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

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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.”