Monday, May 24, 2004

Photographing the Disaster

As Maurice Blanchot reminds us in his The Writing of the Disaster, there can be no experience of the disaster simply because the disaster always happens after it has happened. September 11th has little, if nothing, to do with the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001: September 11th is all about the aftermath of that disaster, as we futilely attempt to recreate/represent/reveal the truth of that experience in a continual recreation/repetition of it. This is precisely why there will be no truth coming from any 9/11 Commission.

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is equally laughable in its arrogant attempt to represent any passion of any Christ, let alone one that requires determinate articles. You cannot get at the disaster by trying to recreate the disaster because the disaster is untouchable by mere human efforts, even if humans created the disaster.

The Holocaust cannot be represented. Despite the filmed and photographic archives, this disaster was so much more than emaciated faces staring through barbed wire or bulldozers plowing through a pile of corpses.

The disaster speaks of the absence of the disaster: “When all is said, what remains to be said is the disaster. Ruin of words, demise writing, faintness faintly murmuring: what remains without remains (the fragmentary)” (33).

Like the fat American nonchalantly looking at his hands that all too often has been cropped out of the photograph of the Iraqi prisoner standing on a box, with a hood over his head, with wires attached to his body--a photograph of the disaster depicts the absence of the disaster. What is not shown is closer to the disaster: the terror and abuse of a human against another human all in the name of saving humanity. (But which man here is more dehumanized? The Iraqi prisoner? The fat American? The photographer? The president who ordered the war? Or any other countless participants or spectators?)

And yet still it is not disaster but a mere shadow of it.

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