Since the dawn of ‘Western’ civilization, it’s been customary for aging pop-intellectuals (or whatever the equivalent role was at a given time) to point to a dichotomy between the East and West. Today, and excuse my polemics, mediocre faux-intellectuals point to a regressive, ecclesiastical East dominated by Imams and oligarchs, and contrast it with a progressive, technocratic, civilized West. WJD, a collection of poetry from Khashayar Mohammadi, is an ethnography of the margins of the Islamicate world, and, in my eyes, a scathing critique of Euro-American reductionism and today’s incarnation of orientalism.
I should note here that, despite having read through the book’s corpus of poetry multiple times, I’m absolutely certain that I’m still missing a lot, and it’s not just because I had to power through one or two of those readings. The hors d’oeuvres of Mohammadi’s work the book serves gives the reader a glimpse into a philosophical mind comparable, at least as a wordsmith, to Nietzsche as a simultaneous master of the canon and idiosyncratic maverick. Folk phenomenology is juxtaposed, sometimes married, to exegesis from Leibniz, and there’s nothing important in the world that Mohammadi fails to treat.
The book begins with “The Naive Sufi,” a sprawling biography of disillusionment. In a dozen or so short pages barely touched by ink, Mohammadi gifts the reader a lifetime of ennui. The second part, “Hafez Displeased” (though not with Mohammadi I’m sure), is seemingly an obituary for a lost golden age. “Hafez Displeased” feels like a masterfully timed and utterly expansive interlude between the first poem and “Raavan”; in many ways, I found this portion, populated with such triumphs as “The Antlered Wine Bearer” and “Black Mountain” the apex of the collection, reading like a catalogue of ethereal lives. Interludes in any mass of art necessarily find themselves on a spectrum with ‘intermission’ at one end and ‘accidental centerpiece’ at the other—for me, WJD’s straddles the latter. A poem in the last part, “Unbecoming: A Psychotic Body Without Organs,” references Deleuze’s concept of the “body without organs”, which scared me a little because I can’t read schizoanalysis.
Returning to the point I made at the start: WJD brings together a gradient of cultural shades that evade any attempt at separation. The poetry is holistic, introducing the oeuvre of Rumi to the ontology of the 21st century. Through an intense examination of psychosis and Sufism (sometimes related, sometimes not), Mohammadi’s work presents something simultaneously momentous and haunting.
WJD comes bundled with The Ocean Dweller, a collection by Saeed Tavanaee Marvi translated by Mohammadi. Without sounding flippant, I also want to say that I found the book’s cover an aesthetic gem, and if I could live my entire life within the confines of its colours and textures I would without a moment of hesitation.
Our thanks to the publisher, Gordon Hill Press, for the review copy.