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Mountain of Paradise

Reflections on the Emergence of Greater California as a World Civilization


Josef Chytry

Mountain of Paradise challenges conventional taxonomies of world civilizations by introducing a new and formidable candidate: the civilization of Greater California presently incubating as the evolution of California into a veritable «nation-state» or «world commonwealth» according to contemporary commentators and scholars. Through a series of reflective essays it clarifies the momentous implications of this claim by a thorough account of the genealogical origins of «California», permutation into its speculative moment of self-identity thanks to prolonged creative interchange with European thought and philosophy, advancement to status of a socio-economic powerhouse by the 1950s and 1960s, invention of distinctly Californian variants of political economy by the 1970s and 1980s, and present domination over regions formerly classified as «Greater California». In its range and originality Mountain of Paradise constitutes a robust contribution to current political, social, economic and global thematics.


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The following volume on the civilization of California and of Greater California advances a theme developed in a body of published articles over the last half-dec- ade through which I have clarified my reading of California as a world civiliza- tion in the making (see Map 1). The title of the volume is inspired by California historian Carey McWilliams’ suggestion that the word California was “probably borrowed from the Persian, Kari- i-farn, ‘the mountain of paradise’.”1 McWilliams’ source was a 1922 essay by the French orientalist A. Carnoy which argued the case with considerable eloquence.2 Fascinated as I was by this suggestion, I have never been able to find clear confir- mation of McWilliams’ hypothesis despite informative discussions with experts on the variants of the Persian language – ancient Avestan, Pahlavi, as well as Farsi, the language generally used today by Iranians. In the meantime, other, perhaps more plausible, alternatives for the origin of the word California have been essayed.3 Nonetheless, I could not lightly give up on such a genial connection between the possible origins to “California” and the mountains of the Alburz Range – including the commanding Mount Demavand – circling the north of Tehran, Iran, where I happened to be born. Legends regarding this immense range had per- meated ancient Persian myths of a magical Mount Qaf or the Emerald Mountain sustaining innumerable Sufi tales that recounted the canonical pilgrim’s quest toward metaphysical and spiritual Truth. So even if McWilliams’ conjecture cannot be in all probability philologically sustained, “Mountain...

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