This paper journeys along the theoretical and historical trajectories of the early stage of post-revolutionary Iran, marked by an external war with Iraq and internal political suppression. Specifically, it grapples with the intricacies of loss, mourning, and survival in the meanders of the life of a woman, a former leftist political prisoner, named Mahtab. Striving to unravel the pathos and aporias of Mahtab’s life, this paper ponders the limits of the laws of polity and of kinship, and the “limit of reflexivity” (a phrase introduced by Judith Butler) that may have led to her suicide. Based on Mahtab’s story and my ethnographic work with some of the surviving former women inmates, this paper engages with Sigmund Freud’s notions of survival, mourning, and melancholia in light of their intertwined relationship to the re-formation of the subject. I argue for the centrality of mourning and its limits and illustrate how historically shaped political ideals and gendered subjectivities are implicated and influential in determining the impossibility of survival.

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