The Hushed Silence

An abstract by Tina Rahimy & Parisa Yousef Doust (Oxford University)



What we see is a staged silence in Parisa’s film with the working title “Mist” … a silence framed through the limitation of an image … Saba’s eyes almost touches us … the tangible expression of an image of silence… an unhushed silence … allowed to experience its own cacophonic nature …  The girl is decisive, forcing her viewer to hear something that they were not planning to do… there is a fleeting moment of hesitation …  then she is sure again… please be silent … be silent in the chaos of noises …

Silence is noisy…

The soundlessness of silence is merely a myth.

In his 4’33 John Cage forced his audience to experience it. A reversed performance. The orchestra listening while the audience is trapped in its own unintended performance of cacophony … silence is filled … tangible. … chaos, unformed and unintended expression … It is not a moment in speech, It is not a moment of not speaking. We rather argue other way around: speech is a moment in silence, a moment that expression forms itself in words, sounds and images. Nevertheless, no matter how certain one speaks, no matter how clear words seem to communicate, the chaos of silence is always present, always decisive in the sensation of its omnipresent … It is not the word that gives rise to a permanent thought but silence is the plane upon which multiple thoughts can manifest themselves momentary …

Silence is expression …

Don’t look at me as if I have gone mad … silence may not be speech, a language … silence is there whether humans define it as such … silence is communication … the girl and her eyes enunciate a life-story …. silence is interaction … interaction is expression …  expression is life …


Robert Ashley, Automatic writing


This was Robert Ashley, and a fragment of his Automatic writing

People would say that Robert Ashley suffers from the disease Gilles de la Tourette … He suffers because he makes sounds without intending it, without meaning it. Involuntary sounds.

You are probably wondering why we think of silence in such a mad way … or even what the hell we are doing in a multicultural conference … well we tell you … multiculturalism is a cacophonic milieu and people say that we migrants are suffering from speechlessness … we say what we do not mean … we are incapable of communicating what we intend to communicate … 

Are we also the victims of involuntary sounds? … 

Please do not underestimate the consequences:

You see my father, a true man of honour, once intended to tell the benefits officer that he had trouble paying his rent… and instead he said: “But madam how could I pay my whore with this amount of money …”

And if you think that my farther is a strange man, well my mother is similarly fascinating… just last week she formulated in the first glance a very ordinary sentence containing 4 words … nonetheless this sentence was, in its dailyness, in 4 languages: one word in Persian, one in Turkish, one in Dutch and one in English…

While we do not want to generalise this … nevertheless we could argue that migrants often make this type of slip-ups … make sounds, using words without meaning them … But do Robert Ashley and my parents suffer? …

Let us freeze this experience of suffering for a moment and argue that migration is indeed an experience of involuntary noises … Let us say that we migrants have this condition called global aphasia …

There are different moments of aphasia …  the first concerns the connection between word and image. For example one sees an apple and calls it an orange … The second is that between different words that are from the same family, for example one wants to say arm but says leg … Aphasia can also happen when words have almost the same pronunciation… that is what happened to my father. The term rent in Dutch is huur, and the term for whore is hoer … huur/hoer … my father was not the first and most definitely not the last …

Aphasia can also appear purely in writing, for example writing true: as a reference to reality, instead of through … as reference to moving from one side to the other… aphasia could also have effects on the manner in which one construct sentences … the order of words … saying “the wrote text William yesterday”, instead of “William wrote the text yesterday”.  In our research we even want to add a last form of aphasia, namely that which is caused due to the disorganisation of images, the order of images …

Aphasia thus affects the syntax as well as the semantics in ones use of language, and by the dictionary defined as a “disability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage” … it is also compared with aphonia …  but in our case also with agnosia, “inability to interpret sensations and hence to recognize things, typically as a result of brain damage.”

Comprehension, or rather a clear comprehension is at stake here. This experience could be found and related to migrants, to multiple migrant’s studies and migrant’s artworks. The incapability to construct and pronounce words and images as ‘they were meant to be” is a commonality in this global world of migration … thus we speak of an global aphasia, aphasia to express ones thought in the manner that it is ‘ought’ to be expressed …

Nevertheless we rather neither speak of inability, shortcoming nor any form of suffering. Ashley does not need to suffer from his condition of Gilles de la Tourette. My parents do not necessarily experience an inability to express as such…

In our research we rather reverse the problem. It is a certain understanding of expression and language that disables us to hear the cacophony of silence around us. For example in the sound fragment of Ashley, two voices are hearable.. a man’s voice as an unformed sound and a women’s voice that gives the impression to pronounce some words understandably … we are immediately drawn to her. Our sense of hearing is suddenly, in this multiplicity of sounds, minimalized by focussing on the few words that may say something clearly… something comprehendible …  while the immensity of the expression is lost in our mind. What we minimalize is the expression itself, although we have the pretence to be the only living being with language, we are often incapable of understanding of the vitality of language. Understanding language as a clear form of communications, is a reduction not a clarification. The multiplicity of expression is here reduced merely to language, and even more so language is merely reduced to clarity of information. Only through such form of reduction men in their aphasic state of mind, migrant or not, are defined as beings that suffer due to physical or psychological brain damages causing inabilities.

In our research however we rather emphasis the productivity of aphasia. What we call aphasia is the ability to visualise the cacophonic underground that we call silence, releasing language from its illusion and demand of clarity, not as a banal form of confusion for the sake of confusion, but rather in order to create a space in which subjects are not excluded from life and the vitality of expression.  … we rather give back the suffering to single-minded ordinary men … we are mad just because we do not believe in madness nor shortcoming …


This was Nahid, Parisa’s aunt… her image is defined by an everlasting tension between the multiple forms of politics, between the unintended politics of silence, the excluding politics of clarities and a third form of politics, politics of involvement. While the politics of clarities defines itself through unambiguous speech and thus is sensed in the binary world of good and bad, right or wrong, adequate and inadequate, politics of involvement is defined by another act, the act of listening. While the comprehensible speech is defined by moral judgment, the act of listening is the ethics of involvement … involuntary unintended involvement  … where chaos becomes cacophonic … where speech becomes poetry and where silence is not viciously hushed … listen …

 Tina Rahimy about Nahied=Venus

An excerpt from the book  “looking at ourselves, multiculturalism, conflict&belonging” published by Oxford University


“I find Deleuze’s analyses of cinema particularly useful in analysing Parisa Yousef Doust’s film Nahid=Venus, especially considering the way in which this refugee filmmaker alters patterns of thought. Parisa is an Iranian/Dutch filmmaker who fled from Iran at an early age. While I will not be able to replace the images by words, these images affect my reflections and my process of conceptualisation in philosophy. At the end of my paper I compare these reflections with Agamben’s concept of gesturality: how these images have become gestures and why these gestures are political.


The Invention of Gesture in the Lack of Words


  1. The Faceless Face

Nahid=Venus is about Parisa’s aunt Nahid. Because of her political activities Nahid, which means Venus, has been imprisoned by the Iranian government. After several years she is released from prison, but the old Nahid, or the Nahid that was known to her relatives, seems to be gone forever. Because of her mental absentness Nahid leaves the prison only to be locked in an asylum. Nahid is captured in an everlasting numbing shock, her words do not communicate and her face is absently present. In other words, she has become a pure gaze without words. The filmmaker seems to be in search of a coherent story, in search of an aunt that she remembers so well. So when the aunt seems to be unable to tell the tale, Parisa turns to the rest of the family, uncles and aunts, and also to her mother, who is the sister of Nahid. But even the family members are not capable or prepared to reveal her story in words. Instead they speak of life in general, philosophy and spirituality. This film is not a narration with a beginning and an end, but rather a movement-image lacking a story. Although the frames are put in an order, there is no logical linearity.

The images fool the viewer, they seem to give a clear picture, but the images are mirrored and uncertain. The half empty shelves in the room, which are only visible in the mirror, declare the unavoidability of transition. The mirror does not represent reality, which is shown in the metaphor of reflection. The mirror is not a representation, but an actuality; it is a reality of perception (simulacrum). It is the reality of a rupture in the whole, and at the same time presenting this whole as it is. There is no home; every place is decorated partially as if its inhabitant already expects her departure. We see an empty bed, but this does neither represent the beginning of life nor the end of it. This so called life has rather lost her way of living, or better said Nahid is lifeless, motionless within the movement of the camera. She has neither lust nor desire. And the sentence ‘my aunt Nahid lives in a psychiatric clinic’ only confirms the suspicion that the mind has lost its way as well.

In intermezzi the song of a woman shows the rupture, as it affects the senses but without the clarity of words and without significations. It seems to speak to us, but we do not understand it. The song is pure affect, a pure face of a moment of rest, a silence in noise. This cinematic experiment, in a Deleuzian sense, affects the senses by not visualising the invisible but rather by making the invisibility of the matter visible7. A woman, in the rupture of images of the aunt, plays with light, a kind of Christmas light. But this light does not enlighten her. Rather, she loses her face in the light, her image becomes vague.

Parisa, the filmmaker who has become one the characters in this movement-image, pictures her own uncertainty, her own search for meaning. By asking the aunt for answers to questions about her own intentions as a filmmaker, she forces the question mark in the face of the aunt. The eye of

Tina Rahimy       89


the camera converges with the face of the viewed. There is no distinction between the viewer and viewed. But if Parisa is shocked by the loss of her imagined identity, she forces herself to become an image, beautiful and attractive. This act however acknowledges the loss even more. The images are shifting and the pure speed confirms the purity of movement in matter, the purity of transformation.

The pictured speed ridicules the fixed meaning, there and here; something that Deleuze calls ‘territories’. Nahid has become a kind of pure deterritorialisation, because of the forced territories. Life has become a nonlife. Knowledge is lost, by not knowing which gap of not knowing to fill. Parisa does not know which gap to fill. Which aunt to recall, or to revive back to life? She has lost the clarity of a question. A body without organs, which Nahid once was, has become organised through isolation and disconnection. The body has become a pure territory, a reterritorialsation in the sense that it has become an isolated whole without any connection to others. However at the same time this territory deterritorialises Parisa. Because of the rupture of communication between the aunt and the niece, the niece loses her familiar way of relating herself to her aunt. She has lost her affection as a relation.

But Parisa refuses to give up. She remains certain of her connection with the aunt. She just questions the identity of this connection. One of her uncles speaks of Hafez, the famous fourteenth century Iranian poet. He speaks of the fifth element that binds the elements water, wind, fire and earth. Without the fifth element the four elements are unrelated, incomplete. Hafez calls the fifth element love. Agamben’s work informs us that love is a gesture, the affection that relates ‘whatever’ to the other. Here, ‘whatever’ does not imply an attitude of indifference, like whatever, but is rather whatever that as such matters8. Love is the power within the movement actualising the impossible connection between them and the new aunt.

The deterritorialisation is also shown by a little girl putting her veil on and taking it off at the same time, showing the illusion of a distinction of the east and the west. Putting on and taking off the veil within the same movement. This movement deforms the face of the movie star that the filmmaker wants to become. It puts her eyes literally upside down. Love is the great expectation; it is pure expectation of something sensed without signifier, without identity.

The oldest uncle also seems to ‘avoid’ speaking of the aunt. He speaks of the wholeness of the universe, immanence with action, relation and idea as its elements, abstraction and matter within one another. Human is the subject and object, mind and body, of one and the same immanence, one and the same whole. There is no outside. And unwillingly this immanence brings the uncertainty of the filmmaker even further.

90     The Invention of Gesture in the Lack of Words ______________________________________________________________

All images start to repeat themselves but within this repetition they are deformed, within this repetition they have become deterritorialised. The movements of the bodies become gestures without context, without a transcendent meaning. Bodies move without purpose, in the middle, they are movements. Parisa has no intentions, no message. Her face, her eyes are one and the same as the face of Nahid, Venus whose visibility defines the invisible, and the reflective clouds that cover her will to be. Nahid is a memory, a memory of life and its loss. A memory of politics, affection, a love without expecting to change the world around her. But the memory has no reference to an existing person. Nahid has become another body, another form, and another language. Nahid stares at the running water as if she wants to share the movement of life once more. The memories of this other body that has become unrecognisable. She is like running water that asks the doctor to restore her life, to restore her solidness. Why is unanswered. Nahid gazes in search of love and desires that which is lost, and Parisa wants to relate memory to matter, memory to a body that is related to her. For seconds Nahid seems to wake up, her gaze becomes a smile but just only for a few seconds. Parisa wants to love her, but wonders how. Her hope lies in the past. To be 18 again. ‘That would be nice’, Nahid whispers.

  1. Gesture of Communicability

In ‘Notes on Gesture’ Agamben speaks of the loss of gesture in Western bourgeoisie and argues that our society tries to recapture its gesturality in the art of cinema.

An Age that has lost its gestures is, for this reason, obsessed by them. For human beings who have lost every sense of naturalness, each single gesture becomes a destiny. […] a gesture in which power and act, naturalness and manner, contingency and necessity become indiscernible9.

The gesturality of cinema does not define itself by a fixated image or narrative, but rather through a dynamic polarisation and a virtual movement. This movement is experienced and at the same time it is impossible to fixate. Movement cannot be owned; it is not a being, but a becoming. Inspired by Deleuze and Bergson, Agamben speaks of a gesture as a movement-image. So although a gesture seems to be fixated, in its happening it always refers to something beyond itself that cannot be captured in a motionless image. In this relationality the gesture of the cinema becomes more than an aesthetic phenomenon. Relationality belongs to the domain of ethos, the domain of politics.

Gesture is in the middle, it is endured, experienced. What characterises movement and gesture, for Agamben, Deleuze and Bergson, is

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their non-reference to an end, to a goal that must be achieved. Gesture is means of relationality without purpose.

The gesture is the exhibition of a mediality: it is the process of making a means visible as such. It allows the emergence of the being-in-a-medium of human beings and thus it opens the ethical dimension for them10.

Gesture is communicability that is distinguished from clear communication or flow of information. Agamben speaks of being-in- language. This language however does not refer to words, but rather the lack of them. It ‘compensate(s) a loss of memory or an inability to speak’11.

Nahid=Venus is the communicability of the faceless, despite the close-ups that seem to picture a person. Within her gaze she is all reference to something beyond the face, namely its loss. Nahid=Venus is the gesture of the nameless, despite the double naming, Nahid and Venus. We name her Venus, but Venus is invisibility surrounded by an unknown cloud. Nahid=Venus is political in its communicability wherein the unnamed and the faceless is imagined, not as a fantasy or fiction, nor as a fixated image or representation of a reality, but as an actuality of a life experienced in its movement and loss. ‘Fiction does not mean: to make visible the invisible, but to show how invisible the invisibility of the visible is’12. The invisibility of transition. Nahid=Venus is a qualitative change wherein not only Parisa’s life and Nahid’s life as refugees and prisoners have becoming transitional, but all life.”


Fremde Zeit

A conversation between Me and me

Me: What was that?

me: what?

Me: Sentimental, retard shit in your previous post

me: Just some words coming into my head

Me: fuck your thought vomit…think before you publish some stupid ass nonsense

me: I didn’t want to

Me: What? whaaaaaat? you didn’t want to what? To think? Are you really telling me that you didn’t want to think?

me: I guess so…

Me: you are even dumber than I thought…fuck it! So you are saying that while you were writing that stupid shit you weren’t thinking…ok what were you doing then? What can someone be doing while writing?

me: following an intuition

Me: Hahahahhahahaha…you are fucking funny you know, maybe you would be better off as a comedian… no no wait before you get any idea’s in your head…YOU can not be a comedian…well you can while you are trying to be a writer or filmmaker or whatever else but do not try to be a comedian because that will make even a greater fool of you…

me: I was not planning to

Me: thank god! There is at least something we are on the same page about…

me: Whatever…if you would please excuse me I have a synopsis to write…

Me: All right, all right go and keep yourself busy…waste your time…but before you go I have another question to ask you…if you allow me…

me: Whatever

Me: Why the fuck do you write in English? Are you American? English? did you study in English? is your mom or your dad English?

me: I don’t know

Me: What the fuck? you could write in Farsi or Dutch or even maybe Turkish but English? Give me a break and pull yourself together…

me: I think it is now about time that you should stop…leave…or whatever else not to bother me…

Me: oh yeah sure, you are of course one of those HSP’s who could not handle CRITICISM? Is that why you want me to leave? Because I don’t tell you that you are so sweet and great? Because I don’t say things you would like to hear?

me: please…let me get back to my work

Me: muahahahahaha…did you really say “work”? hahahahaha…you keep surprising me…but ok…fair enough…I let you go back to your “W  O  R  K” but you have not given me an answer yet.

me: To what?

Me: Why English?

me: I really have no idea…somethings appear in English in my head, sometimes in Farsi, and sometimes in Dutch…I guess I have difficulties with Dutch because it always has a bitter after taste. In English I don’t mind to make mistakes, I feel free even though my vocabulary is smaller than in Dutch. The same goes for Farsi, but my Farsi is of a teenager girl who has been stuck in the 80’s so in the end does not feel so good either…English is more neutral I guess…maybe that is what it is what makes me feel more free in writing…

Me: I appreciate it when you try to make sense out of the things you do…keep trying…maybe one day you will make sense for real…I am finished…you can go now!

In weerwil van de hokjesgeest
een (2011)

 Interview met filmmaker Parisa Yousef Doust
Wanda Zoet – schrijver en theatermaker

Ze is niet 100% Nederlands. Ze is óók Iraanse. Het moment dat Parisa Yousef Doust (1973 Teheran, Iran) bewuster werd van haar dubbele culturele achtergrond, ging zij als filmmaker veel persoonlijker werken. Dat leverde een paar prachtige films op. Films die elementen lenen van de beeldende kunst, balanceren op de grens tussen fictie en documentaire en niet narratief, noch abstract zijn.

In 1989 kwam Yousef Doust naar Nederland, na twee jaar in Turkije gewoond en gewerkt te hebben. Ze was nog jong toen ze met haar familie uit Iran vluchtte en leerde op veertienjarige leeftijd volwassen keuzes maken. Toen al was Yousef Doust niet bang om af te wijken van de gebaande paden. In Nederland leerde ze de taal in recordtempo en na de middelbare school begon ze een opleiding productie aan de filmacademie, die ze later aanvulde met lessen in scenarioschrijven bij Binger Filmlab.

Haar eerste film schreef en regisseerde ze in 2001. Elygia is een film over een jonge vrouw die verhuisdozen probeert uit te pakken, maar iedere keer gestoord wordt door iemand die aan de deur komt. Steeds wordt ze geconfronteerd met nieuwe ideeën en mogelijkheden, terwijl ze er niet aan toekomt haar eigen wereld eerst te ontdekken. Het verhaal gaat over hoe het hebben van vrijheid allerlei keuzes biedt. Hoe meer keuzes, hoe moeilijker het echter soms is om je vrij te voelen.

Hoe interessant deze paradox ook is, met Elygia had Yousef Doust niet meteen een ingang in de filmwereld. De film was niet duidelijk narratief of non-narratief en werd niet door iedereen begrepen. Als reactie stelden kijkers haar de vraag of ze niet iets met haar achtergrond kon doen….Dat kwetste Yousef Doust. Waar zij zichzelf zag als Nederlander, zag Nederland haar als anders, als allochtoon. Ze sprak Nederlands, was Nederlands en had Nederlandse vrienden. Met Iran en Iraniërs wilde ze niets te maken hebben. Ze dacht op die manier een Nederlander te zijn geworden en ook door Nederlanders geaccepteerd te zijn als volwaardig individu.

Pas later besefte ze dat ze alles wat ze had meegemaakt, zo diep mogelijk had weggestopt. Ze kon haar achtergrond niet langer negeren, dat was immers een deel van haar. Wat bewoog haar eigenlijk, wat waren haar culturele en historische referenties? Wat zou ze graag met een ander willen delen? Eerst was er het gevecht. Goed, ze was Nederlands-Iraanse. Of Iraans-Nederlandse. Een Iraanse filmmaker in Nederland, of was ze enkel ‘een filmmaker’? En wat betekende dat dan? Yousef Doust ontkwam er niet aan om vanuit de ander naar zichzelf te kijken.

De confrontatie met de leegte die blijkbaar was ontstaan en het gat tussen haar heden en verleden was pijnlijk, maar vormde tegelijkertijd een inspiratiebron en was daarmee een nieuw onderzoeksterrein voor haar als filmmaker. Toen was er de bewuste keuze. Ze wilde het Iraanse deel van zichzelf niet langer meer negeren, maar ze wilde ook niet langer naar zichzelf blijven kijken vanuit de ander. Ze zou werk gaan maken zoals zíj in de wereld stond en ze zou haar eigen verhalen vertellen.

Als startpunt voor een nieuwe film koos ze een clichébeeld van Iran: het Perzisch tapijt. Ze legde een tapijt op een bed en liet daar haar familie op zitten, kaarten, lezen, eten en drinken. Eigenlijk zoals haar familie altijd al deed: elke eerste zondag van de maand haalden de familieleden in Zwolle met elkaar herinneringen op. Close shots van het tapijt worden in de film The story of a flying carpet in Zwolle (2005) afgewisseld met close shots van haar familie. Het is een bijzondere kijkervaring. De daken van de Hollandse naoorlogse wijk versmelten met de intense kleuren van het hoogpolig tapijt. Het is een bekend samenzijn en toch is deze familie anders. Moeder leest het koffiedik en maakt zich zorgen over de grootouders ver weg, de muziek en dansbewegingen doen exotisch aan. Als kijker bekruipt je al snel een dubbel gevoel en dat raakt: deze familie is zo thuis en zo ontheemd tegelijkertijd.
Het ophalen van herinneringen en wat dat met je doet, werkt Yousef Doust ook in haar volgende films uit. De tragische gevolgen van migratie, zoals vervreemding en het ontbreken van een thuisgevoel vormen duidelijk het leidmotief in haar werk. Yousef Doust speelt met gesprekken die ze heeft en gesprekken die ze hoort, met haar eigen verhalen en met de verhalen van de mensen die ze ontmoet. Ideeën komen en gaan en de ideeën die in haar hoofd blijven hangen, daar moet ze iets mee. Fictie en documentaire hebben als genrenaam hun betekenis verloren en vloeien in haar films in elkaar over. Heel associatief komen hier bepaalde beelden uit voort. Zo ontstaan uit haar persoonlijke fascinaties, ervaringen of emoties concepten en uiteindelijk scenario’s.

Dat persoonlijke is altijd leidend. Als filmmaker verwerkt ze bijvoorbeeld pas politieke elementen in haar werk, als zij er zelf echt mee te maken heeft gehad. In Nahied=Venus bijvoorbeeld, komt de politiek zijdelings aan bod. Als kind was Yousef Doust dol op haar tante Nahied. Nahied leidde een bewogen leven en werd als politiek activist gevangen genomen en gemarteld. De vrouw werd verstomd en verward opgenomen in een psychiatrische kliniek. Yousef Doust gaat op zoek naar antwoorden op haar vragen over het leven van haar tante. Ze vraagt haar ooms en andere familieleden om informatie. In de film wordt haar persoonlijke zoektocht getoond. De filmmaker interesseert zich wel degelijk voor de mensenrechtensituatie in Iran, maar voelt zich niet de expert die een gedegen politieke analyse kan maken.

Nahied = Venus is, net als Yousef Dousts andere films, geen groots visueel spektakel. Subtiel wordt met kleur, schaduw, ritme van montage, in- en uitzoomen van de camera en steelse camerahoeken een spel van afstand en nabijheid gespeeld. Het is een intieme film. Het willen begrijpen van het verleden, het aanhalen van familiebanden en de conclusie dat vragen soms meer vragen dan antwoorden oproepen, zijn universele onderwerpen, waar elke kijker iets in kan herkennen. Toch is het geen makkelijke film; de beeldtaal voelt weinig vertrouwd. Het is immers geen klassieke documentaire die met de blik van een buitenstaander benaderd wordt. De combinatie van de vorm, het medium en de inhoud maken dat er een duidelijk verliefd, maar klein publiek is voor Yousef Dousts werk.

De tijd zal leren of dit publiek groter wordt, of de hokjesgeest verruimd wordt, of Yousef Doust internationaal succes gaat maken…. Hoe dan ook zal haar intuïtieve werkwijze blijven, net als de inhoud en haar artistieke kijk daarop. Haar werk zal ook altijd persoonlijk blijven, want ze moet nu eenmaal geraakt zijn om iets te kunnen maken. Yousef Doust ziet het als een uitdaging om op zoek te gaan naar beperkingen, om te kijken hoe ze zichzelf kan dwingen nieuwe wegen te bewandelen in haar werk. Binnen elke beperking zal het de kunst zijn om authentiek te blijven, ze waakt er beslist voor haar eigen verhaal te blijven vertellen.

Eutopia 27, April 2011