Studies on memory and violence – memory as “wounded by history” (Ricoeur 2000) – remind us of the political load of remembering as a place where subjectivity and politics bind (Loraux 2002), at the intersection of collective identities and individual trajectories. How does the present engender the past with regards to episodes of violence that that have informed current political life in Iran in both explicit and implicit ways? While writing their history remains a battlefield and a work in progress charged with prohibitions, a space for understanding is opened through looking at the experiences and memories of violence. Judith Butler renders the memory of deliberate violence to be “unthinkable” in some way, to constitute an “assault on thinking” itself. If indeed such violence cannot 'be thought' then how does this affect the way that traumatic memories are recuperated and transmitted from one generation to the next? How does the past permeate the present – even through denial and silence – and how does this process embody agency and shape subjectivities?
The postrevolutionary state in Iran has been (mainly) successful in excluding fractions of the population from the body of the nation, either through repression, silencing, death or through exile. There has been a process of nation building and a redefinition of national identity after the revolution and through the war with Iraq, from which exiles or political opponents have been excluded. A pervasive victory narrative – featuring both the revolution and the “sacred defence” against Iraq – sits at the forefront of the national re-telling of the tumultuous decade of the 1980s. Borrowing the notion of “remnant” developed in another context by the philosopher Agamben (1999), we could argue that those who were expelled from the national identity constructed through the Islamic republic are “remnants” of the nation. The question then remains: what narrative and memory do they carry with them, about the immediate post-revolutionary era and the revolution itself, and how can this enlighten, modify, challenge, alter collective memory in so far as it is a counter narrative to the official history?