You are on page 1of 12

Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC2!

Film & Cultural Memory! !

Week 2: Historical representation! ! !
1 !

How can we represent traumatic history in (mainstream) feature lms ?!

! -What are the strategies ?! ! Audiovisual manner! ! Dramatic manner! It is precisely the task of lm to add movement, colour, sound, and drama to the past (Rosenstone, p. 37)! !
2 !

Conventions for the mainstream historical feature lms " ( Hollywood tradition )!
! ! ! ! ! ! To tell the past as a STORY! Story of individuals! One complete narrative! Personalization - identication emotion! Look of the past! To show history as a process!
3 !

[...] for the director of the dramatic lm, who must create a past that ts within the demands, practices and traditions of both visual media and the dramatic form, this means having to go beyond constituting facts out of traces of evidence found in books or archives and tot begin inventing some of them. (Rosenstone, p. 38)!

4 !

! ! ! ! ! Staging of the past! Compression and condensation! Displacement! Alteration! Dialogue!

Criteria for good historical feature lms? !

Rosenstone: how the historical lm relates to, comments upon reects and/or critiques the already existing body of data, arguments, and debates about the topic at hand.! ! ! Importance of the metaphorical, symbolical and poetic force of lm! (and not the rational scientic)!

5 !

6 !

1 !

Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC2!

The force of the lm Hotel Rwanda is altogether its capability to give a metaphoric structure to what occurred in 1994. In concentrating on Paul Rusesabagina, the manager of the famous Belgian hotel Htel des Mille Collines, the lm achieves the showing of at least four things: ! 1) heroism of the individuals who won over brutality;! 2) the indistinctive effect of the 1994 slaughters upon all the population of Rwanda;! 3) the fact that survival was largely also a matter of chance; ! 4) the indifference of the world, especially the white Western World. ! ! !! ! ! ! ! ! ! !(Nzabatsinda)! 7! ! ! !

- Epistemological aspect -" ! The task of the historian: Just the facts

! To construct a coherent narrative based on facts!

- narrative is regarded as a neutral container of historical fact! - Language (natural or ordinary language) is neutral! -! Historical reality must be objective and is based on the collection of facts (H. White)! !
8 !

Hayden White: ction! Postmodernism: epistemological crisis! ! various narratives can co-exist.! ! Historiography is challenged!

Limits ? Ethical aspect -!

Can these events be responsibly emplotted in any of the modes, symbols, plot types, and genres our culture provides for making sense of such extreme events in our past?! ! Are there any limits on the kind of story that can responsibly be told about these phenomena?! ! do they [the natures of Nazism and the Final Solution] set limits on the uses that can be made of them by writers of ction or poetry?! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! (H. White)10 !! ! !

! historical emplotment ! ! (implicit) interpretation! ! (implicit) inuence on meaning!

9 !

Danger:! ! Emplotment denes what is part of the story! ! Relativization, distorsion and denial!

11 !

2 !

Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC3


The unrepresentability debate

! Central in the Humanities

Film and Cultural Memory

Week 3

The Limits of representation

! Jean-Franois LYOTARD (Le Diffrend, 1983) ! Auschwitz is compared to an earthquake of sufficient power to destroy the instruments which could measure its magnitude.
1 2

Theodor ADORNO ! To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric

(Negative Dialectics, 1949)

- Problem of transfiguration : when the unthinkable is transformed into something acceptable. - Problem of aesthetical pleasure

( Schindlers List is not Shoah )

! Public Memory / Reception ! 4 points of critics on Schindlers List:

! Culture industry ! Problem of narrative ! Question of cinematic subjectivity ! Question of representation

! Lanzmann:
! Taboo of representation ! Schindlers List is obscene

! Hansen:
! Binary opposition: Showing or not showing?

Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC3


For whether we like it or not, the predominant vehicles of public memory are the media of technical re/production and mass consumption. This is especially exacerbated for the remembrance of the Shoah considering the specific crisis posed by the Nazis destruction of the very basis and structures of collective remembering. (!) The remembrance of the Shoah, to the extent that it was public and collective, has always been more dependent on massmediated forms of memory. (!) We need to understand the place of Schindlers List in the contemporary culture of memory and memorialising and the film in turn may help us understand that culture.

Hansen s conclusion: To dismiss the film because of the a priori established unrepresentability of what it purports to represent may be justified on ethical and epistemological grounds, but it means missing a chance to understand the significance of the Shoah in the present, in the ongoing and undecided struggles over which past gets remembered and how.

Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC4


Ararat and the Armenian genocide Film and Cultural Memory

Trauma and Representation
- Marie Baronian 1 2

! State denial ! Link with trauma : denial reinforces the trauma ! Film as a possible answer to trauma ?

The Armenian genocide - 1915

! First genocide of the twenty century: 1,5 millions Armenians were killed. ! Hitler : Who still remembers the Armenians? (1939) ! Ottoman Empire lost power and prestige !! pan-Turkism : nationalistic ideology; a unified empire for the Turkish people. The Jong-Turks movement - comit for unity and progress. Christian Armenians as an obstacle !
3 4

Atom EGOYAN (1959-)

! ! ! ! ! Canadian filmmaker of Armenian origin Autobiographic aspect Auteur film Central topic in his entire work : Memory Observation : Armenian genocide does not belong to our visual culture. ! Ararat: protests (Cannes, 2002) and censorship

Trauma and representation

! Ultimately, it is not a film about the Armenian genocide itself, but is instead a multi-layered attempt to come to terms with the ways in which traumas of the past shape collective and individual identities in the present, and with the questions of how to represent genocide in general and the Armenian genocide in particular ( Markovitz, p. 235)

Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC4


Visuals symbols in Ararat

! Mount Ararat: Saroyan :When I was a boy, my mother used to tell
me it was ours. Even though it was so far away. And I used to dream of a way to approach it. To make it belong to who I was, to who I became. ! Ararat is a cultural mnemonic symbol Other examples : Charles Aznavour, the pomegranate, a painting by Arshile Gorky (1904-1948)

Filmic strategies in Ararat

! ! Film-within-a-film = reflexive strategy Wat sort of representation ? How can we represent? Why should we represent ? ! Thus, film-within-a-film has various functions: 1.! To question the limits of representation (ethical, semiotic, etc.) 3.! Narrative strategy in order to bring all the characters together (all confronted to denial) 4.! To have access to the genocidal history

Two films : Egoyan and Saroyan

! Saroyan :My mother was a genocide survivor. All my life I promised to make a film that would tell her story. How she suffered. Now we are making that film. Saroyan as a sort of Spielberg !? Popularized representation of the genocide (Markovitz, 238) -! Saroyan = What happened in 1915 -! Egoyan = What happens in 2002 Two ways to represent/to deal with the genocide.

Lets just drop the fucking history

Turkish actor and/in denial


Arshile GORKY
! American-Armenian artist who survived the genocide ! [Abstract Expressionism]

! Portrait The Artist and His Mother (1936-1939)

! Ani (art historian) :the portrait is a repository of our history ! a sacred code that explains who we are and how and why we got here. ! Each character needs to represent: Saroyans film, Anis book, Raffi and his video images, Gorky and his painting.



Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC4


Questions for us :
! What is the meaning of such a film for us, in terms of cultural memory ? ! Can we speak of a prosthetic memory (A. Landsberg) ? ! Private or collective trauma of the Armenian genocide ? !

Trauma = wound caused by some terrible experience. ! Trauma of the Armenian genocide is double: 1.! Denial of identity (as ethnic group) 2.! Denial of the genocidal events



Trauma / Text Ernst VAN ALPHEN

! Each experience is discursive ! Trauma = failed experience ! The cause of trauma is precisely the impossibility of experiencing, and subsequently memorizing , an event ! Link with debate on unrepresentability: When I speak of the Holocausts unrepresentability I am referring not to the cultural issue of the impropriety of representing the Holocaust, but to the inability of Holocaust survivors to express or narrate their past experiences. The remembrance of Holocaust events is, then, technically impossible; this problem is fundamentally semiotic in nature. (p 26)

! It is not so much the content of the experience that causes this problem, but that the capacity to narrate is lacking. ( p. 28) ! Because the Holocaust situation did not fit into any conventional framework, it was almost impossible to experience, and therefore later to voluntarily remember or represent it. (p. 34) ! Link met cultural memory: Memory is not something we have, but something we produce as individuals sharing a culture. Memory is, then, the mutually constitutive interaction between the past and the present, shared as culture but acted out by each of us as an individual. (p. 37)

(Provisional) conclusion :
! Lack of recognition reinforces the trauma. ! Is film capable of creating a prosthetic memory of the Armenian genocide ? ! Film in order to come to terms with the trauma ?


Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC5



Film and Cultural Memory

Film and Testimony
-!Marie Baronian

! Link trauma, testimony and film. ! Question : Is the link between testimony and film a historical, an ethicalpsychological or purely a filmic issue ? ! Dori LAUB : role of the psychiatrist and archivist in the collecting of audiotaped testimonies.

! Dori LAUB : psychiatrist and child survivor ! Co-founder of a testimonial project : Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale

Aim of the Fortunoff:

The survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust are diminishing in number. Each year their recollections become more important, but each year moves them farther away from the original experience. This gives special urgency to the effort to collect as many testimonies as possible - now. There already exist substantial collections of written or audiotaped testimony. The television image, however, using an open-ended, freeflowing interviewing process, discloses expressive details about the day-to-day experience of the survivors with a force that can hardly be exaggerated. These personal testimonies are crucial documents for the education of students and community groups in an increasingly media-centered era. Each tape is made under the supervision of a professional and supportive team. Cataloged and cross-referenced, the tapes are an important addition to the oral and written history of the period. The Archive stands as a living memorial to counteract forgetfulness, ignorance and malicious denial.
3 4

Dori LAUB, Bearing Witness and the Vicissitudes of Listening ! From the book : Testimony. Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History (1992) ! Chapter 2 : Laub reflects upon his role (and responsibility) as a psychiatrist in the process of interviewing. ! Laub is the listener : The listener to the narrative of human pain, of massive psychic trauma, faces a unique situation. (p. 57)

! The testimony to the trauma includes its hearer, who is, so to speak, the blank screen on which the event comes to be inscribed for the first time. ! [The listener] is a witness to the trauma witness and a witness to himself (p. 58) ! He needs to know that the trauma survivor who is bearing witness has no prior knowledge, no comprehension and no memory of what happened. ! He or she must listen to and hear the silence, speaking mutely both in silence and both in speech, both from behind and from within the speech. He or she must recognize, acknowledge and address that silence, even if this simply means respect and knowing how to wait. 6

Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC5


What for testimony ?

! Testimony and truth : - The woman as a survivor is not bearing witness to the accurate number of chimneys but to something else, more radical, more crucial: the reality of an unimaginable occurrence. One chimney blown up in Auschwitz was as incredible as four. () She testified to the breakage of a framework. That was historical truth. (p. 60) - My attempt as interviewer and as listener was precisely to respect not to upset, not to trespass the subtle balance between what the woman knew and what she did not, or could not, know. (p. 61) - It might be useful, sometimes, not to know too much.

- Link testimony and knowledge :

Knowledge in the testimony is not simply a factual given that is reproduced and replicated by the testifier, but a genuine advent, an event in its own right. (p. 62)

- Other sort of historicity :

And it was through my listening to her that I in turn came to understand not merely her subjective truth, but the very historicity of the event, in an entirely new dimension. She was testifying not simply to empirical historical historical facts, but to the very secret of survival and of resistance to extermination. She saw four chimneys blowing up in Auschwitz: she saw, in other words, the unimaginable taking place right in front of her own eyes. And she came to testify to the unbelievability, precisely, of what she had eyewitnessed this bursting open of the very frame of Auschwitz. 8

- To bear witness = to survive:

She is breaking out of Auschwitz even by her very talking. She had come, indeed, to testify, not to the empirical number of the chimneys, but to resistance, to the affirmation of survival, to the breakage of the frame of death. () It is not merely her speech, but the very boundaries of silence which surround it, which attest, today as well as in the past, to this assertion of resistance. - to meet the victims silence (p. 64)

! Holocaust is an event that, in effect, does not end (p. 67) ! Moreover, if one talks about the trauma without being truly heard of truly listened to, the telling might itself be lived as a return of the trauma a re-experiencing of the event itself. ! The absence of an empathic listener, or more radically, the absence of an addressable other, an other who can hear the anguish of one s memories and thus affirm and recognize their realness, annihilates the story.

(p. 68)


! Definition trauma:
The trauma is thus an event that has no beginning, no ending, no before, no during and no after. This absence of categories that define it lends it a quality of otherness, a salience, a timelessness and a ubiquity that puts it outside the range of associatively linked experiences, outside the range of comprehension, of recounting and of mastery.
(p. 69)

- Bearing witness/ to tell = to come to terms with the

trauma :

The testimonial enterprise is yet another mode of struggle against the victims entrapment in trauma repetition, against their enslavement to the fate of their victimization. (p. 70)

// failed experience (van Alphen)

- Bearing witness is not a monologue:

Bearing witness to trauma is, in fact, a process that includes the listener. For the testimonial process to take place, there needs to be a bonding, the intimate and total presence of an other in the position of one who hears. Testimonies are not monologues; they cannot take place in solitude. The witnesses are talking to somebody: to somebody they have been waiting for for a long time.

! Issue of transmission:
To transmit literally transfer it to another outside oneself and then take it back again, inside. Telling thus entails a reassertion of the hegemony of reality and a reexternalization of the evil that affected and contaminated the trauma victim.


Film and Cultural Memory - 2013 - HC5


! Responsibility of the listener (p. 71) ! Existential experience ; the listener is confronted with death, alterity, etc. (p. 72) ! Laub ends his chapter with a question: What can we learn from the trauma, from the testimony and from the very process of listening? (p. 74)





!"#$%&'(%)*#+*,&#% -.$/,0%
Marie Baronian

1 2

1,/2+3.+"4%$.$/,".2%4/$.%5,/$%&%6.,2/'72% $&228$.("&+.(%.96.,".'4.%/5%&%+,&*$&+"4% .:.'+%/5%+3.%6&2+;%

Mass media enable an affective, emotional experience : !to feel the event!. Our relationship to the Holocaust is mediated through the objects remaining here in the present. !If the experience of the Holocaust is precisely the experience of the loss or absence of people, then the objects stand in for this absence.! (119)
3 4

Is it possible for the Holocaust to become a bodily memory for those who did not live through it ?! (112)

Cultural memory : Memory that is constructed from cultural forms. Cultural memory is the culture mediated practice of collective memory. ! Mass media / public sphere can produce new solidarities and collectivities. !The museum, like the comic book, raises questions about what it means to own or inhabit a memory of an event through which one did not live. It also provides a terrain on which to begin to imagine the political utility of prosthetic memories.! (129)

Empathy !is not an emotional self-pitying identification with victims but a way of both feeling for and feeling different from the subject of inquiry.! (135) : it recognizes the alterity of identification. (>< sympathy: presupposes an initial likeness)




Mass cultural media/technologies of memory deserve serious attention because thanks to them the memories of traumas become imaginable, thinkable and speakable to us (139).

Can we remember the past (traumatic history) without images without cinema ?