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Friday, December 08, 2006

comparing tragedies

I'm watching the movie version of the play "Rent".

I've also been trying to get back to reading Balakian's
The Burning Tigris
about the Armenian Genocide. As I watch these people cry and sing about their friends dying from AIDS, a voice rises up in me saying that at least they aren't victims of genocide. Disrespecting their tears, this voice says "you're lucky".
I know that this voice is the voice of my step-mother who's parents lost most of their family to the Turks. But the voice has been internalized; I find it in me hidden under many guises. At this point, all I can do is pose it as a problem.

I think the problem is the unknown enormous scope of something like a genocide. And this problem is seriously compounded by the Turkish attempt to deny its significance and face up to its magnitude. As a result, you can never put it in front of you and say "there it is"; "there is the tragedy of the genocide". There is always the worry that lurking in the unknown elements are tragedies much worse than what one is currently encountering and so how can one take the present seriously? Is this the purpose of art? To tell a story that doesn't at the same time take meaning away from life?
I'm having trouble finding this art in Balakian's book, though I don't doubt its waiting to be found. It just takes work on my part. I can only read a little bit at a time. I can read a line like (p. 195) "In the end between a half and two-thirds of the more than two million Armenians living on their historic homeland in Ottoman Empire were annihilated." but still imagine that there is some even larger tragedy looming than the sheer number of deaths. One can learn about Armenian culture and track its destruction, or look at specific cases and try to fathom the extremes of individual suffering. And until this has been done, one imagines that there is still something so much worse, so completely awful, that no current tragedies are worthy.
The fear of the unknown. It is paralyzing.

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