|of shifting shadows is a hypermedia system: By this I mean that it is a hypertext whose textuality is produced through the layering of different media. As hypertext, its discourse is mediated through the electronic linking of independently-standing textual blocks.
George Landow digs hypertext's history and discourse in the mines of poststructuralist critical practice, concerned with disrupting the hierarchical conventions of Western thought. He also claims that Helen Cixous' notion of l'ecriture feminine seems to find its "instantiation in this new information technology." To what degree these notions are in fact embodied in the mainstream of present practices is a contested issue. Looking at the information technology as an industry, its products, and its social, economic and political discourses, one can see a replication of the already familiar, deeply entrenched male-dominated and capitalist relations of power. This awareness is the imperative that has marked my choice to enter the field as a feminist practitioner. My concern with the technology itself is secondary to my purpose to contribute to the construction of narratives of resistance in this ecology. This purpose is what characterizes not only the content of my work but also the ways in which I choose to use the technology. I accept Landaw's conception of hypertext as a poststructuralist practice, but for me, as I have tried to illustrate in Foucault, Atoussa and Me, poststructuralism as a discourse is neither neutral nor neutered. Ultimately it is the purpose that guides our explorations and struggles.
Of shifting shadows is an open text, with multiple points of entry, no fixed closure, and wide gaps in between constructed through the layering of texts in different media and the multiple provisions for navigation. Designed for establishing an intimate relationship with the reader, it approximates a mirror: Its surface meaningful only when the reader brings to it her own acts of imagination and the desire to work with it. What I intend to produce here is a summary reading to serve the present need for highlighting some of the conceptual grounds of the narrative. This reading intends neither to fix the meaning of the text nor to foreclose the possibility of differing readings.
Of shifting shadows is a narrative journey with a feminist purpose: It intends to reclaim the subject position not accessible to Atoussa and other Iranian women in spite of our strong presence in the arenas of struggle during the 1978-79 revolutionary period.
The overall division of the screen space into distinct windows signifies the ultimate limitation of every narrative as only a partial representation of the discursive constitution of the realities that inform the events and agents of history. The simultaneous presence of different windows and media elements intends to challenge our habitually linear reading practices, and represents the seemingly chaotic experience of the social event of revolution and the temporal and spatial plurality of remembering.
The narrative is delivered by four fictional women who construct themselves as subjects through their conscious acts of speaking and remembering. They mark their subjectivity through narrating their struggles in the course of a historical event they lived and witnessed. With and through their stories they reinsert their virtual embodiment in the socio-political discourses still bent on veiling their corporeal bodies and silencing their voices. I see this as productive participation in the writing of the history of present.
Working in the garden, BITA becomes conscious of Nakir and Monkar, messengers of death in Islamic imaginary, whose appearance triggers her reflective journey in the forgotten spaces of a history at once profoundly personal and deeply political. Her journey is through a circle of hanging rooms, in each a woman engaged in a scene that gestures to a historical period and the struggles of women in it. Her allegorical guide in this journey, the blue moon traveling the sky of her last night, appears as a woman whose gestures invite BITA, and the reader, to ponder upon the events of each scene and their meaning in the construction of her subjectivity. Some video elements here open ruptures in time and place, where the familiar becomes the site of inner journeys in memory. Other video segments show the allegorical guide, embodied by dancer Roula Said, performing gestures symbolically referring to BITA's stories.
MINA's story takes the form of a testimonial, a statement that was written to be delivered in her immigration hearing, found after her accidental death. In her 'statement' she recounts stories about her involvement in the Revolution, and the subsequent terror she faced as a political activist opposing the Islamic government. MINA reproduces the grand, humanistic ideals that in all their naivete and inevitable contradictions guided her generation's eager, self-sacrificing engagement in the revolutionary events. A video documentary of the actual stoning of a woman and a man judged guilty of adultery in Iran is interspersed with MINA's story blocks, questioning her generation's awareness of the sexual discourses that dominated the Revolution. BITA's allegorical guide appears occasionally as a witness to the horror. Elsewhere, the guide's hand gestures deliver the rhythm and the tone of the events. MINA always remains loyal to her ideals as her local shifts from her home town in Iran to the home of her exile, King Street, which she sees as symbolicly representing universal injustices. She continuously challenges the court's authority in interrogating the validity of her personal claim to history. And in her counter-interrogations she eventually reconstitutes herself as the nameless woman who exists only through her will to revolt.
GOLI takes issue with simplistic representations of herself right from the start. She interrogates the desires and intentions of the author of her story, and she continuously comments on and contradicts the author. In the course of this conflictual relationship, GOLI, who insists that she is only a "character," remembers life in Iran during the Revolution and simultaneously problematizes her present exilic 'status'. A woman possessing painful memories, she makes her pain and her memories the site of her resistance as she deploys her sometimes harsh language to undermine the author's and thus the reader's desire to categorize and classify her in rigid constructs of identity. The video elements show movement in everyday spaces as the sites for remembering. In GOLI's stories, the shifting shadows open up spaces for inserting the imagination. Here the looped animated graphics show the veiled body of an Iranian woman inscribed by Khomeini═s religious decrees and other Islamic texts about women and veiling, to question the identity category "Muslim woman" and to gesture toward the sexual discourse of veiling.
AUTHOR assumes the role of the commentator and the archivist in this environment. Her section is not independently accessible to the reader as her comments only appear in relation to the other women's stories. In contrast to their's, AUTHOR's language generally appears non-personal, at times deliberately factual, only occasionally ponderously poetic. She documents newspaper stories and headlines as well as popular slogans from the revolutionary period, highlighting the violent character of the events. These are used to bring the reader's attention to the neo-colonialist political environment in which the Iranian Revolution unfolded. At times AUTHOR quotes (in Farsi) from literary texts to problematize culturally specific representations of women, representations that were part of the revolutionary and post-revolutionary sexual discourses.
I have produced this reading as if there were only linear paths for reading the women and their stories, and as if these existed in isolation from each other. This has limited the meanings I have produced. But as I mentioned before, the discourse of the narrative is constructed through the plurality of the presence of the media and story blocks. The plurality expands the narrative's virtual dimension and demands a more active mode of engagement from the reader. The non-linear architecture, that is the possibility of moving from one character's space to another's at any moment, blurs the boundaries that separate them, giving the overall narrative a shifting nature. It is in the shifting spaces that the agency of the reader as the final producer of meaning is realized.