Between Tehran and Paris: Terre de mirages and Shayegan’s Exilic Ambivalence

Ehsan Sheikholharam is a teaching fellow and a PhD candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC Chapel Hill. Situated at the intersection of architecture and religion, his work examines the religiosity of non-religious architecture. Beyond his primary focus on the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, his research spans interrogations of ideologies of public space, spatial motifs in cinema, and theories of subjectivity. He has received recognition from institutions such as the University of Miami, Dumbarton Oaks’ Mellon Initiative, and the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute. His work has been published in the American Academy of Religion’s Reading Religion, Maydan, CLOG, and WIT Press.

Psychoanalysis is in essence a cure through love.[1]

—Sigmund Freud, Letter to Carl Jung


The etymology of the term exile is ambiguous. Although in its fourteenth-century French meaning, exile corresponds to contemporary usage, connoting a “forced removal from one’s country,” its Latin roots suggest a more nuanced understanding.[2] If taken as a derivative of the verb ex-sulere, an exsul refers to a person “who is taken out.” This hints at a forced uprooting that is not only unsettling but also agonizing. Yet its origin can also belong to the Latin ambulare, which connotes “to walk,” thus referring to one “who walks out.”[3] The connotations of “walking out” and “being taken out” are not the same. The former suggests a willed act, whereas the latter hints at an external imposition. Exile as a concept is therefore charged with ambiguity. It is not simply an externally imposed condition—a predicament with which one needs to reconcile. Exile can also be internal—a willed departure from what is intimate and familiar. Incidentally, this latter connotation resonates with the Persian mystical tradition, not because it evokes an original rupture with the divine, but rather because it is predicated upon an internal, willed rupture with the self.[4] The wayfarer abandons her abode not because she is forced to do so;[5] she departs from the angst of existence because through a journey away from the self, she returns to the Self, becoming one with the Divine—as epitomized by Hoseyn Mansur Hallaj’s (executed 922) “ana al-haqq.” Hallaj did not cry out “I am the Truth” to declare that he is literally God, but to say that through the “annihilation of the ego,” he had reunited with the Divine.[6] This ambiguity, nonetheless, does not alter the affective composition of exile. A willed exile is not exempt from those experiences integral to a forced exile: agony, a sense of loss, and estrangement.

Daryush Shayegan, a Franco-Persian writer, epitomizes an ambivalent relationship with internal exile. An itinerant who traversed the epistemic (and geographic) horizons of the Orient and the Occident,[7] Shayegan never inhabited a single universe with total infatuation and identitarian attachment.[8] Living in Paris, he was reflecting on the Iranian Revolution of 1979; living in Tehran, he was writing about the French struggle with national identity. Any attempt to pin him down in either the French intellectual milieu or among the Persian intelligentsia does injustice to Shayegan’s polyvalent work, for he wrote comparative work in both French and Persian, drawing on multiple registers of knowledge.

Feeling uneasy with being confined to a single horizon (whether intellectually, emotionally, or geographically), Shayegan simultaneously inhabited multiple worlds. While Ramin Jahanbegloo[9] and Laurent Testot[10] have called Shayegan’s twelve-year stay in France a “self-exile,” I argue that his roving did not begin when he left Tehran a year after the revolution, in 1980, nor did it end when he returned. His exilic subjectivity was already in the making in his multilingual and multicultural upbringing as well as his cosmopolitan education. Nonetheless, characterizing Shayegan as an exile seems rather strange for someone who lived a life of privilege.

Shayegan was born in Tabriz, Iran, to an affluent family. His father was an Azeri merchant and his mother a descendant of the Georgian aristocracy. The milieu in which he was raised was ethnically, religiously, and linguistically mixed. His father was Shi‘a and his mother Sunni. If Persian, Azeri, and Georgian were not enough, his nanny spoke Russian to him. As was the case for children of wealthy liberal families in that era, he was shipped off to a French Catholic school in Tehran. At Saint-Louis School, he was exposed to Iranian Jews, Armenians, and other minorities. At the age of fifteen—and having not yet finished high school—he embarked on a journey to Europe to visit Italy, Sweden, and France. Young Daryush finally landed at a boarding school in London. Later, he attended college in Geneva, studying “comparative philosophy, Sanskrit, and literature.”[11] When he returned to Tehran in the early 1960s, he was introduced to Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Henry Corbin as well as influential Shi‘a reformists and progressive thinkers. Under Corbin’s supervision, Shayegan received his doctorate from the University of Paris–Sorbonne in 1968.[12] Shayegan’s expertise in comparative religions (his dissertation brought together the Vedanta schools in Indian philosophy and the Persian Sufi tradition) enabled him to teach Indian Studies in the Department of Comparative Philosophy at the University of Tehran, having had already taught Sanskrit there while working on his dissertation. A year after the 1979 Revolution, Shayegan returned to Paris where, over the course of twelve years, he published several books that examined, among other themes, the encounter between tradition and modernity.

Shayegan’s oeuvre interrogates the effects of globalization on the modern subject. Drawing on psychoanalytic theory, Shayegan argues that the hyper-connected world fragments the psyche into a broken mirror. While he recognizes the problematic nature of this fragmentation, he maintains that “cultural schizophrenia” is the universal condition of the modern world. Exile, in-betweenness, and hybridity are not singular conditions of migrants and itinerants, but modes of being that are integral to the modern psyche.[13] Instead of attempting to cure this fragmented cultural psyche, Shayegan wants to tame it. Put differently, Shayegan does not wish to fight the condition of modern subjectivity; his project is to reconcile its antinomies. Rather than invoking the metaphor of the melting pot—where fragments combine in an unvariegated whole—he imagines a psyche constituted of difference.

Shayegan’s model of the psyche is intertwined with his life trajectory. His personal experience of interculturalism informs his understanding of cultural hybridity. Although Shayegan’s object of analysis appears to be the condition of the modern psyche, one cannot but realize that the subject analyzed is a cosmopolitan thinker like himself. How would one imagine a conversation Shayegan had with himself? It is perhaps only through a reflexive doubling of the self that he could contemplate his ambivalence. I argue that his only novel, Terre de mirages (Land of Mirages), narrativizes his thoughts on exilic subjectivity. The novel serves not only as a narrative device—it also serves as a talking cure.[14]

Terre de mirages is a story of two lovers, Marianne (a French woman) and Kaveh (an Iranian man), who, after having lived together for several years, exchange letters from Paris and Tehran. Over almost three years (from January 1997 to December 1999), the two itinerants use these letters to reflect on their incomplete journey. The novel, which is written in the form of an epistle with contributions from Maryam Askari, features eighty letters that tell the story of exilic love. Marianne, who had given up on the possibility of them being together, abandoned Kaveh and abruptly left Tehran. Yet it soon becomes clear that their desire for each other lingers on—although with a melancholic sense of loss. It is this quivering, undead desire that propels their continued conversations.

One could read the book as a diary of cultural psychotherapy.[15] The two lovers are not simply physically distanced; they have always been apart precisely because they have remained blocked in their cultural enclosures. Trying to live in each other’s respective worlds, the protagonists are strangers in their own homes.

I will begin by providing a glimpse into the narrative structure of the novel. I will then recount three phases of encounter: resistance, schizophrenic fragmentation, and the process of taming cultural schizophrenia. I will explain what role Terre de mirages plays in Shayegan’s thinking—especially regarding the phenomenon of “cultural schizophrenia.” In the next section, I will analyze a series of themes related to exilic subjectivity, including ambivalence, hybridity, and in-betweenness. Subsequently, I will situate the novel in Shayegan’s oeuvre, arguing that it is a pivotal work. Finally, I will posit a critique of the novel.

The Story

The story begins with a letter from Kaveh in Tehran, dated 24 January 1997. He was expecting a letter from Marianne, who had suddenly left Iran. By then, they had been living together for about ten years—in both France and Iran. Soon, one gathers that they had reached a point in their relationship where moving forward seemed impossible. Kaveh is disillusioned, Marianne irreparably hurt. The protagonists are in profound agony. Marianne, who has learned about Kaveh’s melancholic condition, writes:

He [their mutual friend] told me some very disturbing things about your state of mind, your depression, your voluntary isolation, in short, the signs of a deep unease for which I feel directly responsible. Without my hasty departure, you would probably not have suffered so much [. . .] I hurt you very badly and I am deeply sorry; I took you for a wise man, such was the image that you wanted to communicate to the world, and here I am discovering a delicate, fragile and very vulnerable being.[16]

The mutual distress with which the novel begins has little to do with the partners’ immediate relations. Despite apparent frustrations and hurtful misunderstandings, their love persists.[17] “We love each other,” Marianne writes, “but we can’t live together.”[18] Kaveh echoes Marianne’s ambiguity: “I miss you painfully,” yet we “are imbued with nostalgia” and crippled by “regret.”[19] The disconnect, nonetheless, goes beyond themselves.

As the story unfolds, one gathers that their relationship failed not due to irresolvable quibbles, but precisely because of cultural prejudices, atavistic attachment to identities, and withdrawal into nativism.[20] “It is difficult,” Marianne declares in despair, “to get out of the shackles of habits.” Molds of thoughts, subconsciously and gradually, turn into “a straitjacket that binds us to our atavisms.”[21]

In the novel, cultural differences are articulated through seemingly mundane conversations. The story builds up these overarching themes of civilizational discontent through flashbacks, recounting what happened between the two protagonists at different occasions when they were together. In trying to make sense of their failed love, Marianne poses poignant questions: “Are our respective worlds so incommensurable? Aren’t we living in the same world, speaking the same languages?”[22]

Their differences are manifold. While Marianne was engaging and personable, Kaveh was somehow aloof. Disinterested in the mundane, he often “refused to participate in collective life.” Since he was more invested in metaphysical thoughts and mystic poetry, his interest in politics and urban life remained feeble. Furthermore, Kaveh tended to think in binaries. He was quick to frame ordinary quibbles into irreconcilable antinomic themes. Marianne recalls how Kaveh complicated a simple disagreement into an inherent divide between the East and the West: “In Europe, one exchanges ideas as if they were going to the market, while ignoring the real sympathy that is the communion between people. One is intelligent, sometimes too intelligent, but it is wisdom that is missing. One is tolerant, but not compassionate enough.”[23]

Marianne astutely observes that Kaveh’s reproaches were civilizational rather than personal.[24] Throughout the novel, Marianne, too, poses a similar critique that, although it seems personal, addresses larger cultural themes.[25] Beyond cultural generalization, occasionally one can find more particular examples. Kaveh, for instance, remembers how Marianne was repelled by “the deplorable condition of women, the confusing relationship between genders, the hustle and bustle of ambiguous situations, and the ambivalence of generalizing judgments.”[26] Sometimes, these themes and sentiments, especially when it comes to essentialized cultural differences, are narrated through less sophisticated voices in the novel. Kaveh’s mother, for example, reiterates her unfading distrust about the possibility of their relationship. Voicing her motherly concern for Kaveh’s unrest, she says poignantly: “Don’t you know that East and West are two opposite poles that will never meet?”[27]

As Marianne and Kaveh try to mediate between seemingly incompatible worlds,[28] they enter a third space.[29] “I have the impression,” Marianne writes, “that we have now created a gaping space between us.”[30] Throughout the novel, Marianne and Kaveh refer to each other as “exile” (exilée), “foreigner” (l’étranger), “immigrant” (immigré), and “nomad” (nomade). Marianne suggests that the “ambivalence of migrants and the effects of exile” have become “the condition of humanity today.”[31] Marianne was caught in an ambiguous space between “flashes of joy” and “secret dismays.” By being “shaken up” out of their “torpor,”[32] the protagonists also enter a reflexive space of remaking the self. This self-discovery is nonetheless disquieting. Marianne writes in a despondent tone: “I had ceased to be a serious Frenchwoman, but that did not mean that I had become a carefree Persian. Here I go! I am no longer this or that.” As she seems suspended in an in-between space, she perceives her own consciousness as mesmerized and disoriented. She tries to morph into a shape that seems incompatible with her “natural” mold: “I have become a migrant in the agony of metamorphosis.”[33]

The lovers are in an emotional limbo from which one cannot be emancipated without the support and validation of the other. By trying to understand Kaveh’s world, Marianne begins to decipher her own mysteries. It is not merely that Marianne “had become fundamentally different.” What is remarkable about this retrospection is that she realizes she has always been different.[34] In trying to tear the veil of the Other, one confronts the hidden side (face cachée) of their own existence.[35] What was once familiar and intimate turns into something exotic and strange. Entering an “interworld” (d’intermonde), they discover that they need to remake their subjectivities as if nothing were fixed.[36] In this precise sense, the novel functions as a guide for dealing with the psychic effects of exilic love: “I don’t know if our letters are proof of our love,” Kaveh wonders, “or some cunning ruse closer to psychotherapy.”[37]

The inconsistencies exhibited by the characters are twofold. On the one hand, they are divided internally: they are struggling to assimilate into each other’s respective worlds. On the other, they are not yet equipped with the intellectual and emotional tools to recognize each other. Kaveh writes about a similar (internal) struggle: “It’s true that I have a conflicting soul—it looks like two antagonistic forces pulling me in opposite directions.”[38]

The novel is a journey of taming this ambivalence. Shayegan implies that what brought their relationship to a standstill was a kind of cultural egocentrism where their in-betweenness was turned into a centrifugal force. Each withdrew into their own closed universe. It is only when they are apart—that is, at those moments when the immediacy of each other’s presence is gone—that they can reflect on their encounter. Welcoming this space of disjointed retrospection is, indeed, the first step in the way of taming their fragmented subjectivity. It is through this disjunctive engagement that they gradually move away from blaming each other toward recognizing their own biases and idiosyncrasies. Although recognition of their egocentrism is the first and fundamental step, it takes them three years and eighty letters to move from recognition-as-diagnosis to recognition-as-reconciliation. Marianne writes: “At the time, I interpreted your thoughts as gibberish uttered by an agitated person in exile, to whom nothing was more satisfying than criticizing our way of life. With time and experience, nonetheless, I began to understand the relevance of these words. Now that I live alone in Paris, I gradually identify with what you must have felt when you were propelled towards us. Perhaps, dear Kaveh, I too have become, at my expense, an exile.”[39]

Yet because Marianne has the will and courage to be vulnerable, she goes through a metamorphosis; she embraces in-betweenness. Moving from a closed and fixed identity to an open and fluid one comes at a price. Marianne contemplates the “secret maladies” of this love: “[I] was so captivated by the world I was discovering that I had to deny a large part of myself. I came forward defenseless; it may have allowed me to explore areas otherwise inaccessible to a stranger. Nonetheless, I paid dearly for it: I came out bruised, broken, disfigured inside. Now I have taken a step back and am trying to analyze what really happened to me.”[40]

Meanwhile, as Marianne and Kaveh are navigating their mixed feelings and lingering desire, they also experiment with new romance. Marianne meets Sadegh, an Afghani painter who has a small gallery in Paris. As she shares with Kaveh her fascination with and libidinal desire toward her new flame, Marianne realizes that she is using her artist lover as a substitute for Kaveh’s absence.[41] Her Afghani lover is an empty signifier onto which Marianne projects the repressed object of her desire.[42] Her hesitation, she says, is rooted in her lingering love for Kaveh: “I carry the delicious stigmata in my soul.”[43] Likewise, Kaveh starts dating Afsaneh—a Persian woman who, after having lived on the US west coast and later in France, returned to Tehran.[44] They travel together to the United States. While Afsaneh feels as free as a fish who has been returned to the sea, Kaveh feels alienated.[45] Although he appreciates the country’s multiculturalism and diversity, his subconscious “anti-Americanism” functions as a barrier. Kaveh remains suspicious of profit-driven capitalism, all-too-confident positivism, and “euphoric and artificial happiness” that has ensued from the economic boom. Kaveh breaks up with Afsaneh not merely because she is happy in the American milieu and he is not, nor because they are not “on the same wavelength,” as Kaveh mentions.[46] He cannot continue, because, like Marianne, his struggles are internal.

By providing yet another space for introspection, these failed attempts at finding romance help the protagonists to reignite their passion for each other. Through a process reminiscent of a Hegelian double negation, they come to realize what is desirable by recognizing what is not. Toward the end of the novel—and after having sorted out their internal struggles—the two lovers notice how what was once a “great distance” has “narrowed.” Just as their fragmented psyche morphs into a harmonious tapestry of differences, so too their love for each other returns with fervor. Marianne marks this decisive moment with ardor: “No! I don’t want to be silent anymore; I want everyone to know the immensity of my love.”[47]

They finally decide to reunite. Marianne, who is getting ready to join Kaveh in Iran, receives a letter from a mutual friend. Kaveh has disappeared in the desert in the south of Iran with an archaeologist friend. The story ends in desperate suspense. The last paragraph, in which Marianne writes poignantly to her friend, is worth citing at length:

First of all, there was this desire to go elsewhere. It was this invitation to travel that spurred my thirst to leave, to tear myself away from my old habits, to venture into unknown worlds. I got to know Kaveh who was almost my alter ego. Then there were my extraordinary efforts to integrate myself into an unusual environment which, while welcoming, was no less hostile. I went through all these hardships with joy as I believed in my destiny. I was certain that at the end of the road, something awaited me—a big surprise. It is with this hope that I embarked on my Persian adventure. I had to disincarnate to reincarnate again [. . .] I had to re-capture those fragile moments when my being was shattered and my body began to spin madly around the axis of my soul. Finally, I had to endure my ordeal and despair only to learn that my life clung to a frail desire and that this desire was but a mirage in the desert.[48]

Hence, the novel partly confirms yet also contradicts Shayegan’s life experience and intellectual work. Shayegan, the embodiment of cultural hybridity and civilizational exchange, ends his book with hesitation, suggesting that the possibility of reconciliation is a mirage, an illusion.

Cultural Schizophrenia

The novel captures three phases of Marianne and Kaveh’s relationship. The first phase, which happened over the ten years immediately before their correspondence begins, has to do with the unsettling and disorienting encounter with the Other. The affective content of this encounter is twofold. On the one hand, the protagonists were drawn to the novelty and charm of the unknown; on the other, they were repelled by it. What was missing between them was a space for mediation—a third space equally open to both of them. The novel revels in expatiating on the first stage prior to the formation of this in-between zone. The protagonists recall how unintelligible sentiments and inexplicable behaviors often ended in frustrations.

In the second stage, they reflect on their encounter in dialectical form. The dialogical nature of the epistolary form affords an interplay between claims and counterclaims, between arguments and counterarguments, or thesis and antithesis. At times, a single letter includes both a thesis and an antithesis, showing how Marianne’s and Kaveh’s respective ways of seeing a given situation are opposed. Yet the following letter comes close to a synthesis, where they gesture toward a mediatory position. Instead of denunciations and hasty judgments, they try to understand each other’s worlds. In the final stage, Marianne and Kaveh have cultivated the third space of mediation where neither of them needs to assimilate into the world of the other. Their identities are now augmented by the presence of the other. What characterizes this emancipatory stage is its radical openness.[49] Their once-fragmented psyche has turned into a woven fabric of difference where different layers coexist. Rather than a forced assimilation of one’s identity into either space (Marianne “becoming” Persian, or Kaveh “becoming” French), the third space helps them to move beyond choosing one over and against the other.

What the two lovers are experiencing is what Shayegan has called “cultural schizophrenia.”[50] The encounter between heterogeneous worlds is by nature unsettling. The cultural psyche traced over and cut by zigzag lines is schizophrenic.[51] The psyche is left with “broken ontologies” when these traces and fragments have not morphed yet into a tangible composition: “The inter-epistemic situation shows that these blocks of knowledge can coexist, clash, and create a kind of cultural schizophrenia. In this specific case, the magical-mythical world can pass through the conceptual grid of the modern gaze. Moreover, both can act within the same person, paralyzing their critical faculties, causing mental blockages, identity tensions.”[52]

In speculating about a solution, Shayegan is not interested in flattening constitutive differences and cultural particularities. In his view, the Orient and the Occident are not homogeneous, and the difference between them cannot be glossed over. Nor is he advocating the infusion of “different registers of consciousness” into an unvariegated mélange. “As we live in the interstitial spaces of entangled worlds,” we become not only “multiple [and] plural,” but also “fractured.”[53] Manifold identities, hybridity, and borderline subjectivities are integral to the interconnected world, but these are ambivalent in and of themselves. In-betweenness can be augmentative or reductive. The novel depicts the process in which exilic subjectivity becomes augmentative.

Instead of pathologizing cultural schizophrenia or trying to eliminate its symptoms, Shayegan wants to tame it. This taming, nonetheless, requires conscious effort. It is a process that entails both “mental acrobatics” and emotional engagement. Shayegan writes: “One who combines these heterogeneous worlds must have a decoding keyboard—a toolbox for taming schizophrenia (apprivoiser sa schizophrénie) and its contradictions.” It is crucial, he continues, “to live simultaneously and serenely [these] antithetical worlds.” One needs to break free from their “cultural orbit,” while taking a distance from their “metaphysical coordinates.” Only through this self-exile can one “scrutinize these ludic crossroads” of distinct views.[54] Terre de mirages is a guide to “mental gymnastics” that enables the reader to “learn [the] acrobatic art of living in the middle.”[55] Shayegan wants to outline the progression from refusing, to embracing anguish and disorientation, and finally to arriving at clarity freed from ambiguity.[56] A passage in Shayegan’s foreword to Cultural Schizophrenia: Islamic Societies Confronting the West captures this phenomenon:

We who were born on the periphery are living through a time of conflict between different blocs of knowledge. We are trapped in a fault-line between incompatible worlds, worlds that mutually repel and deform one another. If accepted consciously, lucidly, without resentment, this ambivalent situation can be enriching; it can amplify the registers of our learning and broaden our sensibility. But the same ambivalence, when sheltered from the critical field of knowledge, causes mental blocks and lacunae, mutilates perceptions and (in the manner of a broken mirror) fragments realities and mental images alike.[57]

The taming of cultural schizophrenia is not about building connections between existing ontologies—that is, essentialized and mythologized notions of cultures. It has to do with mobilizing dynamic forces that are integral to cultural differences. If the heterogeneous and often opposing forces that pull the modern psyche in multiple directions are assimilated, the encounter augments the self. But if this ambivalence is left unresolved, it turns into a reductive and subtractive antagonism.[58] On an individual level, unresolved contradictions—or to use Shayegan’s term, ontological incompatibilities—grow into “epistemological schizophrenia,”[59] while on the level of political discourse, they translate into a form of “false consciousness.”[60] For example, in Qu’est-ce qu’une révolution religieuse? (What Is a Religious Revolution?), Shayegan reprimands Ali Shariati (1933–77) not only for “ideologization of tradition,” but also for contributing to false consciousness by identifying the repressed masses in Iran with the Marxist category of the proletariat.[61]

But what are the genealogies of cultural schizophrenia? The phrase schizophrénie culturelle is associated with Shayegan. Nonetheless, its genealogy is manifold. Its underpinnings can be traced back to the first half of the twentieth century, not only in psychology, but also in cultural studies on race and coloniality. In English, the concept “cultural schizophrenia” was already prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s, not only in the context of anti-Semitism,[62] but also in art and architectural critiques.[63] In French, it first appeared in 1974 in an article by Isaac Yetiv on the theme of alienation in Maghrebian novels.[64] For Yetiv, “schizophrénie culturelle” was the effect of colonial alienation.[65] Although he drew on Albert Camus and Franz Kafka, his critique was aligned with the core critique of racial repression in Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903), and Frantz Fanon’s Peau noire, masques blancs (1957).[66]

In the sixties and seventies, Shayegan was immersed in the French poststructuralist milieu. Perhaps the most influential work among poststructuralists was Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972); they were the first to theorize schizophrenia beyond clinical pathology.[67] With Deleuze and Guattari, schizophrenia became a new form of cultural critique—a subversive model that through its rhizomatic ontology could destabilize hierarchical forms. This was the moment when schizophrenia was transformed from a pathology into a revolutionary force. “Schizophrenia is like love,” wrote Deleuze and Guattari, “schizophrenia is the universe of productive and reproductive desiring-machines, universal primary productions as ‘the essential reality of man and nature.’”[68] In alignment with this “glorification of schizophrenia,”[69] more complex subjectivities have been conceived, and it is in this very context that one should read Shayegan’s novel.

In contrast to postmodern cultural politics, Shayegan is firmly opposed to the notion of “grafting.” One cannot force realities that are constructed upon different historical trajectories and distinct regimes of knowledge to come together. He writes: “Grafting attempts to obscure the absence of isomorphism and reconcile epistemologically two different paradigms, old and new, which, owing to the caesuras separating them, have become incommensurable.”[70] What is necessary, rather, is a third space of translation. Shayegan finds Homi Bhabha’s formulation of this third space congenial to his own understanding. He cites a line from Bhabha’s The Location of Culture: “The interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy.”[71] For Shayegan, fragmentation, interconnectivity, and in-betweenness are no longer the conditions for marginal identities, but a new way of being in the world.

It might seem that Shayegan is advocating a kind of postmodern multiculturalism or cultural relativism. Quite the contrary. For him, multiculturalism is predicated on reducing, or rather reifying, cultures (and by extension identities) into fixed entities. In articulating his critique, Shayegan writes, “multiculturalism tends to become a kind of identity politics where the concept of culture is inevitably confused with ethnic identity.”[72] In the long run, he argues, such an obsession with identities and fetishization of the minority moral rights proves not only “intellectually sterile” but, more dangerously, “politically suicidal.”[73] Shayegan condemns “die-hard multiculturalists” for essentializing cultures by valorizing their assumed singularity.[74]

In his thinking, identitarianism, either in the form of a naive confidence conferred by an imagined superiority, or in the form of withdrawal resulting from a sense of inferiority, must be overcome. He condemns identitarianism in a scathing critique: “In their excess of self-assertion, they produced opposite and aberrant effects. Rather than re-establishing the specific right to recognition, they led to delusional fantasies whereby myth merges with reality.”[75]

He is equally critical of cultural relativism. In a relativist world, each culture tries to claim its particular identity at the expense of others.[76] By overdetermining cultural distinctions, one risks essentializing cultures altogether.[77] Although each culture is constructed upon a particular historical trajectory, none has rigid boundaries. In order to repudiate the essentialization of cultures and to evade identitarian pitfalls, Shayegan proposes the concept of interculturalité (interculturalism). Interculturalism is predicated on the porosity of cultural boundaries. Instead of cultural antagonisms and resentments, Shayegan advocates a dialogical construction of new identities.[78]

He uses the French construct l’entre-deux (literally, between the two) to characterize in-betweenness.[79] Thus, he situates the following concepts in a metonymic relationship to demonstrate their structural resemblance: “I am interested,” he says in La conscience métisse, “in plural identities, zone of hybridization, virtualization, métis consciousness, in short in everything that characterizes our kaleidoscopic world.”[80]

Shayegan’s Ambivalent Relationship to Terre de mirages

Unlike what might be expected from a novel titled Terre de mirages, with its cover featuring the silhouette of a desolate woman sitting in a desert, the book is not a romance. It is true that the characters are fictional and the storyline is about their romantic relationship. But, at its core, the book is Shayegan’s attempt at expressing in a different genre his own fascination—namely, the encounter between dissimilar worlds. Although the book is written in the form of an epistolary novel, the publisher (Éditions de l’Aube) does not classify it under the category of novels. It is part of the collection Regards croisés, co-directed by Marion Hennebert and Manon Viard. This collection is primarily dedicated to the literary work of French-speaking authors who share their exilic experiences.[81]

The novel brings two trajectories into a single frame: Shayegan’s philosophical thought and his personal formation. The adventurous path traversed by the protagonists can be squarely mapped onto Shayegan’s odyssey into the comparative analysis of cultures. More importantly, the novel is a turning point in his oeuvre, functioning as a hinge upon which his thinking turns. Many of the conceptual propositions gestured toward here are later developed in his critical work.

I identify three stages in Shayegan’s oeuvre apropos the question of encounter: confluence of compatible horizons, confrontation of an incompatible episteme, and reconciliation of dissimilar ontologies.[82] In the first stage, Shayegan examines the encounter between compatible worlds. His doctoral work with Corbin examines the confluences of the Indian philosophical and religious traditions with Persian Sufism through their shared ontological, cosmological, and metaphysical horizons. For him, Dara Shokuh’s Majma-ul-Bahrain (The Confluence of the Two Seas) was the apotheosis of cultural hybridity. This period, in which he wrote primarily in Persian, spans from the end of his doctoral work, 1967–68, to the Iranian Revolution, 1978–79.[83]

In the second period, roughly between 1977–78 to 1992, he is fascinated with the question of meeting between heterogeneous worlds.[84] Shayegan uses his comparative skills to formulate a critique of reified identities, disenchanted modernity, and religious ideologies. He examines the encounter between the putatively incompatible worlds of the Orient and the Occident[85] in three volumes: Asiya dar barabar-i Gharb (Tehran, 1977); Les illusions de l’identité (Paris, 1992); and Le regard mutilé, schizophrénie culturelle : pays traditionnels face à la modernité (Paris, 1989). Disenchanted with the Iranian Revolution, he also formulates his critique of the “ideologization of religion” in Qu’est-ce qu’une révolution religieuse? (Paris, 1982).

In the third period, from 1992 to 2018, Shayegan moves from diagnosing cultural schizophrenia to taming it. After years of bouncing between dissimilar worlds, he accepts in-betweenness as a space to be cherished. He begins to not only appreciate hybridity, nomadism, and mixed consciousness, but to promote them as the appropriate subjective conditions for a “kaleidoscopic world.”[86] He no longer defends Oriental spirituality against the disenchantment of modernity, as he did in the first period; nor does he applaud the West for its technological progress without recognizing the malaise that comes with that progress. He wants to create a new hybrid identity by reappropriating the most illustrious aspects of both cultures.

Despite this critical gaze toward the West, Shayegan always admires the critical core of the Enlightenment, when the West reevaluated its own taken-for-granted concepts. Shayegan takes this critical core as a universal value.[87] Openness, charitable critique, and lucidity are principles that should be cultivated. In this third period, Shayegan talks about hope. Instead of pointing to cultural differences in order to reveal their flaws and unconscious biases, Shayegan is in search of reconciliation.[88] La conscience métisse (Paris, 2012), encapsulates this phase of his work. Furthermore, it is in this third period that Shayegan turns to poetry as yet another way of examining cultures.[89] Incidentally, Shayegan’s work on five pillars of Persian poetry, in Panj iqlīm-i ḥuẓūr, pays special attention to Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207–73) and Sufi metaphysical thought more broadly. I suggest that Rumi’s three stages— I was raw (kham budam), I was cooked (pokhte shodam), and I was burned (sokhtam)—correspond to the three stages of transformation for Shayegan, as well as to the three stages of the novel. Perhaps the bitter ending of the novel should not be interpreted as a defeat of exilic love, but as its ultimate sublimation.

Shayegan Disguised as Kaveh

The exchange of letters between two distant lovers is not merely Shayegan’s thought process in developing his theory of cultural encounters; the story can be read as his personal struggle with identity. In an interview entitled “Terre de mirages,” Lila Azam Zanganeh challenges Shayegan about an evident conflict in his intellectual trajectory.[90] Reflecting on his forty years of writing, Shayegan identifies his work as a symptom.[91] “Without being aware of it, I was inhabited by two contradictory tendencies [referring to the ‘logic’ of a magico-mythical world and the mode of thinking integral to ‘modernity’],” he continues, “I was, in other words, ‘schizophrenic.’”[92] This is not merely a novel by Shayegan, reflecting on possibilities of overcoming a kind of bipolar cultural psyche, but a book for Shayegan—that is, a site for the reconfiguration of a hybrid identity. As a thinker of the periphery, he is well-aware of the temptation of “indomitable atavisms.” In La conscience métisse, he denounces the obsession with a closed identity by framing it as a “mental ghetto.”[93] Elsewhere, Shayegan welcomes the idea of a critical self-dialogue, where one comes to recognize their hybridity, the interconnectedness of their sense of the self to multiple, overlapping identities.[94] In Terre de Mirages, Shayegan tests his theory of cultural psychotherapy by recounting a story that constructs an image of cultural hybridity.

The novel goes beyond symbolizing cultural particularities, the differences between the Orient and the Occident, more broadly, and between Persian and French culture, more specifically. I suggest that one can read the novel as a story where Shayegan converses with his alter ego. As the story provides clues about the life trajectory and the genealogy of its protagonists, one gathers that the main character is none other than Shayegan himself.[95] The events and their chronology match those of Shayegan: his childhood in an ethnically mixed household and the hybrid cultural milieu of his parental home in the forties, his cosmopolitan education in the fifties and sixties, and his crisscrossed journeys in the seventies and eighties.[96]

But why would Shayegan use France (as a cultural and national counterpart) and a French woman (as an interlocutor) in dealing with his in-between identity? Isn’t the story that is the inverse of his own struggle a way of exploring the universality of the problem of cultural schizophrenia?

It seems that Shayegan develops the character Marianne as his feminine alter ego. She is a learned woman, with tremendous interest in the Persian culture. She has studied “oriental languages in Paris.”[97] More specifically, Marianne studied the Islamic art of the Mongols in India. Shayegan himself studied Sanskrit and comparative philosophy with a particular interest in the Mongol era. It was due to her research that Marianne traveled to Iran, where she met Kaveh. Not only is Shayegan weaving the intellectual genealogy of the heroine to his own trajectory, but by constructing the narrative within a Franco-Persian frame, he also shows the affinities between the two milieus.[98] Marianne’s father was an orientalist, “infatuated with Indo-Persian Mongolian art.” Her father, who was a descendent of nobility (noblesse de robe), had a “rare collection of Persian manuscripts.”[99] He was a disciple of the famous eighteenth-century French orientalist Anquetil-Duperron, who “discovered the Persian translation of Dara Shokuh’s Upanishads.”[100] It should not come as a surprise that Dara Shokuh was the central figure in Shayegan’s doctoral dissertation.[101] Hence, it is not only Kaveh (elite Persians like Shayegan himself) who is in love with Marianne (French culture); the fascination is mutual.[102]

A Critique

While the novel skillfully narrativizes the process in which one could come to terms with exilic and hybrid subjectivities, it suffers from certain shortcomings.

First, it reiterates stereotyped gender roles. It seems that Kaveh is the one who assumes the dominant position. He appears to be more confident—in his wisdom and his interpretations. The novel gives the impression that Marianne is the one who needs to come to terms with her in-betweenness.[103] “Despite my good will,” Marianne bemoans, “I did not learn this acrobatic art of living in the middle [. . .] I’m still too stiff for mental gymnastics.”[104] This is ironic. Toward the end of the novel, Marianne suggests that—although “both came out transformed,” and although they have arrived at the same conclusion but from different paths—she has been able to overcome her ambivalence. Kaveh admits that he has been stuck in a “mental ghetto” as he is still trapped in an ethnic enclosure. [105]

Metaphorically, Kaveh likens Marianne to Paris. One might find this association sexist, especially when he writes: “I have always identified your beauty, your whims, your mood swings as well as the ambiguity of your character, with the city where you were born.”[106] It seems as if Shayegan is reproducing the nineteenth-century notion of hysteria, where emotional excess was deemed feminine.

Second, the novel exhibits certain formal limitations. Although it is an attempt at writing in a different genre, it remains close to Shayegan’s analytical writing. Furthermore, the story is overwhelmed with cultural theory, philosophical speculations, and terminology borrowed from cultural studies. It seems that the two protagonists are present only to symbolize and represent. Shayegan seems more concerned with laying out the putative and contested cultural boundaries than with developing the characters themselves.[107] Marianne and Kaveh are allegories for two civilizations. Thus, everything remains allegorical. For example, there are a few scenes where Shayegan depicts intimate relations. Even these intimate episodes are more about the problematic status of sexuality in Iranian culture than they are about the characters’ personal rapport. Because Shayegan pays more attention to the analytical content than to its aesthetic form, it is difficult to appreciate the book as a literary novel with an engaging storyline.

Furthermore, by tracing a selective genealogy, Shayegan constructs an image of cultural hybridity in which the French and Persian cultures appear to be congruent. On the one hand, the cosmopolitan identities of Marianne and Kaveh suggest that the affection between the two elite intellectuals is the sublimation of a prior, genuine interest in the cultural and philosophical production of two civilizations. On the other, Shayegan highlights particular moments in the history of Iran and France to highlight their historical similarities.

Next, and most crucially to Shayegan’s critical project, the novel inevitably falls into the very traps that Shayegan aims to denounce—namely, essentialization, self-orientalization, and romanticization. Furthermore, although Shayegan is conscious of generalizing deductions, the novel, nevertheless, suffers from sweeping cultural generalizations.[108] To allegorize the two civilizations, he often begins with stereotypical accounts, depicting the Orient as sentimental and the Occident as rational.[109] The binary essentialization carries through. The Orient is associated with a penchant for poetry, obscurantism, and sexual modesty, not to mention lazy and carefree attitudes. The Occident is linked to disenchanted modernity, clarity of thought, sexual promiscuity, determinism, and so forth.[110]

This brings me to another crucial point. Shayegan is a defender of “universal” values, which take the predictable form of Eurocentrism. Furthermore, he refers to the “cultural exception” of France with much admiration: “the French,” he writes, “are the people of culture par excellence.”[111] Shayegan seems to have internalized and replicated European biases in his own scholarly work. While Persian poetry was at the summit of cultural production in the Orient, Shayegan was disenchanted by the intellectual lethargy and a kind of withdrawal from reality which plagued Iran after the sixteenth century.

Although Shayegan positions his notion of cultural schizophrenia and métissage in relation to other iterations of similar concepts, there are a few connections that remain absent. One finds traces of the work of Peter McLaren (cultural imaginaries),[112] François Laplantine and Alexis Nouss (Le métissages),[113] Homi Bhabha (third space),[114] Serge Gruzinski (La pensée métisse),[115] and Charles Taylor (multiculturalism)[116] in Shayegan’s oeuvre. Although these references are crucial, I cannot but think of the relevance of Alain Badiou’s ontology of the event for Shayegan’s thinking on the taming of cultural schizophrenia.[117] Furthermore, for Badiou, the construction of love is a subjective process similar to what we see in Shayegan’s novel.[118]

Lastly, Shayegan’s romanticized remedy for cultural clashes is thoroughly individualist and remains constrained to the privileged realm of philosophical and literary speculations. Not only is there no reference to social class in the novel, but the question of class struggle remains marginal in his oeuvre. It is no surprise that, like Shayegan, Kaveh is a wealthy member of the elite surrounded by other privileged fellows.[119] In dissociating cultural problems from political or economic failures, Shayegan remains complicit with neoliberal politics.[120]


Terre de mirages is an odyssey into the unsettling twilight zone of exilic love. Through poignant letters, the distant lovers contemplate their forsaken journey. The book is Shayegan’s singular attempt at writing in a different genre about his central theme of inquiry: the construction of a third space for the taming of hybrid cultural psyches. Through recounting a story of a failed relationship, Shayegan puts to the test his theory of cultural psychotherapy. Shayegan shows that hybrid identities, mixed consciousness, and cultural interbreeding are not particular states of migrants and exiles, but the universal condition of a kaleidoscopic world. The story is a site for the construction of a new subjectivity that goes beyond the suspense and liminality of in-betweenness.

The book marks a pivotal point in Shayegan’s work by disavowing his prior characterization of cultural schizophrenia as a pathology. The fragmented psyche is not something to be fought; it needs to be tamed. Modern identity is not one that flattens its inner struggles, but one that patches together its fragments to form a complex tapestry. Not only does cultural schizophrenia name the universal condition of modern subjectivity as such, but it also offers a more expansive and creative way of being in the world.

The exilic journey depicted in Terre de mirages mirrors the author’s personal struggle with his hybrid identity. As the story unfolds, one realizes that Kaveh’s trajectory maps onto the life of Shayegan himself. Furthermore, Shayegan symbolizes his ambivalent love for French culture in a feminine figure: Marianne can be read as his alter ego. The novel serves not only as a narrative device but also as a talking cure. The topography signified by the title of the novel is suggestive. Terre de mirages is a reflective surface, and its story makes clear how writing and self-fashioning are interwoven. Just as a mirage is an ambiguous redoubling whose perception depends on a perpetual subjective engagement with its becoming, so too exilic love can be sustained only in a space of constant remaking.

[1]For Freud, therapy requires the emotional engagement of both the analyst and the analysant (the person who is being analyzed). Central to Freud’s theory is this emotional charge in analyst–analysant relationship. Letter to Jung, December 6, 1906, in The Freud/Jung Letters: The Correspondence between Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung, ed. William McGuire, trans. Ralph Manheim and R. F. C. Hull (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 12–13.

[2]Michiel Arnoud Cor de Vaan, “exile,” Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 196.

[3]Vaan, Etymological Dictionary, 196.

[4]Reflecting on Sufi tradition, Shayegan writes: “Mais sous quelque forme que l’Ange veuille bien se manifester, sa fonction pédagogique est la même : éveiller l’âme en tant qu’Étrangère en ce monde et susciter la conjonction de la bi-unité de l’âme avec son Alter-Ego céleste.” (“But, in whatever form the Angel manifests itself, his pedagogical function is the same: to awaken the soul as a Foreigner in this world and to bring about the conjunction of the bi-unity of the soul with its celestial Alter-Ego.”) All translations are mine unless otherwise stated. Daryush Shayegan, Henry Corbin : penseur de l’islam spirituel (Paris: Albin Michel, 2011), 100.

[5]I am using she to follow those (including Bhabha) who argue that for a long time, the masculine pronouns have been used. It is a gesture to raise the question of why he seems to be so natural, but she invites a pause.

[6]Al-Ḥusayn ibn Manṣur Ḥallaj, Hallaj: Poems of a Sufi Martyr, trans. Carl W. Ernst (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2018), 167.

[7]While essentialized notions of the Orient or the Occident are somehow obsolete, I use them to be faithful to the novel.

[8]I am referring to identitarianism as an ideology that constructs forms of collective identifications with rigid and exclusionary boundaries. Identitarianism often foregrounds mythical ideas about race and imagined purity of origins for cultures. In its historical frame, the ideology of identitarianism emerged as a reaction toward the “cultural Marxism” of the 1960s as well as the presumed domination of multiculturalism. In its more contemporary iterations, it lends itself to far-right nationalist politics. Jean-Yves Camus and Nicolas Lebourg, Les droites extrêmes en Europe (Paris: Editions Seuil, 2015).

[9]Ramin Jahanbegloo, “Shayegan, Daryush,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE, 2021,

[10]Laurent Testot, “Daryush Shayegan : Philosophe sans frontières,” Sciences humaines 240 (2012):

[11]Jahanbegloo, “Shayegan, Daryush.”

[12]According to Jahanbegloo, Shayegan was inspired “by the nativist vision of Iran, based on a return to Shīʿī philosophy, with a particular inclination to Heidegger (d. 1976), Corbin, and the Iranian mystics.” Jahanbegloo’s statement is problematic in two ways. First, Shayegan’s vision of Persian Sufi tradition is comparative; following his advisor (Corbin) and Louis Massignon (Corbin’s mentor), they collectively and successively mapped a cosmopolitan genealogy for Iranian Sufism. Shayegan’s doctoral work already marks a departure from Hassan Nasr’s perennial philosophy as well as a Shi‘a-centric vision of Sufism. Second, the intellectual foundation of the work that was published in this period was shaped in the late sixties. His Hindouisme et Soufisme was his doctoral dissertation, which, with some minor adjustments, was presented to the Faculty of Letters of the University of Paris in May 1968.

[13]Daryush Shayegan, La conscience métisse (Paris: Albin Michel, 2012), 44.

[14]In Freudian psychoanalysis, the term talking cure refers to the therapeutic process that is enabled by linguistic processes. The analysant (patient) discharges some repressed (unconscious) drive energies through establishing a link between fragments from an altered state of consciousness and memories that are accessible to their conscious mind. The cathartic articulation of this link through speaking (or writing) is called talking cure. Jeffery Berman puts it in a nutshell: talking cure refers to “the magical power of language to relieve mental suffering.” See his Talking Cure: Literary Representations of Psychoanalysis (New York: New York University Press, 1987), 2.

[15]In La conscience métisse, Shayegan lays out the parameters of his notion of cultural psychoanalysis. It entails unraveling mental blockages, deconstructing hybrid and composite concepts that have built up through an insensible act, and disentangling the muddled and confused registers [of knowledge]. “Dénouer les blocages mentaux, déconstruire les concepts hybrides que l’on a édifiés souvent par un acte inconscient, démêler les registre confondus, c’est effectuer une sorte de psychanalyse culturelle.” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 119.

[16]Daryush Shayegan, Terre de mirages, Maryam Askari, collaborator (Paris: Éditions de l’Aube, 2004), 49–50.

[17]Kaveh expresses his deep affection by ending his first letter with the following line: “Je t’embrasse affectueusement, ton vieil ami Kaveh.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 5.

[18]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 29.

[19]“Nous nous aimons, tu t’ennuies de moi, toi tu me manques douloureusement, on est imbus de nostalgie, de regret, mais on cherche des faux-fuyants.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 94.

[20]When a culture withdraws into itself, Shayegan argues, it turns into a drug, into “a scaffolding of self-forgetting.” “Une culture qui se replie trop sur elle-même devient à la longue une drogue, voire un échafaudage d’oubli de soi.”  Terre de mirages, 14.

[21]“Mon séjour dans ton beau pays m’a appris au moins une chose : il est très difficile de sortir du carcan des habitudes, des moules de la pensée qui sont devenus souvent, à notre insu, une camisole de force qui nous cloue à nos atavismes les plus indomptables. L’étonnement que suscite la rencontre avec l’autre fait office de filtre. C’est à travers ce filtre-là que je me suis jetée dans mon aventure persane, c’est ce filtre-là qui décanta mes illusions, qui allégera mes résistances, me fit même croire que j’avais touché le fond alors que je ne faisais que flotter à la surface des choses.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 24.

[22]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 10.

[23]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 11.

[24]“J’ai voulu comprendre le sens de ces reproches, je m’y suis appliquée et j’ai fini par comprendre que ce que tu nous reprochais ne relevait pas tant des individus que du type de civilisation à laquelle nous appartenons.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 11.

[25]“Depuis des siècles, vous lisez les mêmes poèmes (peut-être faudrait-il que quelqu’un éclaircisse votre relation pathologique avec ce genre de pensée), vous les apprenez par coeur, vous les récitez à haute voix, vous vous y référez à tout bout de champ. Pour chaque situation vous avez déjà un proverbe préconçu ou quelques vers sortis tout frais de l’arsenal ancestral, et pour chaque misère humaine un remède miraculeux. Rien en somme qui provoque l’étonnement, qui effondre les certitudes, rien qui bouleverse les fondements de l’être. Mais cette solidité apparente est-elle une constance de caractère, ou bien une pétrification? Cette suite fastidieuse dans les idées, est-ce une sagesse ou bien un ennui ritualisé?” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 27.

[26]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 13.

[27]“Ne sais tu pas que l’Orient et l’Occident sont deux pôles opposés qui ne se rencontreront jamais? And the twain shall never meet.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 103.

[28]“J’ai pris conscience également que pour le moment leur coexistence était quasi impossible.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 11.

[29]I refuse to attribute the notion of in-betweenness and “third space” to Homi Bhabha. The reason for this resistance is that Shayegan had already developed this notion of cultural in-betweenness in the late 1980s when Bhabha’s The Location of Culture was published in 1994. The French term, l’entre-deux, employed by Shayegan in his 1977 L’Asie face à l’Occident, is already a kind of third space. The subtle point is that Shayegan moved from being critical toward the in-betweenness (l’entre-deux) of “traditional” civilizations in L’Asie face à l’Occident to see it in Le regard mutilé : schizophrénie culturelle : pays traditionnels face à la modernité (Paris: Éditions de l’Aube, 1989) in a more positive light. The space between the two was no longer something negative, but a space suffused with possibilities.  

[30]“J’ai l’impression que nous avons à présent créé un espace en suspens entre nous, un espace invisible aux autres, mais qui a ses propres repères, et c’est à l’intérieur de ce monde que, télescopent sans cesse nos regardes, nous essayons de démêler l’inextricable lacis de cette intimité unique que fut notre amour.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 22.

[31]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 49.

[32]“Tu viens de me secouer, de me faire sortir de ma torpeur.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 44.

[33]“J’avais cessé d’être une française sérieuse mais je n’étais pas devenue pour autant une Persane insouciante. Voilà! je n’étais ni l’une ni l’autre, j’étais une migrante en proie aux métamorphoses.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 18.

[34]“J’étais devenu fondamentalement différente [. . .] Une deuxième découverte : si je t’avais suivi, c’est que sans que j’en sois vraiment consciente, j’étais différente déjà.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 104.

[35]“En pénétrant dans ces mondes, tu m’inities à leur face cachée – ce qui était une évidence devenait un paradoxe, ce qui était banal devenait un fait insolite.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 5.

[36]“Enfin une troisième découverte : j’étais vraiment dans une sorte d’intermonde où tout était déplacé, et c’est sur ce terrain glissant et effroyablement instable que je devais construire ma vie.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 104.

[37]“Je ne sais plus si nos lettres sont les preuves de notre amour mutuel ou quelque stratagème habile qui ressemblerait davantage à une psychothérapie.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 45.

[38]“Il est vrai que j’ai une âme conflictuelle, on dirait deux forces antagonistes qui tirent mon être à hue et à dia. Ce que l’un veut, l’autre le refuse, ce que celui-ci réclame de tout coeur, l’autre s’en soucie comme d’une guigne.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 31.

[39]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 45.

[40]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 22.

[41]“Je me demande parfois si le fait qu’il soit Afghan ne me sert pas de substitut à ton absence.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 127.

[42]I am referring to the Lacanian notion of subject as “empty.” Slavoj Žižek, How to Read Lacan (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007), 54–60.

[43]“Et puis il y a toi donc je porte toujours les délicieux stigmates dans mon âme; il y a enfin l’amour charnel, possessif, intransigeant, tyrannique qui est une malédiction en soi.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 127.

[44]“Elle a mené, comme toutes les jeunes femmes de sa génération qui ont vécu dans des continents très différents, une vie assez mouvementée. Mariée et divorcée a présent, elle a quitté la côte Ouest des États-Unis pour s’installer tout d’abord en France, puis en Iran, et enfin nulle part. Car elle a la bougeotte, elle ne cesse de se déplacer au gré de ses fantaisies. Elle a un tempérament poétique et compose de temps en temps en français des vers pénétrants mais assez maladroits, alors qu’elle maitrise parfaitement l’anglais.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 111.

[45]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 132.

[46]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 134.

[47]“La grande distance qui s’était instaurée entre nous s’est tout a coup rétrécie. … Non! Je ne veux plus me taire, je veux que tout le monde sache l’immensité de mon amour.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 139.

[48]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 165–66.

[49]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 24.

[50]Later, I will pinpoint the phrase schizophrénie culturelle in Shayegan’s oeuvre.

[51]Laurent Testot writes that Shayegan used the term zigzag to characterize his trajectory. Testot, “Daryush Shayegan.”

[52]Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 44.

[53]“Comme nous vivons dans les espaces interstitiels des mondes enchevêtrés, nous sommes devenus nous-mêmes des êtres multiples, pluriels — si tu veux, fractures.” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 95.

[54]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 54.

[55]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 55.

[56]“J’ai essayé de suivre pas à pas ton évolution : le refus, l’angoisse, le dépaysement et enfin la déclaration sans ambages de ta décision.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 56.

[57]Daryush Shayegan, Cultural Schizophrenia: Islamic Societies Confronting the West, trans. John Howe (London: Syracuse University Press, 1997), vii.

[58]Shayegan, Cultural Schizophrenia, 100.

[59]While Shayegan cherishes the generative capacities of hybridity—especially in the context of hybrid identities—he, nonetheless, denounces the notion of a hybrid idea. The latter is a mélange that needs to be deconstructed into its often-incompatible elements that have unconsciously been added up. He refers to himself as a thinker who (at an earlier stage in his life) was caught between two incompatible horizons, his analytic mind torn between two modalities of knowledge (i.e., the Koranic notion of prophetic light and the Cartesian cogito). Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 204.

[60]“Les contradictions auxquelles se réfèrent ces livres peuvent se traduire soit sous la forme de fausse conscience au niveau du discours politique, soit de schizophrénie épistémologique au niveau de l’individu.” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 205.

[61]Daryush Shayegan, Qu’est-ce qu’une révolution religieuse? (Paris: Albin Michel, 1991), 216–31.

[62]Isacque Graeben and Steuart Henderson Britt, Jews in A Gentile World: The Problems of Anti-Semitism (New York: Macmillan, 1942).

[63]Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture (London: Cumberlege USW, 1954), 12–17.

[64]Isaac Yetiv, “L’Aliénation dans le roman maghrébin contemporain,” Revue des mondes Musulmans et de la Méditerranée, no. 17 (1974): 149–58. The term schizophrénie culturelle appeared earlier, in 1967, in a work on theology, but that subject is of no interest or relevance to this paper.

[65]What makes Yetiv’s article relevant to Shayegan’s novel is that the works interrogated in the article are primarily autobiographical. The authors of the novels in Yetiv’s essay are alienated due to a “shocking encounter between two different civilizations,” one of the colonized, and the other of the colonizer. The angst experienced by these authors has to do with their psyche being pulled apart from two opposing directions. Yetiv, “L’Aliénation dans le roman,” 150.

[66]It is worth mentioning that Fanon combined Lacanian psychoanalysis with Du Bois’s “Double Consciousness.”

[67]Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Capitalisme et schizophrénie : l’anti-oedipe (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1972).

[68]Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen Lane (New York: Penguin Books, 1972), 5.

[69]Fredric Jameson, The Ideologies of Theory (London: Verso Books, 2008), 424.

[70]Shayegan, Cultural Schizophrenia, 76.

[71]Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 124. Cf. Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 1–2.

[72]“Le multiculturalisme tend à devenir une sorte de politique identitaire où le concept de culture se confond immanquablement avec l’identité ethnique, ce qui risque d’essentialiser l’idée de culture en surdéterminant ses distinctions.” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 35.

[73]Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 35.

[74]Shayegan’s rejection of particular identities is reminiscent of Elizabeth Grosz’s critique of recognition. In Becoming Undone, Grosz writes: “The subject seeks to be known and to be recognized, but only through its reliance on others, including the very others who function to collectively subjugate the subject [. . .] once the subject is recognized as such, what is created through this recognition? [. . .] We wait to be recognized instead of making something, inventing something, which will enable us to recognize ourselves, or more interestingly, to eschew recognition altogether. I am not what others see in me, but what I do, what I make. I become according to what I do, not who I am. Linked to the preeminence of the subject and of concepts of subjectivity is the privileging of the epistemological (questions of discourse, knowledge, truth, and scientificity) over the ontological (question of the real, of matter, of force, or energy).” Elizabeth Grosz, Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 84.

[75]“Les multiculturalistes purs et durs ont suscité de la sorte un racisme à rebours. Dans leurs excès d’auto-affirmation, ils ont produit des effets inverses et aberrants. Plutôt que de rétablir le droit spécifique à la reconnaissance, ils ont débouché sur des fantasmes délirants ou le mythe se confondait avec la réalité.” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 245.

[76]“Dans le monde de relativisme où nous vivons, chaque culture à ses revendications propres : sa façon de voir le monde, sa façon d’apprécier des droits de l’homme, sa manière de définir la souveraineté des peuples et des droits des citoyens.” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 34.

[77]“Les multiculturaliste militants aussi viennent ajouter leur voix à ces protestations : ils parlent de ‘terreur blanche,’ des méfits pernicieux de l’eurocentrisme qui, selon eux, opère part opposition binaires, blanc/noir, bien/mal, normal/déviant.” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 34–35.

[78]In 1977, Shayegan reintroduced the notion of “dialogue between civilizations,” as a counterweight to Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations.

[79]The notion of in-between as a productive force takes multiple forms in Shayegan’s work: metamorphosis and bricolage (formal expressions), plasticity (as an artist form), after-tomorrow (après-demain) and not-yet (pas-encore) as temporal conditions, l’économie interconnecté (for interconnected global economy), and métissage (racial hybridity).

[80]“Comment peut-on intégrer cette situation de ‘l’entre-deux’ dans un ordre mondial? [. . .]  Je suis intéressé aux identités plurielles, à la zone d’hybridation, à la virtualisation, à la conscience métisse, bref à tout ce qui caractérise notre monde kaléidoscopique et qui ne ressemble en rien à l’idée que nous nous faisons jadis de notre ‘être-dans-le-monde.’” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 17.

[81]“Regards croisés,” Éditions de l’Aube, (accessed 10 February 2021).

[82]This is not a chronological classification, as some of the themes overlap or are repeated.

[83]Three publications mark this period: Adyān va maktab-hā-yi falsafī-yi Hind, 2 vols. (Tehran: Tehran University; Farzan Rooz, 1346/1967); Buthā-yi dhihnī va khātira-yi azalī (Tehran: Amir Kabir University; Farzan Rooz, 1355/1976); and Hindouisme et soufisme. Une lecture du confluent des deux océans (Paris: Albin Michel, 1979).

[84]Although he moved to Paris in 1980, he primarily wrote in French during this period until his return to Tehran in 1992.

[85]In this binarization, he refers not only to East and West in terms of cultures, but also to Global South and North in the politico-economic sense.

[86]“I am interested in plural identities, in the area of hybridization, in virtualization, in mixed consciousness (conscience métisse), in short in everything that characterizes our kaleidoscopic world and which bears no resemblance to the idea that we once had of our own ‘to be-in-the-world.’” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 17.

[87]As represented in his Au-delà du miroir, Diversité culturelle et unité des valeurs (La Tour-d’Aigues, France: Éditions de l’Aube, 2002).

[88]This is seen in three books of his: Sous les ciels du monde, entretiens avec Ramin Jahanbegloo (Paris: Éditions du Félin, 1992); La lumière vient de l’Occident. Le réenchantement du monde et la pensée nomade (La Tour-d’Aigues, France: Éditions de l’Aube, 2001); and Terre de mirages.

[89]Panj iqlim-i ḥuẓūr (Tehran: Farhang-i Moaser, 1393/2014–15); L’âme poétique persane (Paris: Albin Michel, 2017); Junūn-i hushyārī (Tehran: Nazar, 1395/2016–17); Marcel Proust : Fānūs-i jādūʾī-yi zamān (Tehran: Farhang-i Moaser, 1396/2017–18).

[90]“Bearing a lens on your oeuvre, one would be surprised by the variety of your preoccupations. How do you explain this ‘conflict of interest?’” “Terre de mirages,” interview by Lila Azam Zanganeh, Conscience métisse, 203.

[91]Here, Shayegan talks about implementing two types of interpretations in his work, each of which is based on a distinct “consciousness.” One might refer to this duality as “double consciousness.” Although I am not referring to either the Du Boisian conception or its Fanonian iteration, one can see the connections.

[92]“A vrai dire je ne l’ai pas fait exprès ; j’étais sans doute habité par ces deux tendances contradictoires, j’étais, en d’autres termes, ‘schizophrénique’, sans que j’en aie vraiment conscience.” Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 204.

[93]It is interesting that Shayegan uses the socio-spatial metaphor of ghetto to refer to withdrawal to cultural enclosures (repli sur soi). Incidentally, the etymology of the term exile also refers to a place of banishment. Conscience métisse, 219. Cf. Daryush Shayegan and Ramin Jahanbegloo, Sous les ciels du monde : entretiens avec Ramin Jahanbegloo (Paris: Éditions du Félin, 2011).

[94]Shayegan, Conscience métisse, 43.

[95]Only one piece of evidence does not fit into this hypothesis. In passing, Kaveh mentions that he grew up in the United States: “J’ai grandi en Amérique.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 112.

[96]For example, Marianne recalls that Kaveh was a student in Sweden in the 1950s, and that he has “perfect mastery” of French. The story also contains a couple of references to Kaveh’s mother, who was a descendent of the Georgian aristocracy. Furthermore, in a conversation with his mother, Kaveh hints at the exilic condition of Iranians: “We are the epitome of the broken family and we are not the only one. The Iranian diaspora litter the entire planet with its debris.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 60.

[97]“Tu l’as étudié autrefois à l’École des langues orientales à Paris.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 55.

[98]To substantiate these affinities, he also looks at architecture. Living in Paris, for example, he compares it to Isfahan, arguing that one is the antipode of the other vis-à-vis dreams. He cites Baudelaire’s image of Paris as a “swarming city, a city full of dreams.” Isfahan is, on the other hand, “an ‘imaginal’ vision in suspense in the space of dreams.” Conscience métisse, 185. Baudelaire opens his poem “Les Sept Vieillards” with the following verses: “Fourmillante cité, cité pleine de rêves, / Où le spectre en plein jour raccroche le passant!” Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mai, ed. Jacques Crepet and Georges Blin (Paris: Corti, 1942), 97–100. Quote on p. 97.

[99]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 81.

[100]Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 82.

[101]“Mon père avait suivi les traces d’Anquetil-Duperron, un orientaliste français parti aux Indes au dix-huitième siècle pour étudier le pahlavi. Il avait traduit en latin l’Avesta, le livre sacré des Zoroastriens, puis avait fait la découverte de la traduction persane des Upanishads de Dara Shokuh, qu’il avait également rendus en latin.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 83.

[102]Can love for a French woman symbolize his love for France (and Paris)? After talking about his education in Tehran, where he learned French, Kaveh explains why for many Iranians “Paris was the ‘queen of cities.’” It was attractive, or perhaps seductive, because it was simultaneously “sulphurous and learned [savante].” It was a city, Kaveh writes, where “three contradictory sensations were intertwined: the forbidden, temptation, and beauty.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 92.

[103]Marianne recalls a long monologue in which Kaveh censures her for not being willing to embrace in-betweenness: “You are arrogant and naively confident of yourself because you are stuck in a single register of knowledge. You believe that you are deciphering the world with your tight reading grids, without recognizing that these grids are terribly limiting. You neglect the vertigo of abandonment, the chaos of drunkenness, and the risk of change of scenery. It is impossible for you to be here and there, at one and the same time, to navigate between the crossed worlds. You do not know the in-between, which is the most difficult position to adopt. [An in-between space is difficult to sustain] since nothing is solid, clear, linear. It is the domain of chiaroscuro, penumbra, uncertainty, ambiguity.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 17.

[104]“Malgré ma bonne volonté je n’ai pas appris cette art acrobatique qui consiste à vivre dans l’entre-deux. J’y pense souvent, je m’y aventure de temps à autre, mais, que veux-tu, je reste encore trop raide pour de gymnastique mentale.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 20.

[105]“We have been broken, each in their own way. You by abandoning me without worry to an adventure that you believed to be harmless and without great consequences for you; me by wanting to provoke it in order to subdue my internal resistance. We both came out transformed [. . .] I conquered my indistinct inclinations, my vain attempts to escape to finally reach a firm resolution, and as for you, my adorable friend, despite the recent upheavals which have shaken you so deeply, you remain as in yourself you will stay.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 155.

[106]“J’ai toujours identifié ta beauté, tes caprices, tes sautes d’humeur et aussi cette ambiguïté de ton caractère, à la ville ou tu es née et je me suis aperçu qu’il m’est impossible de vous dissocier dans mon esprit; qu’en essayant d’apprivoiser ta ville, je me laisserai apprivoiser par toi; que l’initiation à l’une menait inévitablement à la connaissance de l’autre.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 93.

[107]One needs to read through nearly half of the book (letter 35) to figure out why Marianne was interested in Persian culture. The same goes for Kaveh, who only gradually becomes knowable to the reader. Although this gradual development might be engaging, the narrative has little appeal for someone who is trying to follow how the love between the two is evolving.

[108]“Et comme tu étais très enclin aux généralités, de déductions en déductions, tu t’es mis à discourir sur le délabrement total de l’Occident dans son ensemble.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 17.

[109]As Kaveh attests, Marianne turned “from a European human-rights activist to a Persian mystic.” “Puis je t’ai vue changer graduellement. De l’Européenne militante des droits de l’homme, tu devins mystique.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 14.

[110]The transformation was manifold. To be able to indulge in poetry, Marianne mastered the language. Her perception of time also changed. She was no longer anxious about time; she “became careless, carefree, as if time was lengthening, unraveling, curling up according to your changing moods.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 14.

[111]“La France devient un pays multiculturel, tout en restant le pays de ‘l’exception culturelle’. Tu te souviens de ce que ce ‘chevalier d’esprit’, cet aristocrate balte, d’une grande perspicacité, disait de la France : ‘La grandeur de la France se manifeste la seulement ou la disposition intime de la nature et de l’esprit rayonnant peuvent former une synthèse harmonieuse. Or, cette synthèse n’est autre chose que ce qu’on appelle culture.’ Donc, les Français sont le peuple européen de la culture par excellence.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 78–79.

[112]Peter McLaren, “White Terror and Oppositional Agency: Towards a Critical Multiculturalism,” in Counterpoints 4: Rethinking Media Literacy: A Critical Pedagogy of Representation, ed. Peter McLaren, Rhonda Hammer, David Sholle, and Susan Smith Reilly (New York: NY Lang, 1995), 87–124.

[113]François Laplantine and Alexis Nouss, Métissages : de Archimboldo à zombi (Paris: Pauvert, 2001).

[114]Bhabha, Location of Culture.

[115]Serge Gruzinski, La pensée métisse (Paris: Fayard, 2009).

[116]Charles Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), 25–73.

[117]I would suggest that Terre de mirages itself is an event in the Badiouian sense. Alain Badiou, Being and Event, trans. Oliver Feltham (London: Continuum, 2006).

[118]Badiou rejects “the fusional conception of love.” The same way that Shayegan does not wish to collapse differences between Marianne and Kaveh, Badiou also refutes “suppression of the multiple.” Badiou writes: “Love is not that which makes a One in ecstasy through a Two supposedly given [. . .] Love is not the prostration of the Same on the altar of the Other. I will maintain below that love is not even an experience of the Other. It is an experience of the world, or of the situation, under the post-evental condition that there were Two.” Alain Badiou, “What Is Love?,” in Sexuation, ed. Renata Salecl (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), 263–81. Quotes on p. 267.

[119]The character Kaveh is surrounded by his privileged friends: “Majid, dans son immense jardin, est les contreforts de la chaîne des montagnes [. . .] Notre immense propreté au nord de la ville.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 51.

[120]For Shayegan, social problems were cultural first and political or economic second. What needs to be changed is the way of seeing the world, a change of perspective, not the world itself. Reflecting on his transformation, Kaveh mentions that through the process “nothing has changed except himself.” Shayegan, Terre de mirages, 104.