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- Written by Eman Jueid
- Category: World News
Raad’s Notebook Volume 38: Already been in a lake of fire ostensibly records the make and model of every automobile used in Beirut car bombings, and includes detailed information on the type of explosive used, the vehicle’s location, and so forth. Although photographs may be geographically “real,” they are often post or pre-dated. For example, an image taken in 2004 might appear in the Atlas Group archives labeled as “1982.” This forged chronology brings to mind the problems faced by the Lebanese educational system; schools struggle with curriculum addressing contemporary history, and post-1943 accounts are hotly contested as competing groups vie over “authentic” truth.
Walid Raad’s work is as much about making sense out of conflict as it is about exploding the idea of a coherent historical narrative. In constructing a narrative and giving it [false] authenticity, he shatters our concept of historical truth and accuracy. Can any historical account ever be wholly truthful? Witness accounts are always fraught with subjective inaccuracies and absolute objectivity is an impossibility. This is even more the case in the traumatic experiences of war.
In contrast to Raad, Ari Folman’s semi-autobiographical 2008 film Waltz with Bashir illuminates truth through an exercise in subjectivity. The film recounts the struggle of an Israeli Defense Forces veteran to recover missing memories from Beirut, and to come to terms with his involvement in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. The veteran, provoked by a recurrent dream (for which his mind provides no context) visits psychoanalysts and former comrades to reconstruct missing memories. Folman embeds his protagonist in a stunning animated landscape—beautiful visual images and musical arrangements accompany us as we follow Ari’s attempt to recover from the trauma-induced amnesia brought on by the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp massacre.
Although the film is purportedly motivated by Ari’s desire to reconstruct “truth,” the film offers little to no context concerning the Israeli Defense Forces’ participation in (and complicity with) the Phalangist-led slaughter of Palestinian camp residents. Rather, the final scene marks the first moment in which “documentary” images appear. No Palestinian commentary appears to temper the narrative: viewers are left with haunting photographs of bodies, of devastation, and by Ari’s triumphant journey of reclamation (and absolution). By the time documentary evidence appears in Waltz with Bashir, the filmmaker has already fostered an empathetic reaction with the protagonist.
Although the aims of the Atlas Group and Waltz with Bashir differ (Folman’s film is a project of self-forgiveness, while Raad’s work is a resistance to absolution), these pieces can and should be juxtaposed for what they reveal about the creation of truth from narratives of conflict. Folman’s film seeks to recapture a sense of lucidity and intelligibility; Raad attempts to display war-time clarity for what it is: a fiction. In the tempestuous age of Wikileaks, Twitter and the Arab Spring, the artwork of Walid Raad reminds us that, in modern conflict, all truth is propaganda and all history invention.By Amanda Rogers, Aslan Media Contributor
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