Connecting to your past, to your history, to your language, to your family, should not be done only for its own sake, or–even worse–for the sake of acquiring the comfort for being with the in-group. Connecting to your history shapes your presence, sharpens it, makes it truthful. That is the justification for pursuing the connections, analogous to why we ought to read history–not for the sake of the past, but for the sake of the present.
We are probably talking about a positive sense of the word, “baggage,” uncommon compared to the negative sense of the word. What you bring into a dialogue with someone who does not share your history, cannot be a blank slate or an absolute openness. If there is an openness, it has to be enacted by an historical being, by a being that remembers, by a being who–in part–is a collection of memories found in the present moment. Being open to someone doesn’t mean forgetfulness or ahistoricity. Your openness is a pause, or better a moment of silence, in a temporal stream. That is what makes your silence, your openness, your act of clearing, meaningful and valuable. That is what makes it a human act.
Cultivating individuality, which requires connection to one’s history, one’s language, one’s “background” or the ground of being, is synonymous with cultivating difference, especially when regarded from the standpoint of relationships. But, then, difference becomes the starting point for dialogue. Connecting to your past becomes the background condition for, not an insistence on difference, but connecting in the present.
Since my arrival in Toronto, about half of my reading has been in Persian. In February, I savored the collection of essays by Dariush Ashoori, ‘Parse-ha va Porsesh-ha‘ (Questions & Wanderings). Ashoori is known to many as the main translator of Nietzsche in Iran. I still have my copy of Beyond Good & Evil (‘Farasooye Nik-o Bad‘), which I purchased in Tehran in the late 1990s as a remnant of my early days with Nietzsche and Ashoori’s translation. His contributions to translating has gifted our language with an increased capacity to be hospitable to Western philosophy and social sciences. His essays, Questions & Wanderings, include historical and autobiographical reflections, cultural criticism, homages to his intellectual predecessors, and reflections on language and philosophy.
Currently I am working my way through the Persian translation of Nahal Tajadod’s Sur les pas de Rumi (In the Footsteps of Rumi), reading a few pages each mornings and a few pages each nights before sleep. Tajadod’s book contains a retelling of thirty or so stories from Rumi’s Masnavi. The stories are told from the point of view of a character, who is the creation of Tajadod: A contemporary of Rumi and Shams; a bookbinder who, similar to Rumi, had to uproot his life and move from his city because of the invading Mongol armies. Each chapter is an episode where Tajadod’s character finds one of the Rumi stories and lives through it.
I am going taking a break from Tajadod’s book to spend some time with the philosopher, Gholamhossein Ebrahimi Dinani, and his book, The Question of Being or Being of the Question. The book contains a collection of 14 essays on Being, thought, concepts of absolute/relative, meaning, sense, and so on. I completed the first two essays. The most important idea for me has been captured in the phrase, در پرتو (in light of). For example, Dinani says, imperfection is meaningful in light of perfection; the relative is meaningful in light of the absolute; a part is meaningful in light of the whole. What is “under” the light, in focus, visible, depends on something else that isn’t itself in focus and might even be denied. What is expressed, made apparent, what is “under” the light, can appear more real to us, but Dinani insists that the apparent reality we experience is signaling something else that is given expression–something we could talk about as Being, One, etc.
My turn to my native language signifies something deeper in my return to Toronto, and the fact that my return to Toronto was more than a geographical relocation. Here, I am try to think more in Persian, read more in Persian, speak more in Persian. But I don’t do these things for their own sake. I am seeking a depth and a truthfulness of presence, which can only be achieved by a turn to the neglected parts of my mind. Engaging with this task, I feel moved by a sense of curiosity, hope, and responsibility to anyone with whom I come into contact. Connecting to the past becomes the background condition for–not insisting on differences–but connecting with others in the present.