Tragic memory: is Tarantino right?

“Memory of Shoah”
Publishing House Officyna, Lodz 2009

This 900 pages collection of essays edited by Tomasz Majewski and Anna Zeidler-Janiszewska has several sections. One of which, “Memory through art,” is edited by Alicja Kuczyńska, also a contributor. Even though I do not know how my Mom would react to the film (I liked the script but was dissipated by its screen version) her remarks introducing the art section seem to offer some validation to the wild concept of “Inglorious Basterds,” and, what’s more important, clarify the landscape of tragic memory.

Here is my riff on her thoughts:

That which was – changes. With passing time, that which was reveals less of its original self and instead increases its unknown territory. In hugely traumatic events which reside in our memory the ratio between the “known” and the “unknown” changes with time. Yet their total space stays the same.

Within this space, the “unknown” still has power. It exists as a void, a moral wound, a cry of souls, as something that is not given a proper presence. The fact that the memory fades does not remove its traumatic weight from our collective or individual subconsciousness.

Additionally traditional narrative techniques are running out their courses. The narrative becomes anti-narrative, new materials appears, new spheres for artistic expressions emerge and with them new sides of a tragic event or a traumatic issue from the past are brought forth.

If the sphere of “memory” needs to be constantly adjusted and filled with the new and if the tools are changing, aren’t we pushed to seek new ways to deal with the horror of the past?

Don’t latest attempts in the new media, new art, result in treating the past as a layer of the present? Meanings multiply, their sensuous dimensions change. There is a transition from representation to interpretation. There is a push to favor more existential, broader approach. In a generational change the witnesses are slowly being replaced by the “memory guardians,” who unavoidably change the transmission of the message. To carry the pain, they have to make it personal, with new techniques and new sensitivities.

The trauma of the horrors experienced by our grandparents is always present. If it’s not voiced and remains “blank” or unexpressed, it does not mean it does not exist. If we don’t diffuse its cry the trauma can explode and create additional damage. Art can attempt to handle those “blank” tragic memory regions and by doing so help it (and us) to heal. The tragic memory does not seek the restitution of the past. It wants to negate it. If so, isn’t the alternative, victorious past of “Inglorious Basterds” a step in the right direction? (Even if this particular attempt is shallow.) Furthermore, can we seek catharsis changing the outcome of a past horror? Can we use our imagination to heal the wounds?

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