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Diaspora 6:2 1997 ”Is This My Mother’s Grave?”: Genocide and Diaspora in Atom Egoyan’s Family Viewing1 Lisa Siraganian The Johns Hopkins University Every minute those scenes are before my eyes—all bloody.... This is the story of the end of my life. The things that happened while I was very young, those things I will forget, and I have given them to “forgetting.” —Survivor of the Armenian genocide interviewed over 50 years later (Miller and Miller, Survivors 163) Tracey: You think this is normal? Francis: What? Tracey: What we do? Francis: What we do? Tracey: That’s just it. We don’t speak about it. —Atom Egoyan (Exotica: The Screenplay 110) Discussing his feature film Exotica (1994), director, producer, and screenwriter Atom Egoyan alludes to a certain moment in filmmaking that is missing, “a scene that’s so noticeable by its absence, it becomes concrete” (Exotica: The Screenplay 50). It is just such a scene that his art aims to produce in the mind of the viewer: The big question with Exotica was, what can you afford not to make obvious? For me, one of the most powerful scenes in the script doesn’t exist, which is the scene where Francis goes into the [Exotica dance] club for the first time and sees Christina, who used to be his deceased daughter’s babysitter, and Francis has a choice to either run out of the club or introduce himself. How did that relationship get from there to where we see it? We don’t know, but we have to be able to imagine it. Then there’s the decision of whether to show that or not. (50) Egoyan’s focus here and in his earlier films is on just such an elided scene, which bears considerable resemblance to the psychoanalytic concept of a primal scene; Freud’s examples of such a scene include “observing parental intercourse, of being seduced in childhood, and of being threatened with castration” (“Infantile Neurosis” 97). It is xxxxxxxxxxxx 127 Diaspora 6:2 1997 a scene in which some shocking, frightening, or arousing event, or some combination of the above, was observed in the past but can neither be articulated nor forgotten in the present; its existence is only revealed symptomatically (as Francis obsessively returns to the Exotica club to watch Christina, dressed in a school uniform, strip for him). Egoyan often claims that he would have been a therapist if he had not become a director, and his films are structured like one of Freud’s case studies in the sense that much confusing, out-ofsequence introductory material must be sorted through before the etiology of each character’s neurosis can be fathomed. What should be underscored, as the first major operating principle of both Freud’s theories and Egoyan’s films, is that a narrative of a certain kind does exist—one that treats events of the past timelessly, as if these events were still occurring. When Francis (like many other Egoyan characters) makes rational decisions —however perverse they may be—he does so based on his understanding of how his world functions, and one of the principles of this Egoyan fictional universe is that the past has not passed. To employ a term which has gained much currency recently, these characters are “traumatized.” The second major operating principle of most Egoyan films is that television, video, and film are key players in this world, just as much as the people who stand in front of or behind the cameras. As Egoyan says, “the idea that the camera is just not for literal showing but, rather, an active participant is very important to me” (Naficy 224). Egoyan concentrates on what happens when these two principles come into conflict with one another, that is, when a memory which was apparently indelibly “present” is altered by the existence of a film or video “recording” of that memory. It is a conflict which destabilizes the notion of an irrevocable primal scene of trauma, suggesting instead that trauma is relational between at least two scenes (as Freud specified), each of which lends meaning to the other.2 Egoyan’s work suggests that the inclusion of cameras...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 127-154
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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