- Writing and Filming the Genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda: Dismembering and Remembering Traumatic History
In this very dense and complex book, Alexandre Dauge-Roth analyzes the corpus of artistic works created in reaction to the 1994 Rwanda genocide of the Tutsis. This study appears to be more than a scholarly exercise, but a commemoration, a desire to testify and to write “as a duty to remember.” The author did not witness the tragedy directly, therefore, his testimony is akin to that of most of us: writers, filmmakers, readers, listeners, and spectators of plays, books, and films about the Rwanda genocide. Reading the text becomes a participatory act in remembering.
Framed by an introduction, an epilogue, and a most impressive bibliography and filmography, the text is divided in three parts, each one treating a particular artistic representation of the Rwanda genocide: theater, literature, and films. However, each art form, as different as they may be, poses the same ethical questions: How does one represent the ultimate horror and how does one react to it?
The introduction provides an incisive and complete historical background as to the political and social causes of the genocide with the intent to shed light on all aspects of the matter, including the grave responsibility of Western powers such as France and the United States, who stood by, unwilling to prevent an imminent massacre. In fact, the author insists on the importance of the historical framework throughout his analysis of the different artistic representations, favoring those closest to historical facts.
Dauge-Roth starts his analysis with the remarkable play Rwanda 94: An Attempt at Symbolic Reparation to the Dead, for the Use by the Living by the Belgian collective Groupov. This powerful, five-hour-long work stages poignant testimonies of several survivors of the genocide. He imagines the traumatized or incredulous spectator, not always knowing how to react confronted with testimonies of such experienced horror. The author advances the idea that the Western public offers “various strategies of resistance and denial” (29) that can be overcome by “renewed understanding” of Derrida’s theory of hospitality.
In the second part, the author examines quite convincingly three of the francophone literary works inspired by the genocide that were written in the context of Djedanoum and Coulibaly’s 1998 project “Rwanda: Writing as a Duty to Remember.” Besides giving an in-depth and brilliant analysis of Tadjo’s The Shadow of Imana, Lamko’s A Butterfly in the Hills, and Boubacar Diop’s The Book of Bones, Dauge-Roth hopes to engage the reader to reflect and remember.
The third part, “Screening Memory and (Un)Framing Forgetting,” focuses on the seven cinematic re-presentations of the genocide of the Tutsis between 2001 and 2007 . Given the fact that we have very little footage of the event, the directors are confronted with the difficult task of imaging the truth, of creating a factual re-presentation of reality while paying respect to the victims. For the critic, Raoul [End Page 201] Peck’s film Sometimes in April stands out for, among other things, his precise and in-depth historical and political background.
To conclude, the importance of this study is twofold: first, to give a comprehensive account of the artistic production bearing witness of the Rwanda genocide and second, to remind us as readers of our duty to remember.