Parisa Vaziri is an assistant professor of Comparative Literature and Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University. Her first book, Racial Blackness and Indian Ocean Slavery: Iran’s Cinematic Archive is forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press and explores Iranian cinema as a site of historical transmission for global legacies of African enslavement.


“The Voice as History”

Amongst interlocuters, admirers, and critics, Giorgio Agamben’s interest in the political tends to overshadow his arguably equal interest in linguistic signification, the voice, and its relation to history. Peculiarly, for Agamben, the paradigmatic voice, and thus, the paradigmatic opening of history, turns out to be the faltering voice that emanates from the concentration camp—the voice of the drowned, the Muselmänner. What is the relationship between the camp and the opening of history? And how does the repression of this opening constitute what Marc Nichanian, another philosopher of catastrophe, calls the genocidal will of historiographic thought? In this paper, I will follow two contradicting lines of thought that make way for two apparently preposterous claims: that genocide is the origin of history, that history is the origin of genocide. I will then advance a different thought of the voice as history, as it manifests in the ritual relics that trace a global history of African enslavement. In these dispersed cosmologies of language the voice returns linguistic meaning to its fission in a doubled origin: the sonorous origin of the transcendental, and the transcendental origin of the sounded word. But how can “history” name this doubled origin, while simultaneously repressing and displacing it?