenness.
How do we contend with these histories when they are at times so difficult and emotional to confront?
As I work “in” my book once more, I hope to share with you all some of the ways that I’m trying to answer this question. But, for now, I’ve only just been able to articulate it.
🌀 Still consuming.
“At home, where our focus on free markets has stacked our political system in favor of the Republicans, the vast majority of Americans want reasonable gun laws, reproductive rights, action on climate change, equality before the law, infrastructure funding, and so on, and their representatives are unable to get those things. Capitalism, it seems, is also trumping democracy at home.” An important piece from Heather Cox Richardson.
📖 Book club corner.
August’s book club pick is At the Center of All Beauty by Fenton Johnson! I’m so excited, and a big thank you to Devin for choosing this month’s books and facilitating our meeting at the end of the month! You can purchase the book here and find meeting details below.
Here’s the event info:
Date & Time: Tuesday, August 30 @ 5PM PST/8PM EST
Suggested Donation (for those able to donate): $3-10 through Paypal or Venmo (@idyalz) (A note that 100% of donations will go to Devin!)
If you are interested in facilitating a book club and have been to more than two book club meetings, feel free to reach out to me!
You can learn more about the tiny driver book club here!
🐶 A pup-date.
Here’s Higgins after his trip to the dentist last week:
As always, thanks so much for reading through, and I'll see you in the next one!