Surviving Images: Cinema, War, and Cultural Memory in the Middle East

Surviving Images: Cinema, War, and Cultural Memory in the Middle East

Surviving Images: Cinema, War, and Cultural Memory in the Middle East

Surviving Images: Cinema, War, and Cultural Memory in the Middle East

Synopsis

Surviving Images explores the prominent role of cinema in the development of cultural memory around war and conflict in colonial and postcolonial contexts. It does so through a study of three historical eras: the colonial period, the national-independence struggle, and the postcolonial. Beginning with a study of British colonial cinema on the Sudan, then exploring anti-colonial cinema in Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia, followed by case studies of films emerging from postcolonial contexts in Palestine, Iran, Lebanon, and Israel, this work aims to fill a gap in the critical literature on both Middle Eastern cinemas, and to contribute more broadly to scholarship on social trauma and cultural memory in colonial and postcolonial contexts. This work treats the concept of trauma critically, however, and posits that social trauma must be understood as a framework for producing social and political meaning out of these historical events. Social trauma thus sets out a productive process of historical interpretation, and cultural texts such as cinematic works both illuminate and contribute to this process. Through these discussions, Surviving Images illustrates cinema's productive role in contributing to the changing dynamics of cultural memory of war and social conflict in the modern world.

Excerpt

Cinema’s vaunted social power is perhaps first and best captured in a notorious comment attributed to the American president Woodrow Wilson, upon his viewing of Birth of a Nation (1915). Wilson has been widely reported as having said that this seminal work of narrative filmmaking was like “writing history with lightning.” The profundity of this quote derives no little from the recognition that the origins of the greatest art form of the twentieth century will forever be identified with racism and communal hatred (which are celebrated in Birth of a Nation), but also reflects upon the fact that this medium was perhaps unrivaled for the advancement of claims upon the making of history. The poesis of light and movement that the seventh art perfected with such power has therefore always borne with it the burden of this origin, a burden of writing history, but only if history itself is seen as a discursive elaboration of a broader field of cultural memory. Birth of a Nation was much more an act of revising American cultural memory of the post–Civil War period than it was a work with any significant relationship to the discipline of history. By attending to a wound on the psyche of white Americans, not a small proportion of whom viewed the promise of equality for blacks with a tribal sense of alarm, Birth of a Nation represents the Civil War and its aftermath as a national trauma for whites rather than as a victory (as the prevailing, Unionist, telling would have presented it). Recasting the history of the Reconstruction, Birth of a Nation allowed those white Americans who were drawn to this narrative to communally share in a cultural memory of this period that presented the rise of the Ku Klux Klan as a redemptive turn after the traumas of the war. This model—of social trauma that results in the production of cinema as history, cinema as cultural memory—would be repeated across the world over the next century, by putative victors and colonial overlords to begin with, but also increasingly by those who were their subjects and victims. Wilson’s attributed phrase portends the role that cinema would come to assume—a screen, however contested, upon which the images that defined cultural memory would be displayed.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.