Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The Receding Horizon: Iranian Films and the Overcoming of the of Justice

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The Receding Horizon: Iranian Films and the Overcoming of the of Justice

Article excerpt

This article draws upon the psychoanalytic notion of melancholia to make an argument about the limits of justice as delivered from the law, and analyze Jafar Panahi's White Balloon (1995), Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), and Asghar Farhadi's A Separation (2011) as diverse attempts to challenge the pathos of distance and the idealization or demonization of otherness which marks the melancholic anticipation of justice's arrival.

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Many definitions of justice circulate around the notion that the law can render every man his due, or around the use of laws to judge and punish crimes and criminals, clearly invoking the relationship of justice to legal accountability, the isolation of blame, and the setting right of losses through punitive means. Justice, thus, has been imagined as a kind of retributive and securitizing agency which upholds the rights of the innocent through the fair distribution of blame and the proportional punishment of the guilty. In this article, I argue that this notion of justice is fundamentally melancholic, a distancing from lived reality as presence, as enabled by a fetishistic relationship to an impossible ideal and its inevitable failures. I draw upon Iranian cinema to think through what we mean when we talk about and seek justice, and ways we can imagine forms of justice beyond the isolation of sites of guilt or the sacrificial act of legal accountability, thus an imagining of justice beyond the edifice of guilt and innocence. Accordingly, I read Jafar Panahi's White Balloon (1995), Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), and Asghar Farhadi's A Separation (2011) as diverse attempts to challenge the pathos of distance and the idealization or demonization of otherness which marks the melancholic anticipation of justice's arrival. My goal is to show how each film stages a view of the inescapability of injustice and challenges a Manichean worldview which undergirds the desire for a return to a pure state which never was.

These films, I argue, challenge the anxiety of contamination that haunts the preservation of static states by subtly playing with, and ultimately refusing to exalt and idealize nor disavow and demonize, particular states of being, including the innocence of children (White Balloon), the simple grace of Kurdish villagers (The Wind Will Carry Us), or people caught up in institutions through which power functions (A Separation). What they share is representations of loss as coded into the mundane and quotidian realities of life: While playing with the notion of innocence that is always and already on the verge of a great and inevitable fall, each film provides framings through which the notion of the fall is itself problematized and placed under question. In contraposition to representations of worlds as always already formed, separable, and inevitably doomed, these films show how realities that are seemingly divided by gender, class, ethnicity, generation, religion, and levels of commitment nonetheless interpenetrate, revealing the idealized or demonized other firmly within the self. Their representational lens places under question the very notion of justice, mourning its receding horizon through the specificity of overdetermined lives. The films engross their viewers in the simple pleasures of encounters and encourage a process of mourning for the absence of a synthesized deliverance from injustice and loss. This disruption of the melancholic anticipatory gesture of arrival (of what never was) is reflected in the therapeutic function of, and to, the audience, who are left to map the trajectories of failure and loss in various forms of life without being privileged by the possibility of delivering a final judgment upon them. And in the absence of that judgment and the isolation of direct sites of accountability, we are left to think about what we mean when we demand justice in the face of loss.

In "Force of Law," Jacques Derrida offers an analysis of the impossibility of justice as an arrival or event by problematizing the very notion that the law can render every man his due. …

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