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Camera Obscura 15.1 (2000) 162-191

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Bahram Bayzai's Maybe . . . Some Other Time:
The un-Present-able Iran

Negar Mottahedeh


In a paper given in Paris and published in Iran-nameh's special issue on film, filmmaker Bahram Bayzai argues that the hundred-year success of cinema in Iran is proof that "the image" is now "the language of the people." In Iran, he writes, "little by little, the language of the image replaces the literary language. The image is the language of the people, the word is the language of the privileged (khavas)." 1 This association between the image and the everyday language of "people" posits a direct link between cinema and the constitution of a national identity through linguistics. It calls for a serious consideration of the applicability of the semiotic/linguistic project to Iranian cinema and of the role of cinema in the historical representation of the nation. 2

For if, as Christian Metz argues, cinema is an institution shaped by society with roots in the national culture, film must be considered the product by which the nation represents itself to itself--a mediator of its history, culture, and identity. Historically, as Bayzai argues, in Iran, where a minority of the people are literate, "it was photography and film that slowly, over the course of [End Page 163] several decades, introduced new thought and the birth of a new culture to the diversity of the masses. The [leaders'] enmity towards [the image] also lies here. The image is more truthful than the complicated writings that serve hypocrisy." 3 The image, for Bayzai, obviously speaks in an unhypocritical language for and about the everyday life of the Iranian people. But in a cinema vexed with censorship, the question is: What does it say?

In my reading of Bayzai's Maybe . . . Some Other Time (1987), 4 I will attempt to move the domain of Iranian film analysis away from a typical reading of the narrative plot and toward a reading of filmic enunciative practices. Although much has been written in popular film journals about postrevolutionary Iranian cinema, it has mainly focused on issues of realism in narrative practices. This focus has inhibited a thorough discussion of the nation's unpresentability in contemporary Iranian film. In a time when social theorists are asking if a continuous Iranian identity can be established on the basis of a national history, 5 I want to propose that film, as the space of cultural negotiations between enunciations and statements, questions the applicability of the premise of a "continuous national" or even "pure" identity in contemporary Iranian culture. To that end, I will argue that due to the problems posed by the issue of modesty in postrevolutionary Iranian cinema, women's bodies, as the historically repressed site of the national statement, have become the places in which the multilingual expression of the enunciation (production) of the nation takes place.

Recalling Emile Benveniste's classical distinction between histoire and discours, Metz argues in The Imaginary Signifier that enunciation must be understood as the marker of the repressed content in the public statement, indicative of the time and place of the speaker in the statement. Homi Bhabha, drawing on Jacques Lacan's theory of the subject, glosses enunciation as the site that marks the very subject of difference. Brought to bear on Metz, later analysis of enunciation in film(as moments in which film is most self-reflexive), and on the institution of the cinema as the economy of societal or cultural articulations, these inflections [End Page 164] on the concept suggest an extraordinary approach to the issues raised by national cinemas.

If, as Metz argues, film is the product of the society that consumes it, then the statements it produces, articulated in terms of national cinemas, must be understood as operating in such a way as to repress the enunciative processes of national production--in the same way that film narratives displace the production process. In light of Lacan's articulation of the split subject of the statement, what this means is...


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