November 4, 2018
History is explained through the use of stories, photographs, and facts, and the purpose of these artifacts is to spread the events that took place to those that did not experience it. In the writing of Gourevitch and Sontag, there is a focus on how humans must be aware of human cruelty through stories or photographs to understand the acts of violence that occurred throughout history. Without trying to understand history humans risk being ignorant, however, even though learning of the history we can still remain ignorant and mistake horrific aspects of history as “beautiful.”
The stories of history can be confusing as often time the reasoning behind violence remains confusing even through the lens of those that were present during the violence. This leads to the misinterpretations of violence that Gourevitch experienced during his visit to a church in Rwanda where many Tutsis had been slaughtered by Hutus. Gourevitch was aware of the history of genocide in Rwanda, but like most humans, he was ignorant in his understanding which led him to mention: “the dead in Nyarubuye were, I’m afraid, beautiful.” He found the bodies beautiful despite his knowledge that this scene had at one point been “women who had been raped before being murdered.” Gourevitch’s story is an example of when humans are confronted with an experience that we cannot relate to, we often become unable to comprehend what is in front of us. Sontag reinforces the reliability of Gourevitch’s interpretation of the dead through mentioning “to find beauty in war photographs seems heartless. But the landscape of devastation is still a landscape. There is beauty in ruins.” Sontag demonstrates that despite understanding the history, humans can not help but perceive forms of death as beautiful. This is especially evident for those that have not experienced the violence described in stories or shown in photographs.
It is imperative that humans attempt to understand the photographs or stories that are shared about war and violence, however, even with vast resources, we still cannot understand the extent of the suffering. This is also shown through Gourevitch when he mentions to his driver, Joesph, that the country of Rwanda is beautiful in which the driver replied “Beautiful? You think so? After what happened here?” Joseph was not able to see the landscape as Gourevitch was because “his brother and sister had been killed.” Gourevitch demonstrates how as an outsider, he was not able to fully understand the effect that the violence had on the people that live in Rwanda. Sontag further describes this by mentioning “as an image something may be beautiful…as it is not in real life.” The stories and photographs present humans with a brief moment which can lead to many emotions, even perceiving the events as “beautiful,” even if in actuality the piece of history represented was far from beautiful.
Gourevitch and Sontag both share stories through writing and photographs, with the understanding that humans may never understand the full extent of suffering portrayed in their work. However, Gourevitch presents the difficulty of understanding the Rwandan Genocide even from the view of a soldier of the Rwandese Patriotic Army, Sergeant Francis. Sergeant Francis attempted to describe the killings by telling Gourevitch how this happened “but the horror of it— the idiocy, the waste, the sheer wrongness— remains uncircumscribable.” Despite our inability to convey the reason for such acts of violence as the Rwandan genocide, it remains a piece of history and the stories of genocide must be recorded and shared. This idea is supported by Sontag as she similarly mentions the images “cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer.” Despite our inability to fully understand the stories and images show “this is what humans are capable of doing…don’t forget.” The stories remain important because they force humans to acknowledge pieces of history and they prevent us to forget the horrific realities that some people have been forced to endure.
In We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families, Gourevitch mentions part of his reasoning for telling these stories because within a year after the genocide “the work of the killers looked just how they had intended: invisible.” It is for this reason that Gourevitch felt compelled to share “people’s stories,” including the story of Laurent Nkongoli. Nkongoil was a man who escaped genocide by going to Kigali, but even before fleeing he mentioned: “I had accepted death.” The horror of the genocide is emphasized by Nkongoli as he mentioned: “one hopes not to die cruelly, but one expects to die anyway.” It is through these quotations that humans realize that genocide is something we cannot imagine and the only people that can understand the horror are those that were directly impacted by it. Through stories and photographs, humans can grasp a better understanding that for Tutsis in Rwanda “it was not death but life that seemed an accident of faith.” The idea of accepting death is unfathomable to most humans, and it is for this reason that Gourevitch felt the need to share people’s stories. Sontag similarly mentions that photographs propose an understanding of war but those that have not experienced it are limited in their interpretation. It is for this reason that “we” cannot look away from photographs of the dead, “we is everyone who has never experienced anything like what they went through… We don’t get it.” Although humans can never fully understand an event we did not experience, it is vital that we are exposed to photographs or stories because without then we become ignorant.
The stories and photographs of violence must be shared not with the purpose of obtaining a moral understanding but rather to expose humans to the violence around us. Gourevitch mentions that the stories of genocide may contain moral elements for some people, but “when it comes to genocide, you already know right from wrong.” Gourevitch’s purpose behind sharing the stories are to forces humans to “understand its legacy.” In this case, the legacy is created through this stories which as needed to understand the scar that genocide has left internally in Rwanda. Through stories, there is a hope that humans can learn from the past and be aware of the violence that continues to occur, even if we do not experience it. This idea is further supported in Sontag’s writing when she mentions “the photographs are a means of making ‘real’ matters that the privileges and the merely safe might prefer to ignore.” The use of photographs forces us to acknowledge the violence and to think about what we have seen. Despite human’s inability to directly relate to the images or events described, we must feel obligated “to think about what it means to look at them.” The purpose of a photograph does not have to lead to a moral lesson but we must attempt “to assimilate what they show.” In terms of the Rwandan genocide, it is important to share stories and photographs to create an understanding of the events and the horrific violence that the surviving Rwandans endured and are constantly reminded of.
Through the use of text and pictures, humans can obtain an idea of the horror in which we hope to not repeat. These stories of violence are terrifying but necessary because humans must understand the violence that seems unimaginable in order to prevent some of our ignorance. For the Rwandans, the thought of death had been excepted and it becomes terrifying to think of the idea of war because of “how normal it becomes.” Wars are an unavoidable part of our past history which are still continuing into the present, therefore, humans must become aware of this violence through stories and photographs to try and understand the events that took place.
When discussing The Book of Will in class, I was shocked to find that there were relations between the play and the Rwandan Genocide. While watching the play it was difficult for me to try to connect a play about William Shakespeare to the genocide which leads to the death of every tenth person in the Rwandan population.
In the Book of Will, a major theme was the spreading of William Shakespeare’s plays to preserve the stories.
some themes that connect the Rwandan genocide and The Book of Will are the importance of the passage of time. Time will continue even as history continues and it can only be remembered through writing down the stories to spread them across different cultures and time periods.
The ending scene of the book of will was extremely powerful because all of the actors came onto the stage and began speaking Shakespeare quotes in different languages. This showed that the stories did have an impact around the world and it emphasized that spreading stories is effective and necessary for the spreading of ideas.
as time goes on in the book of will people die and their stories can only be passed on through those that knew them passing on their legacy. In terms of the Rwandan genocide it is impossible to spread every persons story, and this shows the extent of the killings. It still remains important to spread the stories, especially of the survivors who can recount the horrors that they experienced and even the experiences of their killed family members.
Like in Gourevitch’s writing, the stories are written down because the facts will always be a part of history but f the stories are not written down the will be forgotten. If the facts are the only things that remain we will lose our ability to fully understand the events and sympathies with the history.
When discussing the Book of Will briefly in class there were two questions that came up: who has the right to share/spread/collect these stories? and
how do we make sure we present the right version of these stories?
In terms of the question: who has the right to share/spread/collect these stories? I related this question to the message that I obtained from Sontag and Gourevitch.
I decided to cut out words that related to my experience in humes relating to the discussions and units. I wanted to use the words from news papers to see how many of the topics that we learn about in humes are present in todays society. As i started this project I began by cutting out words in Libertas. I decided to use these articles because I often felt as though I didn’t have time to read them so I wanted to make use of the paper that is often times wasted. My idea was to read the articles and find works that related to my idea of the humanities and related to the topics we have been discussing in class. As I began cutting out the articles I began realizing how relevant the topics were that were discussed in the articles as well has how most of them correlated directly to what we had been learning in class. For example I came across and article by Ross Hickman called Where Have All the Folk Songs Gone? This article caught my interest because it mentioned the discertainty of America in 1968, with reference to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in this same year. However, despite this time of uncertainty people continued to sing and share their voices in particular the “generation of young Americans.” The article then discussed America now which is “just as fractured” in terms of the issues that America still faces today. There was then a shift of focus to the work of Childish Gambino and the presence of “social commentary” in his lyrics. After reading this article I realized how truly relevant the things that we learn in the humanities course remain today.
I decided to take the words that I thought represented the humanities and I decided to make a symmetrical pattern. I decided on this pattern because it was something familiar to me and I often created mandalas throughout high school because I found it calming. I paired this familiar pattern with the homes words because the things we learned in humanities I had previously been unaware of. Now each of the words I chose have different and new meanings which are familiar to me. This project represents the many things I have learned in humes which continue to grow everyday.
I chose to do this project on translucent paper because when it is held up to the light it just appears to be a pattern. For me this represents how other people may see humes as just a class. When you look closer and notice the words it because clear that this design is so much more than just a pattern, which represents the different meanings of humes to me. When talking to fellow classmates about their favorite thing about humes an overwhelming majority mentioned how much they loved the people. Humes is more than a class, it is a community where all of us feel comfortable around each other. The translucent paper represents all the close friendships I have formed and also what I have learned.
When I was thinking about what to write about for my definition of humanities I wasn’t sure where to begin. I class we talked about how the humanities can be defined by talking about different topics and allowing our different views to come together. The humanities themselves study different aspects of humans in terms of culture and society. Unlike the sciences, there is often no right or wrong answer. For this reason, there is a large emphasis on the insight of an individual being valued and for that reason rather than explicitly defining the humanities, I will share my personal gain from this course as it relates to my overall understanding of the humanities.
Before coming to Davidson, I had thought of the humanities as merely English or History courses. They were courses that I felt I could understand and I enjoyed them. There was no debate about the humanities, we would learn something in class and everyone would accept it as general knowledge. When arriving at Davidson I began to realize that I did not fully understand the humanities at all. I have found now that part of my understanding is that each unit has acted like a small piece of a puzzle, each of which is constantly adding to my knowledge of the humanities. Through every unit, I have learned how broad the humanities are. I have also realized how oblivious I have been to the things going on around me, the history and violence that occurs around me which I have never paid attention to. The humanities have forced me to acknowledge that I should be aware of things that are beyond my control even if they do not affect me. This has been a reoccurring message to me in each unit but I found it especially prevalent in Unit 3.
During Unit 3 we learned about the Rwandan Genocide, which I had never learned about before and I was frighteningly almost unaware of. This unit leads to a growth and awareness about this topic and an understanding of myself. I feel as though my understanding of the humanities is represented in this poem that I chose after the Rwandan unit when we were transitioning into the poetry in Unit 4.
We Lived Happily During the War
By Ilya Kaminsky
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
I wanted to share this poem because it defines how I felt during the Rwandan unit. I felt that I often do not pay attention to the war or violence around me because I live happily during this time because I am not affected. Also the fact that America is referenced further connected me to the poem because as referenced in the poem, I live in the “great country of money.” This poem relates to the ideas of Sontag and Gourevitch such as what right do we have to learn about these stories or photographs because they “ are a means of making ‘real’ matters that the privileges and the merely safe might prefer to ignore.” (Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, 7)
This unit made me reevaluate what the humanities are. They are much more than subjects combined. They are peoples stories of history and violence that come together to form an understanding of the past that some of us ignored or some of us were not alive for. Humanities encompass the beauty and values of other cultures and show how history is made as well as preserved. The humanities allow us to question but also understand the world around us.
My definition of the humanities has grown based on my furthered understanding. The humanities are established through people coming together across cultures and creating a voice, to share an event or create a voice for people that died and no longer have one. It is sharing our knowledge of the arts, history, cultures, and people. Sharing facts and our interpretations of events combined with stories and back up by books. It is understanding the humans are constantly evolving and changing. It is understanding that there is violence in the world going on around us and we must not accept it but be aware of it. It is preventing ignorance through sharing pictures and stories to establish some form of understanding, even if the people that did not experience the violence will never fully be able to understand. The humanities expose humans to the world around us and it challenges us to make sense of the past to learn for the future.
My definition of revolution is the complete change of a system furthered by texts, with the guidance of leaders, or a combination of the two, over an extended period of time. Revolutions are met with controversy or created with the intentions of creating conflict in order to over turn a system. Also a revolution is a change in the system that occurs after an extended period of time, which takes perseverance from society. Furthermore, change occurs when a large group of people are willing to spread the ideas that there must be a change in the current system.
My definition for a revolution was influenced through the units, class discussions and through the readings.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a revolutionary leader through his ideas regarding segregation and his willingness to fight for justice and be a fearless leader of the african american community. He defied segregation around America “because my people are suffering” (48) and because “injustice exists here” (48). King spent his life fighting for a revolution of values with the purpose of ending segregation. In terms of the definition I created of revolution King follows it by firstly, his letter which was written in Birmingham jail which led his views to be spread on a large scale throughout America. He was the leader of this movement and he used his words to attract people that shared his views to join him to fight against the white moderates and others. king’s spreading of views lead to constant controversy which is seen through the violence that many African Americans experienced despite their use of non violent direct action. In King’s letter from Birmingham jail he mentions the violence of the police force who act in “ugly and inhumane” ways towards “unarmed, nonviolent Negroes” (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from Birmingham Jail (New York, NY: Writer’s House, 1963), quoted in Jonathan Rieder, Gospel to Freedom: Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle that Changed the Nation. (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014). King addresses the violence of the police force to create “tension” so that the issues of segregation “can no longer be ignored.” King’s ultimate desire was to “create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation” (172).
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