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Postmodern Views of History/Memory and Identity Ararat & Slaughterhouse V
Outline • Postmodernism, History and Identity: General Issues & Questions • Ararat and SL-V • Ararat: • General Introduction and Question • Two Major Themes: the “Lack”; the Need to find or tell the “historical” truth. BUT . . . • The “Objective” & “Official” + the Personal. • The Metafictional – Truth Problematized but Reconstruction Confirmed. • Atom Egoyan’s ‘Home-Coming’ • References
What did we discuss last week? • Definitions of Postmodernism and Postmodernity • Flatness (collage & pastiche), de-subjectivization, waning of affect, schizophrenia • lack of history vs. “constant presence” of history • Image Society (music video) and Society as Spectacle (The Living Mall)
Identity • Identity as a Process of Identification (of social conditioning and individual choices). • Two Kinds: Individual and collective; • Individual: defined through mind, body, writing, clothing and other social actions. • Collective: gender, race, national, etc.
History and Identity: General Questions In the process of identification, the past (individual memory and collective history) always plays a role. • How does trauma impact on individual victims and their survivors? (e.g. obsession, escape, silence & repression, repetition compulsion, creative reconstruction) • What is “History” (grand narrative)? How is it connected with personal histories (small narratives)? • Is historical truth to be known? Can it be re-presented realistically? (e.g. 二二八真調會) • Are we (survivors or readers) numb to tragedies, historical or present? Part of the debate between Realism vs. Postmodernism
The Two Texts vs. Traumatic History Why? Egoyan – as a descendant • His separation from Armenian tradition • went to Canada in 1962 at the age of two from Egypt. -- Lived in BC, separated from Armenian community, church, or language. 2. Gradual recognition of Armenian roots in college and awareness of this genocide. -- His father's mother was an orphan of Armenian genocide and his grandfather narrowly escaped from it. 3. Burden—lack of general recognition: -- a remote area not known to his audience; -- a history denied by the Turkish government.
Vonnegut –as a Survivor “When I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen [...]. But not many words about Dresden came from my mind then. [...] And not many words come now, either [...]. (2)
Metafictional Styles • A response to one’s/human inability to fully know and represent history, or to make it meaningful; • (later) literature of exhaustion and replenishment. • Thematically, it expresses ontological (existential) insecurity and uncertainties. • Formally, it exposes and revises traditional narrative elements such as plot, narrative frame, narrator and characters. • overplotting (Ararat) vs. underplotting (SL-V)
The Two Texts as Historiographic Metafiction Metafiction: reality = fiction Metafiction is a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. In providing a critique of their own methods of construction, such writings not only examine the fundamental structures of narrative fiction, they also explore the possible fictionality of the world outside the literary fictional text. (Patricia Waugh 2).
The Two Texts as Historiographic Metafiction (2) Historiographic metafiction – history = fiction • rejects grand narratives and asserts the specificity and particularity of the individual past event. (plural histories) • “both inscribes and undermines the authority and objectivity of historical sources and explanations” (122-123, Linda Hutcheon)
1. Missing & Protective fathers and mothers 1) Gorky’s photo taken in Van characters: Missionary Ussher, the boy Gorky, the photographer and his son, Jevdet Bey. 2) Raffi’s & Celia’s (step brother and step-sister of different fathers and mothers) e.g. chap 5 3) David (customs officer) and Philip (his son) – Ali triangle + Philip’s son Ararat: Plotlines:
Ararat: Plotlines (2) 2. The need to tell “the historical truth” or the stories. Gorky silent -- Cannot get over the past (witnessing the brutal killing of his friend, and Armenian women) 1) Gorky her dead husband (a terrorist) Ani 2) his mother Sorayan + Rouben // Egoyan Different forms of ‘rendering’ history with artifacts: photo, painting, book, film, videotape and – Storytelling. 3) Raffi supplement the film with shootings of real footage.
Starting Questions • Some reviewers think that the film is ‘unfortunately’“confused and confusing,” leaving the audience with an unclear message about the genocide. Do you agree? • There are two different kinds of ‘history’ in this film: personal history and national history. How do they influence or overlap with each other in each character? • Ani and Raffi, Ani and Celia, David and Philip, Ali and Raffi, Saroyan, Archile Gorky. • How is the film within the film different in style from the film, Ararat?
Topic I: Personal Investment in Public History The following examples show how what’s usually considered to be “objective” history or official story invites or involves personal investment. • Ani’s History of Arshill Gorky Ani, Raffi, and Celia; over the death of the fathers • Raffi’s getting a ‘realistic’ footage of the film Raffi and Celia; over the meaning of their existence • Sorayan’s film and getting a Turk to play the role of Turkish soldier Raffi and Ali – over their views of history • Custom Officer David’s investigation of drug smuggling David and Raffi – over honesty and “truth” of smuggling.
Personal + Public Histories (1): Ani and Celia • Battle between Ani and Celia – • Celia wants to believe that her father does not commit suicide; • Ani uses the story of Gorky and his mother to assert the right of a mother; she does not feel responsible for helping Celia deal with her past; • Bottled up, Celia becomes disruptive and even destructive.
Personal Histories (1): Ani, Raffi, and Celia • Both children need to understand their fathers’ suicide, its purposes and meanings.
Personal Histories ＋ Public (2): • Chap 16 – • Different views of history: Ali’s, Sorayan’s and Raffi’s
Personal Histories (2): Sorayan as a Director Adjusting himself: -- pomegranate seeds -- not angry at Ali. --the film as his tribute to his mother.
Personal Histories (2): Raffi & Ali Raffi — resist sentimentalism first. -- feels it through the film Ali – does not care about history but identifies with his role
The Public + Personal (3): David & Philip • Unable to accept Ali first; (the issues of religion and homosexuality) • “I couldn’t punish him for being honest.” • Through Raffi, he opens up at the end of his career as a custom officer.
Personal Histories (2): Raffi’s Quest • What does Raffi get in Turkey and near Ararat? Images only and drugs. • Raffi goes in searching and almost destroys himself by being implicated in drug-dealing. • Resolution: Feels the father’s ghost through an artistic image.
Personal Histories (4): David, Philip, Ali • David tries to accept Philip and Ali, but he is deeply Christian. • Philip rejects David out of his sense of insecurity. • David tries to open up more by letting Raffi go (not performing his duty in catching him), having Philip in mind.
Topic II Historical Representation Problematized and Re-Confirmed Frames Storytelling Artistic Reconstructions
2.0. “story”– fictitious but meaningful • Something made up – • “a new twist to the story” Ani to Raffi in their discussion of Raffi and Celia. • Celia’s father – pushed off the cliff Ani – Celia to Raffi: you think I’m “making up a story” • For communication and self-discovery: “What’s the story about” David to Raffi • To carry on a tradition: Gorky’s mother to Gorky–“you’ll live to tell the story.”
Ararat as Storytelling –against glamour • Egoyan: "Films are by nature a very dubious way of presenting history," Mr. Egoyan said. "I'm very uneasy with what occurs when you combine notions of atrocity and glamour. Every decision to light a character in a certain way, to add a certain sound effect, to put in musical cue, makes a film interpretive. There's no way that any dramatic reconstruction is not going to be in some way a retelling. That's the nature of storytelling.” (Egoyan) • The film pays respect to the realistic representation (of Sorayan) and problematizes it by • 1) exposing and/or puncturing its frames; • 2) confirming the functions of story-telling and fictitious representation.
Realism • Sorayan’s film: • 1. What do you think about the showing of all the killings and rape and heroism? • E.g. the women burned; the photographer’s suicidal heroism; the last scene with a woman raped shown in the theatre. • Realism can make a strong impact on us with its immediacy and accessible story.
Atom Egoyan: on “Ararat” the Film • I do not want to make those images ironic. I do, however, want to underline the limitations of that kind of representation.” • What are the limitations of repeating histories of sadness?
2.1 Soroyan’s Film and its “Frames” Exposed or Punctured 1. The Frames Exposed: Van under attack; • Film making Usher vs. Jevdet Bey over the document of turning down Turkish support Self-defense in Van in 1915 (e.g. the photographer) • Film making presented by Raffi to David
Sorayan’s Film and its “Frames” Exposed or Punctured • Frames Punctured • Ani’s intrusion into the set and Usher’s continued “performance”; chap 21
“Stories” within the story: More Frames Exposed The Photo-Taking scene – • Anil’s voiceover speech by Anil Gorky’s mother’s death • presented by the museum clerk Multiple Frames: Armenian women’s dancing to death German women Ussher U’s journal Film Raffi David
Stories within the story:2.2 Personal “Truth” Confirmed 2. Personal “Truth”: Sarayan to Raffi: What matters is not how many people get killed, but how some people could hate you so much and still do. Raffi –David: What matters is not . . . , but how there is no way of confirming that the things you said happened.
2.2 Raffi’s “Truth” & “Origin” Confirmed Raffi’s search for meaning:
2.2 Raffi’s “Truth” & “Origin” Confirmed What Raffi finds: 1) the fresco—the origin of Gorky’s painting; 2) courage -- “I felt it”“His ghost.”
2.3 Atom Egoyan on Art in Ararat • a "meditation on the spiritual role of art in the process of struggling for meaning and redemption in the aftermath of genocide.“(http://www.cdca.asso.fr/cdca/cdca-egoyan_article_theguardian.htm ). • “I wanted more to examine the role and consequences of art making: how people make artifacts of their experience, and what those artifacts mean to them.” (McSorley)
2.3 Imaginative Re-creation Confirmed • Marty: Upon being asked to read Usher’s journal, etc., he said he has done research and reading. ”Beyond that it’s pretty much my imagination.” • Sorayan -- with the fake Mt. Ararat in the background– finds his way of approaching Mt. Ararat (making it visible in Van).
The Other Artistic Re-Productions in the Film • Photograph of the Painter and his Mother • Gorky’s painting -- Not just a reproduction of a photograph Remembering through human artifacts, which includes forms of art and storytelling.
Ararat: Opening and Conclusion • Opening – different forms of art fade into Toronto Airport (suggesting of transition and immigration) • Closing –a tribute paid to “small” history, as represented by Gorky’s mother. • Anil connects with Gorky’s mother • Apparently realistic representation of Gorky’s mother, her sewing and singing.
Ararat: Conclusion Closing – 2. The hands’ touching and working
Atom Egoyan’s Homecoming with Ararat • “Home”-coming in two senses: • Making a “Canadian” film after the two international projects: Felicia’s Journey (shot in Britain and Ireland, 1999); Krapp’s Last Tape (Beckett on Film series) • More and more ‘personal’ and emotional, less cerebral. (The Sweethereafter 1997)
Atom Egoyan: Films with Armenian Connections • Next of Kin: A bored young Canadian, while receiving experimental "video therapy", discovers tapes of an Armenian family who are missing a son. The young man assumes the identity of the long-lost boy, and is readily adopted by this new "family". • Calendar: An Armenian-Canadian photographer gets estranged from his wife, who is closer to Armenian culture, during their trip to Armenia, and then, back in Toronto, he needs to find a way to face this sad memory.
Atom Egoyan: Films with Armenian Connections • The Adjuster: There are two sisters from Armenia who have to burn pictures of the past and forget about them. • The other films: • displacement in a city, dysfunction of family, rituals of remembering and survival, etc. • including Exotica.
Personal connections: Actors/Actresses • Charles Aznavour –an Armenian French singer/star; • Eric Bogosian – American writer/actor of Armenian origin: “Like Rouben, I a Armenian and I wanted to embrace that by being part of this project.” • The others: Bruce Greenwood (actor/Clarence Ussher), Arsinée Khanjian (Ani) , Elias Koteas (Ali/Jevdet Bey )
Reference • Tom McSorley. “Far Away, So Close: Atom Egoyan Returns Home with Ararat.”Take One 2002 (Sept-Nov): 8-13. • Egoyan, Atom. “In Other Words: Poetic Licence and the Incarnation of History. University of Toronto Quarterly 73 (Summer2004): 886-905.