03 March 2012

On the forgotten, forgettable, unforgettable and ‘forgetted’

[the nauseating demands articulated in Geneva by the worst perpetrators of crimes against humanity persuaded to google 'crimes' and this, writtten on September 13, 2010, came up]

9/11.  Two numbers. One stroke. A date. A monumental crime against humanity. A metaphor. An alibi for equally monumental crimes against humanity.  Turning point, to some, same-old-same-old for others, chickens coming home to roost for still others.  Yes, 9/11 was all that.  When you say it (yes say it and see for yourself) you will see the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York crumbling before your eyes.  This is the 9/11 of 2001. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we all forgot and keep forgetting do we not that there’s a 9/11 every year and there’s been 9/11s since human beings started carving up time into months, days, hours, minutes and seconds, screwed the season in the rush and made it eminently suited to be translated into money a few centuries later.  There are 9/11s then and 9/11s.  Tragedies and tragedies. Happy days and sad ones. Births and deaths and the innumerable in-betweens.  All this and more on this 9/11 and that, in that country or this or somewhere else you and I have never visited or even heard of.

I am not going to be random, sorry.  ‘9/11’ in the popular imagination is a specific, as the above experiment I suggested would prove. So here’s another  ‘specific’.  The Chile of Victor Jara, street artist and poet, lyricist and singer for the working class, whose hands were chopped off so he could not play or hold his guitar not many minutes before they killed him.  This Chile of Pablo Neruda.  The Chile of a US-backed coup d’etat that overthrew the democratically-elected Government of President Salvador Allende; the violent intervention that saw the Presidential Palace being bombed and thousands of unarmed supporters of the popular president being massacred in cold blood.

That was a 9/11 whose before, after and in between is brilliantly captured in a 3 part documentary by Patricio Guzman titled ‘Battle of Chile, chronicling the political tension in Chile in 1973 and the violent counter-revolution against the Allende Government.  It is the 9/11 that brought to power a love-child of US foreign policy, General Augusto under whose tyrannical rule over 3000 people were killed, 80,000 interned and over 30,000 tortured, including women and children.  It was a 9/11 that Uncle Sam orchestrated and cheered every bloody minute of the way. 

I remember a 9/11. Another specific 9/11.  It was a 9/11 when the sequel to Guzman’s documentary, ‘Obstinate Memory’ was screened in Ithaca, NY.  ‘Obstinate Memory’ is described as a collection of fractured biographical narratives of those whose lived experiences were erased from public memory in post-dictatorship Chile.  Twenty years after ‘The Battle of Chile’ was filmed, Guzman returned to Chile with a copy of the documentary. He showed it to various audiences (including persons present in it and/or their near and dear) and recorded reactions.

I remember, that 9/11 of 1998.  Guzman asks an audience of undergrads what they thought of Pinochet, Allende, the Communist Party which he led and other related issues prior to screening the documentary.  The students were candid in their answers. Most of them were critical of Pinochet but had generally accepted the official narrative: Pinochet saved Chile from Allende and Communism and had he not, things would have been worse. 

No comment from the film-maker. He just showed the film.  There was silence thereafter.  Then he asked a student what he remembered of that 9/11, the 9/11 of 1973.  Silence. Long silence. Then he spoke.

‘I remember that day. I remember that day because I was very happy. I was very happy because there was no school that day.’ 

Then he broke down and wept like a baby. It had taken him over twenty years to remember that 9/11 in its full significance, to reawaken obstinate memory from a slumber that lasted two decades.  It took him that long to understand that there is forgetting and that there is ‘unforgetting’, that there is forgettable and unforgettable.  That forgetting doesn’t just happen all the time, on account of event-clutter and the passing of time.  That there is, in short, a word that ought to be in all languages but is not: ‘forgetted’.

This is what it is all about.  Let me speak for myself.  I remember the 9/11 of 1998.  I wept that day because I realized that I could never forget people who I knew who were tortured and killed in the bheeshanaya of 1988-90.  I wept for Victor Jara.  Today is not an 9/11. It is a 9/12.  Of the year 2010.  Today I remember that I had forgotten the 9/11 of 1998 and the 9/11 of 1973.  I remember today that these things were ‘forgetted’ just as much as they were ‘forgotten’. I remember that the privileged 9/11 of 2001, monumental tragedy and reason for mourning though it is no doubt, is nevertheless also a ‘forgotting’ instrument.   I forgot.

It all came back because my friend Lydie Meunier alerted her Facebook friends to something they might have forgotten but should not. This was what she wrote: On September 11 1973, the US government of Richard Nixon launched the military coup (or was it a terrorist attack?) that led Augusto Pinochet to become Chile's bloody dictator for 16 years, ousting the presidency of democratically elected Salvador Allende.’

There is something obstinate about memory. There will always be a Lydie Meunier reminding us that we can be afflicted with ‘forgettedness’ There will always be a Patricio Guzma. 

There will be remembrances.  There has to be. 

9/11.  Two numbers. One stroke. A date. TWO DATES (at least).  Let us remember

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malinsene@gmail.com



Anonymous said...

Nixon was no imbecile invading another sovereign country. It's to do with Socialism in the US's backyard and Socialism is a dirty word there. Things have not changed even today. E.g. The Maldives democratically elected a Socialist and the US was instrumental in ousting him. When Hamas got elected in Gaza, some of the children there were going to school for the first time and the sick were being readily treated, but at the behest of Israel, US couldn't wait to get them ousted.