". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sharing A Bit From Alma Guillermopreito Observation

Alma is, first, a dancer. She became a writer when her career was over, which happens to almsot all dancers before age 35. She spent 5 years after that floundering. As she explains, as anyone knows who has danced seriously, dance owns your life as well as your body, so when you are no longer in training for rehearsals and performances, you are deflated, not much, and feel lost and dead.

She became a writer, journalist, historian mostly through the efforts of a friend of her family's, who owned a Mexican newspaper (Alma's Mexican) and "had the idea I could write and should write. I fought him, and felt after every piece I was a failure, but he'd push me into doing another."

She's a very good writer. Her career took off when, in

 "1982, Guillermoprieto, then based in Mexico City, was one of two journalists (the other was Raymond Bonner of The New York Times) who broke the story of the El Mozote massacre in which some 900 villagers at El Mozote, El Salvador, were slaughtered by the Salvadoran army in December, 1981. With great hardship and at great personal risk, she was smuggled by FMLN rebels to visit the site approximately a month after the massacre took place. When the story broke simultaneously in the Post and Times on January 27, 1982, it was dismissed as propaganda by the Reagan administration. Subsequently, however, the details of the massacre as first reported by Guillermoprieto and Bonner were verified, with widespread repercussions. During much of the subsequent decade, Guillermoprieto was a South America bureau chief for Newsweek."
Her mode of penetrating a story, an issue, a movement in popular culture, the street, comes directly out of her years as a dancer. She "reads" bodies, as well as the context within which the body is positioned. The position and motion of a body gives her enormous amounts of information because, she says in her characteristic self-deprecating manner, "I have an encyclopedic memory for such imagery, though I have no memory for anything else," Thus she's particularly good at describing how images, particularly images of bodies, ares used by individuals or institutions to impart specific messages without saying what they telling you..

As an example she broke down the final scene of Avatar off-handedly. I've not seen any other review or criticism of the film mention the posture of Neytiri, the film's female Na'vi protagonist, in its connection to the fallen, failing, dying Sully. It's a repoduction of this posture, in the famous photo from the crime of Kent State

This came about via a discussion of her book, Dancing With Cuba: A Memoir of the Revolution, and the questions students asked her about her lack of awareness in many ways of the Vietnam War, until she saw it presented in an Havana movie theater via old-fashioned newsreels, shot by Vietnamese, the same Vietnamese upon whom the bombs were fallings, whose villages were burned, the ones upon whom the U.S. was making war. As a dancer she had no time or money for television or newspapers while living in NYC. The students were astounded by these accounts of what it was like for a dancer in those days in NYC, how poor young artists were, and how poorly they lived. So then she asked them if they knew about Kent State and the shootings at Jackson State as well, which she also learned of via Granma and newsreels while she was living in Havana. Quite a few of the students did know about Kent State, though none of them had heard of the shootings of African American students at Jackson State. The students were then asked if they knew what happened after these student shootings by the National Guard, and none of them did.

All the colleges and universities in the U.S. went on strike and shut the entire sucker down.

"They don't want you to know that, do they?" the students were asked. They were astounded.

Then Alma asked them what they thought Cameron intended then, with this image of Sully and Neytiri, deliberately mimicking the pose of the fallen male student and the grieving female student kneeling next to him? All the students had, of course, seen Avatar. Tremendous conscious raising ensued right then and there in terms of history, in terms of who tells the news and where, in terms of what student power really meant, in terms of how easily we get images without understanding what we are being told.

You can refresh your memory of the Kent State photo here.

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