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Othering difference in The Left Hand by Fadil Chouika

Updated on May 7, 2020

The Left Hand by Fadil Chouika is a short film, which does not exceed twenty minutes. The film is loaded with an infinity of meanings. Most of the scenes of The Left Hand are shot in black and white. The director’s choice of these two colors or let us call them the absence of color is not random. The use of black and white has multiple purposes in motion pictures. First, it is used to evoke events from the past, as it is the case in The Left Hand. Second, some directors use it to highlight the hidden meaning of a particular film. Sometimes, colors can be a camouflage in the sense that they hinder the reader from grasping the intended meaning of the film. Above all, most of the independent and successful films are set in black and white think of Schindler’s List, Manhattan, Persona, Dead Man, American History X and the list is very long. At any rate, this paper tries to highlight the problematic of alterity exemplified in both characters of the authoritarian father and his left-handed son. It also examines Alterity and otherness as a process of signification. On the other hand, the concept of difference is also related to signification particularly the plurality of meanings. Therefore, difference stands in juxtaposition to the discourse of Alterity, which is based on binary polarities. The film of The Left Hand is very symbolic. The left hand of the young boy is like the scarlet ‘A’ letter of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s protagonist, Hester Prynne. Hence, it is interesting when it comes to the discussion of some key concepts such as sign and signification, Alterity and otherness, difference and polysemy.

  • Alterity, signification and discourse

Any particular text be it a novel, film, song or a painting bears meaning. The process of looking for meaning is called signification. Semiotic or semiology is the study of signs. Despite the fact that many approaches to signs are deeply rooted in the study of written as well as spoken language, semiology deals with various forms of human artifacts with the condition of having meaning. (Andrew and Sedgwick, p306). Ferdinard De Saussure is the godfather of semiology. He stands against the idea that there is a historically connection between a word and its meaning. When it comes to the analysis of meaning, he differentiates between the signifier and the signified. The first one is what language refers to and the latter is the conceptual image of the signifier. These two elements are the main components of a sign. Moreover, the relationship between them is arbitrary in the sense that it is related to a cultural convention, an agreement. The polarities of signifier and the signified are very significant in the understanding of Alterity since the latter marks a distance between the self and other. What is not similar to the self is regarded as queer, unfamiliar and odd. Alterity takes different shapes. For instance, In Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky it could be the desert. In Virginia Woolf’s Flush, it is a spaniel. This means that the other is not necessary a human being. In our case study, The Left Hand, It is about the left and right hand which vey symbolic indeed. The left and right could be at the level of gender, race, class and even cultural differences. As Joyce’s A Portrait of a Young Man, Chouika’s short film is a blindsroman. In other words, it is a coming of age story of a left-handed boy since he was a small baby sucking his left hand in his cradle until he has become a grown up father with only one hand.

As long as binaries are concerned. The authoritarian and aggressive father represents the right whereas the submissive son epitomizes the left. Each time the son eats and writes with his left hand, he receives a sudden slap. However, the ultimate apex of the father’s power is physical violence manifested in the above taken picture from the scene in which the father digs a pencil in the son’s left hand. Foucault’s notion of discourse is very significant here for the reason that it is linked to the question of power and violence. In his Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault defines discourse as “the general domain of all statements, sometimes as an individualizable group of statements, and sometimes as a regulated practice that accounts for a number of statements” (Foucault quoted by Sara Mills, p 53). Discourse builds its antagonism on binary oppositions for instance black/white, East/West, left/right, men/women and so on. Besides, discourse is a social construct based on language. The construction of discourse may include the examples femininity and racism. In The Left Hand, the father along with the surrounding of the young left-handed boy, construct a discourse full of negative connotations associated with the left hand. The film itself does not contain many dialogues. It is almost silent. This is why it is symbolic since it relies heavily on what Roland Barthes calls “the rhetoric of the image”. Throughout the film, the left is associated with dirtiness, unholiness and even Satanism, which is quite reminiscent of the symbol of the Baphomet in occultism.

The French esoteric, Eliphas Levi, was the first one who had drawn the above painting. His works and ideas influenced many French as well as English authors including Huysmans, Baudelaire, Yeats, Somerset Maugham and H.P Lovecraft. The painting is an icon in the field of esotericism. It is the basis in the practice of magic for the reason that magicians should find the equilibrium between all its polarities. Christopher McIntosh better illustrates these polarities,

The goat represents dense, earth-bound nature, but has angel’s wings representing heavenly nature. It has female breasts but a male phallus… darkness and light are present in the black and white crescent moons and in the black and white serpents curled around the caduceus-like phallus. The right arm points up, the left down, the words written on the on the arms, “SOLVE” and “COAGULA” refer to the two key operations necessary to working successfully with the Astral Light. (McIntosh, p. 9)

The film is like the painting of the baphomet in the sense that it is divided into two halves. The father, who is a “fquih”, exemplifies all what is good, right and holy. Whereas the son incarnates the satanic goat-like figure in the painting. The left hand is downward. It connotes darkness and the underworld of evil spirits while the right hand is upward meaning it is divine and stands in contradiction with darkness meaning light.

The symbolism of the left and the terrorist suicide attack in the film have a historical and political background particularly “the Years of Lead” that took place under the regime of the Moroccan king, Hassan II. The left wing at that time was associated with a Marxist rebellious attitude. We can better know about these historical events and their aftermath in various literary works such as Tahar Ben Jelloun’s This Blinding Absence of Light as well as Ahmed Marzouki’s Cell number 10. The suicide attack in the modern restaurant led the adult son to lose his left hand. This event shows the result of the father’s extremism. The suicide attack triggers off the bombings of Casablanca in 2003 as they are depicted in the cinematic work of Nabil Ayoch’s Horses of God.

  • Diffrenece, ambivalence and the responsibility toward the other

The Foucauldian concept of discourse paves the way to difference and ambivalence. Both notions are used interchangeably. Besides, they are very significant in enlarging the scope of signification since ambivalence is a realm of difference par excellence. However, the first step to recognize difference is decentering Saussure’s perception of signs, as they are composed of a signifier and a signified. Many thinkers transcend the fixity of this structuralist mode of thinking for the reason that signification is enchained by the polarities of the signifier and the signified. There are levels of signification; for instance, Barthes builds on De Saussure’s semiology, which is the first level of a signification in order to analyze French daily life myths in his book Mythologies. A sign for Roland Barthes is made up of both denotative and connotative orders. Detonation means the process of referring to something in the world while connotation serves the second level of signification of what Barthes calls Metalanguage.

Second, in his essay Différance, which appears on his book, Margins of Philosophy, Derrida states that Différance is neither a word nor a concept. It has neither existence nor essence. Moreover, the “a” in différance is written and read. However, it cannot be apprehended in speech. Thus, this “a” is not heard and it remains silent as a tomb. Différance is polysemic. In a footnote to his translation of Derrida’s Margin of Philosophy, Alan Bass compares différance to Hegel’s Aufhebung. In the process of dialectics, Aufhebung negates and lifts up concepts to a higher sphere in which they are conserved. As with Hegel’s Aufhebung, the translation of a word with double meanings is difficult. Therefore, both concepts are usually left untranslated. The neologism of Différance is based mainly on the works of Nietzsche and Levinas especially at the level of signification where “différance brings the two notions of differing and deferring together … repeatability and otherness”. (Royle) Both notions of repetition and otherness come from Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence and Lévinas’s idea of the responsibility of the other. Derrida and Deleuze are two faces of the same coin in the sense that Derrida’s différance is quite similar to the Deleuzian concept of rhizome. The tree of western knowledge, according to Deleuze, does not proceed in identifying binaries without a point of departure that is, the root. The rhizome then is the “mauvaise herbs” which goes in both direction horizontally and vertically and thus opens the possibility of becoming to deconstruct the binaries of discourses.[1]

To be left-hand or right-handed is just a matter of difference. Unlike its predecessor, the abstract humanism, postmodernism celebrates the freedom of each individual. Thus, ambivalence as described by Homi Bhabha shakes the notion of the self in the sense that “the designations of identity, becomes the process of symbolic interaction, the connective tissue that constructs the difference between upper and lower, black and white” (Bhabha, p5). In this way, the young boy should be seen as Deleuze puts it a whole schizophrenic body without organs.

What characterizes the film of The Left Hand is its optimistic ending. While the tears of regret fall from his eyes, the father finally recognizes the way his stepson eats with his left hand. The father embraces difference. Thus, he becomes an exot. Victor Segalan invented the term in order to refer to someone who undergoes the experience of diversity and exoticism. Segalan also uses the term of “bovarysm” to illustrates how “Diversity lies at the very core of the individual, who imagine himself/herself as an other” (Segalan, p74)


[1] Karkaba, Cherki. Altérité et animalité dans Flush de Virginia Woolf

One of the most complex things in the production of films is la chute. Some directors leave their audience with an open ending, as it is the case here with Fadil Chouika who choose to black out his short film with another form of art. The left hand in the foreground of the painting celebrates the creativity and humanity of each individual regardless of who are they are and how they look like. The choice of the two colors of blue and red evoke the painting of the baphomet that we have already discussed. Both painting summarizes the whole film, the ambivalent point views in terms of perceiving difference.

  • Work Cited

Karkaba, Cherki. Altérité et Animalité dans Flush de Virginia Woolf. L’animal : un

homme comme les autres ? Bruxelles, Paris : Editions Bryulant, 2012, pp. 113-125

Chouika, Fadil. The Left Hand.

McIntoch, Christopher. Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival. Suny Press. 1972.

Mills, Sara. Michel Foucault. Routledge. 2003

Derrida, Jacques. Margins of philosophy. Trans. Bass, Allan. The Harvester Press. 2003

Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. Routledge. 1994

Nicholas, Royle. Jacques Derrida. Routledge. 2003

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies.

Segalen, Victor. Essay on Exoticism: An Aesthetics of Diversity. Translated by Yael Rachel

Schlick. Duke University Press. 2002

© 2020 Issam El Masmodi

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