Thursday, July 31, 2014

Abertura: travels in memory

Thessaloniki, Prigipos 2010
Image: Rodanthi Tzanelli

Abertura: opening up; the gradual, ten-year process of democratization on which Brazil embarked after the end of Getulio Vargas’ regime (Valente 2012: 150). As a word it is easy to define chronologically, but as a concept it is complex to situate within global mobilities of culture – their movement towards a final purpose, a completion. But is ‘democratisation’ a universal condition or its local nuances overdetermine its definition (s)?
Let us begin by conceding that most cultures undergo aberturas, which citizens invariably experience from below. Abertura opens up so as to give shape and meaning to a polity. It stretches collective memories to the point of breaking, so that cracks are revealed and weak sports are better amended. It may be naïve to disconnect processes of healing from wounding; hence, the solution often lies with the perpetrators of trauma. Art and artistic creativity recognises this link and insists in returning to the source of the tragedy. Freud might have been right to argue that society always moves things towards its own death; that art finds way to articulate the things humans conceal from themselves; and that individual and communal desires converge behind ideas of healing what cannot be avoided (death) with ritual. Remembrance of traumatic events thus comprises a great source of creativity for the artists.
Notably, the original Greek root of the verb ‘to remember’ is not mnemonevõ (from which comes mneme and the function of the mnemonist) but enthymoúmai. Memory relies on our ability to contain (en) thymotic properties within (thymós as spiritedness, affect and anger) before communicating them to others (the role of the mnemonist as communal story-teller, historian or artist). This containment allows time to lapse before transforming affects into intelligible emotions. Spontaneous expressions or anger or rage may have a rationale, but not necessarily a language accessible to others. Art finds a language, an order and a structure to communicate the incommunicable even when it claims de-constructive techniques as its methods. It may induce strong emotions to audiences, but it channels them into pedagogical processes of viewing or even performing/participating in ritual.
It seems then that artistic pursuits can share in articulation techniques with the state. The image of the state as a gardener weeding out undesirable plants, matches that of the artist, who airbrushes portraits from colourful canvases; the charismatic national builder as a cosmetic architect; the nationally venerated musician who composes agreeable melodies (symphony from symfonía: agreement); and the choreographer who harmonises embodied performance. Audio-visual arts appear to be close to statist techniques (even when they disagree with the state in their aims and objectives). It has, for example, been suggested (Baker 1995) that in highly mobile and transitory spaces of ‘combative cultural politics’, film-making is streamlined through three distinctive modes of acceptance: resistance, habituation and interference. Films of resistance produce alternative social paradigms whereas films of habituation attune to existing networks of power and reinforce them. Films of interference disrupt institutional arrangements but do not necessarily proffer viable alternatives. All three modes emulate the principles of abertura as political dialogue or openness, challenging or reinforcing norms and values.
The substitution of thymotic esoterism with mnemonic articulation in art activates a sort of travel through things past. When this process is not enabled and amnesia dominates the cultural domain of ritual instead traumas eventually implode. Some suggest that the safest route to healing is one’s confrontation with the past. Perhaps neither silence nor en-thymotic revolution can institute a long-lasting combative cultural politics, as both seem to foreclose paths to mnemonic articulations that do not exclude but open communal spaces up to new cultural horizons.

Baker, R. (1995) ‘Combative cultural politics: Film art and political spaces in Egypt’, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 15: 6-38.
Valente, F.L. (2012) ‘Afterword’. In S. Maranhão, Blood of the Sun – Poems, translated by A. Levitin. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed, 147-51.

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