Toeh Meisami: In Defense of Vulnerability

 Advisor/tutor: Doreen Mende

Independent reviewer: Walid Sadek

Arnhem, June 2013



The basis of this thesis is drawn on the assumption that some images behave and affect like viruses. It attempts to provide the probable reasons for this assimilation by reading and studying a photograph from a personal archive. As it tries to unfold the viral mechanisms inhabited in a specific image it studies the representational form of photography. In reading photographic images and examining the possibilities and probabilities that the medium of photography brings about, this writing benefits from thoughts and reflections of Ronald Barthes, Siegfried Kracauer and Craig Owens on photography, as well as Peggy Phelan's ideas on performative quality of seeing. At the end it examines the probability of protection and prevention in regard to the images which are accused of being viral. For this it has asked help from William. S. Burroughs' reading of the virus and Suely Rolnik's ideas on the poetics of understanding which are able to break the spell of the violent structures that are formed under the influence of the Macro-politics.


Toeh Meisami's paper is dizzying! It runs back and forth between compelling personal history and nebulous visual theory. There is a deeply endearing affect to the paper as it posits its author in a courageous struggle to self-analyze and position herself vis-à-vis a past that does not pass. I read and followed her many endeavors to establish a solid anchor from which to begin only to seek a paradoxical hook within the endless unfolding of the signifier, all in an attempt to recognize her vulnerability to a past that she carries indelibly. Ms. Meisami's paper is an attempt to couch pressing political issues of exile, failed revolutions, lingering familial bonds within the lexical domain of post-structuralism. In doing so she taps into a very important debate which, I venture to predict, will lead her towards further worthwhile investigations. But judging from the paper at hand, notable is her cautious distance from trauma theory which allows me to understand her diligent investigation of the postmodernist pathological trope of the viral. Not wanting to posit herself as a whole that is open to wounding, she travels with the trope of the viral in search of another engagement with the world wherein wounds do not act as a 'presencing' gesture which instantiates a self, even if negatively. I can only commend her persistence which leads her to find the limitations of the viral and consequently open up to the concept of vulnerability. Accordingly, the paper concludes only to open up unto new questions which I think should dwell further on the crossroads of political history and personal history. In other words, I think that Ms. Meisami's work might benefit from a shift which changes the question of 'why am I still under the influence/why do I still carry?' to 'Now that I do carry, what living can be made possible?' W.S.