An Elephant Missing from a Dark Room: Iran’s Striving for Modernity in a Post-modern Age

This study seeks to re-evaluate the Iranian intellectuals' position towards modernity. Drawing on Rumi’s anecdote of the elephant in the dark room, I have argued that, ever since the Constitutional Revolution, the Iranian intelligentsia has been constantly forced to put off engagement with the philosophical discourse of modernity. As a result of this indecision, the Iranian society has repeatedly fluctuated between blind imitation and mindless hostility towards European modernity. These mood swings, however, have not impeded the importation of technology into Iran, which has thrown the country into an intellectual crisis. Presently, Iran is a “modernoid”, a Frankensteinian society with state-of-the-art communication capabilities, nuclear plants and breakthroughs in stem-cell research alongside human rights violation, tribal dogma, sectarian strife and theocratic despotism. Assuming a proper stance towards Modernity still remains Iran’s most ubiquitous issue while an alarmingly distorted mental image of modernity still persists, as if it were an elephant presented to them in a dark room.
A well-meditated response to the philosophy of Modernity, on behalf of Iranian intellectuals, is so long overdue that the whole question has lost topicality. The deconstruction of binary oppositions such as tradition/modernity and East/West in contemporary critical thought has led to contemplating the crises in modernity and identifying the dialectic in Enlightenment thought from a postmodern stance. I have, thus, concluded that the dark seeds of a lopsided modernity have sprouted into structures much more vacuous and monstrous than Adorno and Horkheimer could have ever imagined. On their path to ‘progress’, Iranians have stepped into the muddy paddle of positivism and scientism; its cultural aftermath. Iranian modernity stands where Europe did a century ago. It is, therefore, crucial for the fourth generation of Iranian intelligentsia to take heed of Critical Theory's -- specifically the Frankfurt School's-- critique of Enlightenment thought, Positivism, Scientism, Capitalism, and Culture Industry so that Iran can find a detour from the horrors that befell modernized Europe in the twentieth century.