Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When memory ... 2nd part

Emotion is, one assumes, non-existent in times of war. Killing and dying, being lucky enough to survive, and other such primal instincts that humans have carried forward, from the lower ranks of the Darwinian ladder, seem to be the sole truth. Truth of a war is, however like truth of memory - nothing is either this or that. Absolutes don't exist in the memory of devastation. Neither is there one dimension that defines completely what devastation is like. Neither is there one emotion that exists during a time of death and devastation. Neither is there a massive shift in emotions from fear and hatred to love and compassion once the war is officially over. What takes a fraction of a second to destroy needs a lifetime to rebuild. And no, the destruction referred to is not structural destruction. It is the intimate, personal, covered up hopes, ambitions, desires that are more fragile than the concrete structures and life.  

While watching the War Trilogy of Roberto Rossellini - Rome, Open City (Roma, città aperta) , Paisà and Germany Year Zero the above articulated thoughts occurred. 

It is difficult to express responses to images and incidents that seem to nullify all meaning in existence. The long silence since the last post When memory... was because of that difficulty in thinking about things that the 'cultured' mind assumes to be gross. But then, it is interesting  how the eyes see the things that it assumes it doesn't want to see; how the mind locates the things that it assumes it doesn't want to know about. This post is an interlude about how the need to remember brought this second part of "When memory..." to life.

Memory is synaesthetic, meaning that one sensory perception automatically stimulates another sensory perception. The memory of a gashed wound that you hear about is translated into a visual image by the power of words used to express it. Such is the case. A link to an article on a social networking site led to an editor's blog. A particular link in that blog led to the article The Falling Man. Before the article begins, the image of a man, who had jumped from one of the towers hit by the terrorist-driven aircrafts in the USA on 9/11, stares back.

The truth about why or how this particular man appeared to be calm and at a perfect perpendicular position during his fall in this particular photograph, unlike the photographs of the other 'jumpers' that surfaced since the tragedy, remains unclear. And that is not what the article was about. The article addressed the issue of silence. Of forgetting deliberately. Of selective amnesia for something that the 'cultivated' mind identifies as gross and inhuman. As if the end of the 'jumpers' was any different from the people in those aircrafts. As Tom Junod writes in the article : "But now the Falling Man is falling through more than the blank blue sky. He is falling through the vast spaces of memory and picking up speed." ("the falling man" refers to the man in the photograph) 

Accepting the brutal truth of the inconceivable ways in which death can happen is difficult. Silence seems to be a better option. As if forgetting is a way to heal the wound. The most quoted proverb - "Time is the best healer" is possibly not a restorative idea at all. It encourages 'falling' through memory, from memory into those spaces that gradually become too dark to see. It is anything but healing. It is an attempt to bury the moment, the emotion, the incident. As some languages are being lost in this globalised world of ours, so will some memories be lost. Choosing to remember seems a mammoth task, an impractical thing to do some would say. But then, what has this slipping through the cracks of time done for us till now? We read about historical incidents; no understanding emerges from them it seems. Such is perhaps the folly of forgetting. So what happens when we choose to remember, to acknowledge and to heal?

To be contd.