murambi

[out of internet range for a couple of days. catching up]

The dead are dynamic. They must be; when we avoid them by accepting any other reading, they are either invisible and unreal (which we know by direct experience is not the case) or they are cartoons (ideologies). What follows is about cartoons.

 

A comic cartoon encourages fantasies suitable to the state’s use in perpetuating stupor and obedience (I’m trying to get at Bogues’ definition of state fantasy, and failing). A horror cartoon (a skeleton chasing you, a ghost that won’t stop) teaches obedience to stasis – insisting that what we think has changed is actually the same as it ever was, spinning around one immovable issue. Since, by this theory (the ghost story theory of political will), issues of need and anger never go away, then better never let authority (stronger and stranger than you, now that it has passed beyond life to repetitive immortality) enter into its need or anger. If it does grow angry, if it needs what you’ve acquired, authority will take, and you won’t be able to resist – authority perfects its desire in monotony. Authority: always the same as itself, only more so.

 

History lives in better health when it excels facts without effacing them – when details of what happened – for example, at Murambi – are protected, advanced, continually contextualized and still centrally certain (50,000 dead in half a day; men, women, children, babies, compacted into mass graves). Memory can be built to accommodate certainty and uncertainty – secure facts translated into our progress, and progress is always into uncertainty. If what we remember is to survive, it must be permitted a life somewhat beyond our control – memory works as our partner, not our butler.

 

If we will have more than zombie-memory, then memories must be allowed their natural histories, evolving even in ways that hurt or reject or perplex us.

 

The first time I went to Murambi, there was no guide or preparation, just many small rooms packed haphazardly with limed bodies. The stink was terrible; some of the tarps over the windows bore the UN stamp (read on the role of Zone Turquoise for the irony here). The first two times a group of us returned, our guide was one of the few (est. 14) survivors – he had a divot in his forehead from a bullet; he could barely speak for grief. The third time we saw him, he was more intimately supported by on-site administrators; he was healthier… He eventually remarried and formed a new family. He was smiling the last time we left; he waved. The bodies were fewer and more deliberately arranged. The physical plant was improved – different areas of the exhibit bore labels (a sign with an arrow indicating where the French played volleyball next to the mass graves…). This year, a museum is open and nearly complete, with posters laying out a concise history of the genocide-at-large, and details on what happened at this place. The survivor/guide we knew wasn’t there – we were led through the exhibit by a young and energetic young man who tendered rehearsed, though not pat, paragraphs; he took the group (formerly self-guided) through the rooms efficiently, responsibly, soberly. He did not entertain questions – but we caught him at the end of the day… No pictures permitted, where once they were encouraged (the images have apparently been misused by both negationists, and event eh well intended; the shape of a skeleton should not become a Rwandan logo).

 

The bodies themselves are going away – graying, thinning; the smell has changed.

 

A trauma junkie wants the wound to be fresh and shocking forever. The initial encounter with Murambi was so overmastering, one couldn’t help but be shifted, as if (as if) a kind of wisdom were installed for free. One could be made new simply by seeing. With each clarification, each year’s cooling, the charge to transform remains, but not with the same kind of force it had at the first wiping-away of ignorance.

 

Nostalgia for disaster is a horror cartoon. I feel strongly that on a national level Rwanda is increasing the efficiency of its genocide narrative, and even though this may disappoint nostalgia (a patently colonial nostalgia for a flies-at-the-eyes client state), the way of the story must morph. Rwanda is undertaking massive changes, including developments in the manner of mourning. A tourist mentality (in me) wants the right to return again and again to a situation that really, really needs me – a need I can address with a donation of my own response (the exchange ending with my consolation – arriving at a feeling I’ve ordered up). I would like a pet disaster – but time slips my sanctimony.

 

The form of the narrative develops, hopefully according to its own real nature, and not in service of a political agenda or partisan essentialism. An identity in facts moves forward within the changing body of the story (as our own personal identities carry forward some permanent aspects in the midst of our aging). There is a productive elusiveness in a paradoxical position (change + preservation).

 

The full history of the RPF is less materialized and needs to come forward… but not all related stories need to merge. Genocide is an interdisciplinary saga, and a constellation of related, though not identical or even always overlapping experiences, will round out the picture (the picture will not be blurred down to one average color).

 

The facts will stand together in a room one day. The facts go home at night and sleep in separate stories.

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