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  • Diplopic Remembering in Aleksandar Hemon and Velibor Božović's Collaborative Work
Abstract

This article focuses on the Bosnian-American writer Aleksandar Hemon's collaborative work with the Bosnian-Canadian visual artist Velibor Božović. Hemon's The Lazarus Project (2008), which features Božović photographs, and their multimedial e-book My Prisoner (2015), illustrate how the Bosnian Civil War is remembered collaboratively by Bosnian writers and artists in the diaspora. The article calls the form of remembering that emerges from these collaborative projects diplopic. Appropriated from diplopia (double vision), that is, the disorienting ophthalmic condition of perceiving simultaneously two images of a single object, diplopic remembering is posited as a recurring metaphor for how the past is recollected and reconstructed in Hemon and Božović's collaborative work. It helps the reader navigate a textual terrain where past and present, fact and fiction are conflated. Diplopic remembering captures the experience of being re-exposed to traumatic memories and what trans- and intragenerational remembering looks like when the recall and transmission are mediated with images that are left behind and through the testimonies of those with firsthand accounts. In these two collaborative projects, diplopic remembering is the operative mode of remembering that aspires to bridge the past and present and narrow down the schism between diaspora Bosnians with firsthand and secondhand memories.

Keywords

diplopia, memory, intermediality, Bosnian Civil War, diaspora

I strived to complete myself with words; it was a hopeless project.

Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project (250) [End Page 180]

The Bosnian-American writer Aleksandar Hemon's novel The Lazarus Project (2008) and the e-book My Prisoner (2015)1 are Hemon's collaborations with his close friend, the Bosnian visual artist Velibor Božović. These two projects illustrate the ways in which the traumatic experience of the Bosnian Civil War (1992–1995) is remembered by Bosnian writers and artists in the diaspora and how firsthand and secondhand memories of this war can be represented collaboratively. This article will define the experience of recalling traumatic events in the past and the trans- and intragenerational transmission of memories by way of images and words as diplopic remembering. Appropriated from diplopia (double vision), that is, the disorienting ophthalmic condition of perceiving simultaneously two images of a single object, diplopic remembering in Hemon and Božović's collaborative work is how members of the Bosnian diaspora in the post-Civil War era recollect and reconstruct the past. Diplopic remembering brings to life the experience of being re-exposed to traumatic memories. It also illustrates transgenerational memory transmission, and what intragenerational remembering looks like between individuals with firsthand memories of the past and others who remember that past through the testimonies of those who bore witness. Diplopic remembering ultimately underscores the fact that the present in these texts is always haunted by the past and simply moving forward is not easily achievable.

In The Lazarus Project and My Prisoner diplopic remembering is the operative mode of remembering that the combination of words and images facilitates, and thus this article offers a unique perspective on the role intermediality plays in understanding the processes of traumatic memory recall, trans-, and intragenerational remembering in contemporary diaspora narratives. Hemon and Božović's collaborative work will be read as examples of meta-memory fiction that combine "personally engaged memories with critically reflective perspectives on the functioning of memory, thus rendering the question of how we remember the central content of remembering" (Neumann 337). Their intermedial projects depict the complexity of remembering, the challenges of working through trauma, and how images might facilitate the transgenerational and intragenerational transmission of memories. The black-and-white photographs embedded throughout The Lazarus Project and the juxtaposition of Hemon's essay with Božović's still and moving images in their e-book My Prisoner highlight the pivotal role intermediality plays in these texts' shared discourse on memory, displacement, and trauma. These fictions of meta-memory thus belong in the tradition of other powerful intermedial narratives such as Richard Powers's Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (1985), W. G. Sebald's Emigrants (1992) and Austerlitz (2001), and Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City (2003), which also employ images to reflect on the complexity of memory, misremembering, and forgetting [End Page 181] while trying to reconstruct the past and demystify the sense of loss that permeates the present.

This article also posits these collaborative projects as prime examples of post-Yugoslav literary and visual discourse. According to Gordana Crnkovic, cultural production in this era offers the world knowledge regarding "things that bring wars [and] those things that revive and nourish the world, and make up textures of peace" (5). Both The Lazarus Project and My Prisoner delve into the darkness of the Bosnian War and expose the destruction it has caused yet they also show how the weight of this horrific past might be moderated with the healing potential of literature and art. In The Lazarus Project, for instance, through Rora Halilbašić, a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) veteran of the civil war, the reader is exposed in graphic details to the horrors of the war, but Rora's narrative can also be read as a story of survival and starting life anew in diaspora while working as a photographer at Bosnian social gatherings in Chicago. Similarly, My Prisoner is about Hemon and Božović re-visiting their respective traumatic memories of this war and recognizing that each in their own way is marred by this tragedy. This seismic event alters the course of lives and friendships, and separates individuals and families from their homeland. However, these narratives also suggest that in the diaspora it is possible to slowly regain a relative sense of stability and security, and begin the process of healing aided by literature and art.

Hemon is a Bosnian of Ukrainian descent based in the United States since 1992 (The Book of My Lives 35–6). He came to the country as part of a cultural exchange program between the U.S. and Yugoslavia just before the siege of Sarajevo and did not return to his hometown until 1997 (131, 140–142). Božović is also from Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina where he met Hemon who became a close friend.2 He emigrated to Canada where he currently lives since 1998 after he was conscripted into the Bosnian army and fought against the Yugoslav People's Army controlled by the Serbs (42). Hemon and Bozovic are thus part of the Bosnian diaspora with a population of around two million worldwide (Halilovic, "Long-Distance Mourning" 410).

In Hemon and Božović's collaborative work with which this article is concerned, the Bosnian Civil War and its aftermath are viewed from a critical distance whereby Hemon and Božović are more preoccupied with the traumatic effects of this conflict rather than the causes that led the country to civil war. These projects also do not delve explicitly into contentious postwar politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina seen primarily as the result of two factors. The first factor is the dissatisfaction with the Dayton Peace Accords signed in 1995 that ended the war yet officially divided Bosnia into the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina dominated by Croats and Bosnians and the Serb dominated Republic of Serbia (Karabegovic 465). And the second is the perceived [End Page 182] ineffectiveness of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in prosecuting all who committed war crimes and not only the military commanders and political leaders (Hupkens et al.).3 When they do focus on the Civil War and allude to post-war Bosnia and the Bosnian diaspora, Hemon and Bozovic do not single out one ethnicity or religious group as being responsible for their plight and the current political status of their homeland. In The Lazarus Project and My Prisoner, when the Bosnian past is revisited, it is not to point a finger at those who were/are responsible for the destruction of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, but to commemorate their country that, as Crnkovic contends, had a "quite remarkable art scene [and was] cosmopolitan, curious, and open" (8).

This article attributes Hemon and Božović's self-reflective and reconciliatory return to their own memories and the recent history of Bosnia to the fact that The Lazarus Project and My Prisoner are composed and curated in the diaspora. As such, they are not beholden to the contemporary politics of remembering in Bosnia that continues to perpetuate an ethnicized narrative of the civil war (Karabegovic 464). Hemon and Božović's projects collaboratively carried out in the U.S. and Canada prove Dženeta Karabegovic's claim that transnational cultural production by Bosnian artists in the diaspora have the potential to "unite in an effort to remember" (460) and transcend "divisive discourses of the homeland" (463). Karabegovic sees this potential captured in the U.S.-based diaspora artist Aida Šehović's nomadic public monument Sto Te Nema? (Why are you not here?). This commemorative project has been travelling to different cities around the world since 2006 bringing together the Bosnian diaspora and anyone who is interested in learning about the Bosnian Civil War and the Srebrenica massacre (11–22 July 1995) of over eight thousand Bosniak men and boys. For Karabegovic, Što Te Nema?, shaped by voluntary contributions and participation of people, encourages "a more open discussion of commemoration and the politics of the homeland" (458).4 This article will make a similar case for Hemon and Božović's collaborative work in the diaspora and argue that their projects, also transnational, have the potential to promote remembering together and re-establishing ties that were severed due to extreme ethnic and religious polarization in the homeland. In trying to realize this ideal, Hemon and Božović place particular emphasis on Bosnians with firsthand memories of the war and other Bosnians in the diaspora dependent on the testimonies of those who witnessed the horror, and how the diaspora lives with the afterimages of this war.

Hemon and Božović's first collaboration, The Lazarus Project, is set in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century and in the post 9/11 era. The narrative's oscillation between these two time periods and the conflation of the past and present is reinforced by two sets of photographs. There are ten [End Page 183] archival images retrieved from the Chicago Historical Society, which frame the chapters set in the early twentieth-century and document the Jewish immigrant Lazarus Averbuch's corpse, the city's police chief responsible for Averbuch's death, the victim's sister Olga, and several indoor and outdoor settings in Chicago. Velibor Božović's twelve black-and-white photographs of unidentified individuals and blurry landscapes mainly captured in Eastern Europe are attributed in the novel to the character Rora and are presumably taken in the early years of the twenty-first century. A Bosniak from Sarajevo based in Chicago, Rora is a photographer and veteran of the Bosnian War who travels across Eastern Europe with the novel's main character Brik, an aspiring Bosnian-American writer in pursuit of Lazarus Averbuch's story and his own ancestral history buried in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The friendship between Brik and Rora, which begins in childhood in pre-Civil War Bosnia, is rekindled in the diaspora and is solidified on their road trip together during which Brik, who did not fight in the Bosnian War, listens to Rora's memories and stories of what he claims he witnessed as a soldier in the Bosnian army.

Brik and Rora's trajectories resemble in many ways Hemon and Božović's in real life. The similarities between the fictional and actual friendship become apparent in their second collaborative project, the e-book My Prisoner—an autobiographical return to their recent Bosnian histories. My Prisoner combines the digital recording of an art event by Božović and an essay by Hemon, both entitled "My Prisoner." This text also features Božović's artist statement and several still images related to this artwork. This digital collaboration is significantly different from the print version of Hemon's "My Prisoner" essay in his memoir, The Book of My Lives, which does not include any images of Božović's installation Hemon describes. The primary visual material in Božović's art event is archival television footage filmed on 3 April 1994 during the siege of Sarajevo. Broadcasted at the height of the conflict as propaganda, the footage aimed to show the conditions in the Bosnian army's relatively humane POW camps. As evidence, the newsreel captures the young Božović, then a soldier in the Bosnian army, escorted by an army intelligence officer, visiting his father Vlado, a POW in the Bosnian camp Silos. Even though his son Veba (Božović) is fighting for the Bosnian army, Vlado, a warrant officer in the Yugoslav People's Army for many years and now deemed dangerous, is held at Silos. In the silent footage, the father and son, who have not seen nor heard from each other for several years, are reunited. They embrace and weep for the entire segment of the footage that is projected during the art event. Božović superimposes onto his torso for approximately five minutes a slightly slowed down version of this actual video recording that depicts the heart-wrenching reunion. Hemon's essay, on the other hand, is a retelling of a letter Božović wrote to his friends during the siege detailing this humiliating and traumatic [End Page 184] incident, an ekphrastic rendition of Božović's artwork that incorporates the propaganda footage, and also reflections on what it has meant for Hemon to not have fought in the war.

Hemon and Božović's work engages deeply with memory and how the past is reconstructed in the present. Both in The Lazarus Project and My Prisoner, they reflect on the memory of the Bosnian War, how they experienced and now remember this traumatizing historical event. In both texts, the process of remembering that war stems primarily from what and how the photographer Rora in the novel and what Božović in real life remember and how they each communicate this experience by way of photographic memories, still and moving images, and the stories they tell. In turn, what the character Brik in The Lazarus Project learns and writes about the war are often retellings of Rora's recollections. In My Prisoner, a similar dynamic occurs between Hemon and Božović.

This idea of a re-constructed experience seen together with its initial version resembles diplopia, that is, the illusion of seeing at the same time two images of a single object. Whether it be monocular diplopia where the two images overlap or binocular diplopia where the two images appear side by side, the patient suffering from this visual impairment sees double, that is, "an extra image typically appears as a ghost" (American Academy of Ophthalmology). For the impairment to be considered diplopia, an actual image (i.e., an object that the eyes actually see) and its spectral other must coexist. This article applies this interdependency of the actual and ghost image in diplopia to how it reads the three modes of remembering that are constructed in Hemon and Božović's collaborative work. One of these modes of remembering is by way of the photographer and/or his medium that evokes the "actual" images (the firsthand memories) of that which is to be remembered. These images are then re-rendered by the writer, and thus emerges a secondhand account—a spectral duplicate of the actual images (the firsthand account). The interconnectedness of the original and its duplicate image in diplopia is akin to the ghostly presence of the past that is transmitted across several generations into the present time in The Lazarus Project. This transmission enables the narrative to make visible the almost identical hardships immigrants experience in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century and in the present era. The second mode of remembering constructed in both The Lazarus Project and My Prisoner is the intragenerational transmission of memories. This form of remembering culminates from the writers' re-rendering of the firsthand accounts of the Bosnian Civil War and aspires to narrow down the divide between diaspora Bosnians with and without the direct experience of the war. Diplopic remembering, as it pertains to the intragenerational transmission of memories in these projects, also takes into account that diplopia is ultimately [End Page 185] an impairment and therefore an apt metaphor for the inefficacy of secondhand memories as a substitute for the actual traumatic experience of the war. And finally, diplopia as the combination of reality and illusion, and thus an impairment, sheds light on Božović's visual conceptualization of trauma in his "My Prisoner" shaped by his distorted memories and the aforementioned documentary footage.

The prevalence of doubles within the temporally and spatially fractured structure of The Lazarus Project is also discussed in Sonia Weiner's "Double Visions and Aesthetics of the Migratory in Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project." Without referencing the ophthalmic term diplopia, Weiner employs the idea of double vision in terms of how the novel, in both form and content, gives expression to "the fragmented consciousness of the migrant" (215). Her concept of double vision thus echoes what Salman Rushdie calls "stereoscopic vision," a fractured perspective that speaks to a diaspora writer's sense of self determined by "his present being in a different place from his past, of his being 'elsewhere'" (Rushdie 12). The archival and Božović's photographs attributed to the character Rora, according to Weiner, create the effect of double vision and are instrumental in introducing "the concept of rupture as a central theme" (216). These embedded photographs bifurcate the storyline into visual and verbal, past and present; and with "concrete yet questionable relation to 'the real'," the medium of photography contributes to the novel's conflation of fact and fiction (215–17). Ultimately, Weiner reads this intermedial text as "Hemon's meta-fictional query into the nature of storytelling, touching on the possibilities inherent in each medium" (218).

In this article, contrary to Weiner's argument, Hemon and Božović's two collaborative projects are seen as conveying a poetics of remembering where their respective mediums are not intended to be pitted against each other for the purpose of reinforcing themes of rupture and fragmentation. Double vision, as it is employed here, evokes the ophthalmological definition of diplopia and thus sees the visual and verbal elements in Hemon and Božović's work as being interdependent. In bringing together their words and images, Hemon and Božović express their desire to re-align their memories and relationship to the recent history of their homeland. This desire, on a broader scale, might also speak to the ways in which the Bosnian diaspora at-large aspires to close the divide between those who, like Božović, lived through the entire horror of the war and others who, like Hemon, emigrated before the contentious politics in the homeland transformed into a full-fledged civil war. In this sense, different from Weiner, who sees double vision/intermediality as a metaphor for the migrants' ontological precariousness in the diaspora--a debilitating, unsettled, and unsettling status in life--, this study views this phenomenon in Hemon and Božović's collaborative work as modelling the [End Page 186] means through which camaraderie and unity might be rebuilt among diaspora Bosnians in the post-Yugoslav era, and even among different diasporas who experience similar challenges in the host countries.

As the cosmopolitans that they are, Hemon and Božović are on a quest to develop a more constructive outlook on their plight rather than merely long for the homeland and dwell in nostalgia for a bygone era. In fact, Hemon considers nostalgia as "a retroactive utopia, a fantasy construction of what the old land used to be [and it] can lead to all kinds of fascisms because fascists tend to imagine a pure homeland, devoid of the presence of those others" (Boswell 250). Even though he has an "un-nostalgic involvement," Hemon does describe himself as being "fully and completely engaged [with Bosnia], for a diasporic person" (250).5 This engagement is evidenced in Hemon's commitment to making the diaspora experience during and post-war central to his work with Božović.

In both projects, Hemon and Božović explore the likelihood of a collective memory experience among Bosnians in the diaspora by bringing together the narratives of Bosnians who possess firsthand memories of the civil war with Bosnians destined to secondhand memories of this catastrophic event. Secondhand memory as it is used here is different than W.G. Sebald's definition in On the Natural History of Destruction (1999). For Sebald, "secondhand memory" is the description of a past event that is not based on "an eyewitness account." Rather, it is "a purely aesthetic reconstruction" of the past (87). In both The Lazarus Project and My Prisoner, the secondhand memories are not "purely aesthetic reconstructions" of the past event, that is, the Bosnian Civil War. These memories are in fact based on the eyewitness accounts of (in The Lazarus Project) fictional and (in My Prisoner) actual photographers who share what they have witnessed with the writers. The formation of secondhand memories, understood in this study as being dependent on and derived from eyewitness accounts, is aligned with the logic of diplopia in that the spectral image (secondhand memory) exists only because there was an actual image (firsthand account) to start with.

In her seminal essay, "The Generation of Postmemory," Marianne Hirsch highlights the crucial role images play in facilitating in intermedial texts the transmission of firsthand memories to those who have not witnessed the past event. In particular, Hirsch discusses the embedded photographs in Art Spiegelman's Maus I (1980) and W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz and argues that these texts capitalize on photography "as a uniquely powerful medium for the transmission of events that remain unimaginable" (107–8). For Hirsch, in these texts about post-World War II intergenerational trauma, the photographic images facilitate the transmission of traumatic memories from one generation to the next because, as a visual document that registers traces of a past event, [End Page 187] the medium, like an "umbilical cord,"6 provides "an access to the event itself" 107).Thus the memory the photographic image captures, "signals an affective link to the past, a sense precisely of an embodied 'living connection'" (111). Hirsch calls remembering in this mode "postmemory [which is] a structure of inter- and trans-generational transmission of traumatic knowledge and experience" (106, emphasis in original). It is experienced in the form of "traumatic recall (but unlike post-traumatic stress recall) at a generational remove" (106). Hirsch argues that postmemorial work "strives to reactivate and reembody more distant social/national and archival/cultural memorial structures by reinvesting them with resonant individual and familial forms of meditation and aesthetic expression" so that the "less-directly affected" (i.e., future generations) will also remember (111).

The crucial role the photographic image plays in Hirsch's conceptualization of postmemory in Spiegelman and Sebald's intermedial narratives applies to diplopic remembering. However, unlike postmemory, diplopic memory is also interested in the intragenerational transmission of memories in intermedial cultural production, and postulates that this mode of remembering could contribute to the reconciliation and conflict resolution efforts among Bosnians as well as other populations where a generation of survivors are trying to recover from recently fought civil wars. In this sense, intragenerational memory transmission that diplopic remembering facilitates broadens the scope of postmemorial work concerned with how future generations can find "familial" ties to the past so that the suffering of those who came before are not forgotten.

According to Johanne Bøndegaard, the black-and-white photographs used in The Lazarus Project play a pivotal role in introducing "the traces of history into the very fabric of the narrative. Through them reality haunts and halts the fictional representation" (131). The ten archival photographs drawn from the Chicago Historical Society, as mechanically reproduced images, remind Brik and the reader of the medium's function as evidence that establishes the existence of characters and events that occurred in the past. They bring back to life that which they capture and, to quote Walter Benjamin, they meet "the beholder or listener in his own particular situation" (221). Brik is deeply moved by the images of Lazarus and Olga Averbuch whom he perceives as victims, and he is also able to recognize the continuum between the plight of immigrants then and almost a century later. In other words, these archival photographs do the postmemorial work since they transmit across generations the struggles of immigrants with which Brik himself is familiar.

However, in The Lazarus Project this transmission is possible not only because of the embedded archival photographs which bring the past into the narrative's present. The two separate time frames are also conjoined through [End Page 188] the superimposition of the various elements of the past onto the twenty-first century. Characters and events from the early twentieth-century continue to haunt the novel's present. They mirror and/or resemble those that appear in the present and create an overlapping effect similar to that experienced in monocular diplopia. Hemon explains that in constructing these two time frames and creating uncanny parallels between characters and events, the idea was to "establish a continuity of human experience" (Reyn, "Exile on Any Street"). The first time frame is Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century where the city's ruling elite is plagued with fear and paranoia in the aftermath of the 1886 Haymarket riots. Xenophobia against the newly arrived immigrants from Europe is rampant and the city is on a relentless hunt for those suspected to be anarchists. The focus is on the death of Lazarus Averbuch, an actual immigrant and survivor of the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, who arrives in Chicago in 1907 at age nineteen and is killed by the city's police chief Shippy three months later on 2 March 1908. Archival documents claim that Shippy killed Lazarus Averbuch in an act of self-defense convinced that the young man was an anarchist who had come to his residence to assassinate him. Brik reconstructs this first time frame by adding to what is already known what he imagines unfolded before and after this violent incident yet much of what he comes up with has uncanny resemblance to aspects of his own life and to Rora's bizarre stories predominantly about the war in Bosnia.7

Brik also lives in Chicago and his life constitutes the novel's second time frame. He is a Bosnian immigrant, who comes to the United States in 1992 as a cultural exchange student a few months prior to the eruption of the Civil War. In the aftermath of this war, he struggles to find ways to relate to Bosnian refugees who have arrived with traumatic firsthand accounts. As a way to come to terms with his own liminality, Brik decides to research and ultimately write a book that would be a creative retelling of Lazarus Averbuch's tragic story. By traveling with Rora to retrace his own Ukrainian Catholic heritage in the process of researching Averbuch's roots as a Ukrainian Jew, Brik presumably tries to comprehend the ethnic conflict that destroyed Bosnia and led to his displacement.

The past in The Lazarus Project is frequently superimposed onto the narrative's present and leads the reader into a textual terrain that progresses yet also simultaneously reproduces images from history. During Averbuch's time, the dark-complexioned Italian, Armenian, and Jewish immigrants were perceived as potential anarchists. In the aftermath of 9/11, in contemporary America, it is the Muslim refugees and immigrants who are now the feared aliens.8 The tragic story of Bosniak Ismet, whom Rora mentions in passing, illustrates the novel's depiction of the contemporary moment as just another iteration of Lazarus Averbuch's America. Ismet, who was a prisoner of war [End Page 189] in a Serbian camp, like Lazarus Averbuch who survived a pogrom, comes to the United States as a refugee suffering from PTSD. He is killed by the San Francisco police for resisting arrest when caught smoking on the grounds of a Starbucks. This story, like Averbuch's, is based on an actual incident that resulted in the Bosnian refugee Zaim Bojcic's death in 2004 (Bulwa). Diplopic remembering here—as the result of bringing together fact and fiction, and past and present—reveals that anti-immigrant sentiment might just be in the very fiber of the country that, in theory, welcomes with open arms the "tired," "poor," "huddled masses" and "wretched refuse," along with "the homeless, tempest-tost" (Lazarus).

Similar characters and events in the two time frames of The Lazarus Project superimposed in the reader's mind's eye resemble monocular diplopia and expose the challenges migrants in any era are likely to experience when forced to leave home and relocate in a foreign land. The violence and displacement the Jews of Eastern Europe endured in the early decades of the twentieth century parallel the Bosnians' mass exodus from their homeland to flee the Civil War.9 As Hemon explains, "The fragments you can use to build a story can be scattered across continents and centuries: the hand of a Bosnian I saw at the airport clutching a plastic bag containing all his immigration documents can be transposed to Ellis Island in 1907" (Hemon, "The Lazarus Project: One Writer's Research"). In the novel, the Biblical Lazarus is described as a displaced person and not the happy beneficiary of the gift of rebirth granted by Christ. He is imagined as bidding farewell to his dead mother, with whom he was temporarily reunited, before he returns to "undeath" and embarks on a journey in the hope of finding a new resting place (The Lazarus Project 74, 76). He is reincarnated in the figure of another wanderer, Lazarus Averbuch the young Jewish immigrant, who survives the pogromchiks and is figuratively resurrected and given a chance to start his life anew in what he believes is a compassionate America Emma Lazarus describes in her sonnet "The New Colossus," which is inscribed on a plaque mounted inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. And today, Lazarus reappears this time as a survivor of Chet-nik brutality; he is "a certain Salko who survived a mob of murderous Chetniks by playing dead, and now is dancing over there . . . the skinny, sinewy survivor, soaking his shirt with the sweat of lucky resurrection" (13).

Other characters in the novel are also reincarnated and further conflate fact with fiction and past with present. For instance, resembling Hemon's own trajectory in the United States, Brik in the present is a former ESL instructor, an aspiring writer, and a newspaper columnist who writes about the immigrant experience in the post 9/11 era. His namesake briefly appears as Lazarus Averbuch's English teacher and he is quoted as describing Averbuch "as a faithful and persevering student of a very good character" (61). Yet there are [End Page 190] also parallels between Averbuch and the narrator Brik in the present time. Averbuch, like Brik, has ambitions to become a writer who will write in English, and therefore, as immigrants trying to adapt to their new lives, they also work on improving their command of the language (91). Brik sees his and Averbuch's immigrant experience also reflected in his own ESL students in whose faces he reads a complex identity made up of what they have "inherited or picked up along the way, or the ones you simply made up—laid on top of each other in a messy superimposition" (The Lazarus Project 105).

These passages from The Lazarus Project as well as Božović's employment of superimposition in his "My Prisoner" artwork that will be the focus in the following pages, make clear that this visual layering technique is a metaphor for how Hemon and Božović see the past and present as coexisting for the diaspora. This conjoint vision is thus different from Rushdie's idea of stereoscopic vision and Weiner's double vision, which evoke a fractured sense of self that is, temporally and spatially, neither here nor there. In contrast, as a form of binding, superimposition promotes the idea of combining rather than fragmenting and is thus in line with how diplopic remembering in Hemon and Božović's collaborative work envisions the transmission of memories across generations.

In The Lazarus Project the archival photographs provide the connective ties that enable Brik to empathize with Lazarus and Olga Averbuch's suffering at the turn of the twentieth century. The superimpositions and doppelgängers throughout the narrative indicate that the present is shadowed by the past, which also implies that (traumatic) memories from several generations back are likely to haunt the current generation. For Brik, the bigger challenge is finding the means to establish the affective link he needs in the present to connect to the plight of his homeland and fellow Bosnians like Rora that are afflicted by the trauma of the Civil War. This concern becomes apparent at a coffee shop in Armenia, when Brik, with no stories of his own about the Bosnian war, tries to coax Rora into writing down his colorful yet harrowing war stories. In response, Rora tells him that he took photos and it is Brik's job to write: "[t]hat's what I have you for. That's why I brought you along" (84). This authorizes Brik to retell Rora's stories and leads him into thinking that he has successfully merged his consciousness with the photographer's when he utters the sentence "All along the Wall, I/Rora said, there were grass-covered minefields" (103). Brik wants to believe that by transcribing Rora's stories, the line between the I/eye that witnesses the event firsthand and the narrator retelling the event is erased, and that the intragenerational transmission of memories is achievable.

However, even though the Bosnian Civil War figures prominently in the stories Rora tells, the actual images Rora claims he captured during the war [End Page 191] are absent. In lieu of images, Rora recalls his photographic memories that he replays in his mind's eye and then reproduces as stories he shares with Brik who then writes them down. Rora's stories resemble scenes from action movies, with characters like Rambo, a corrupt commander in the Bosnian army Rora also fought for. In Rora's recollections, Rambo is a sadistic megalomaniac who "liked to be in the pictures" and wanted Rora "to take pictures of him all the time [and] imagined himself a hero." This figure from Rora's past enjoys looking at Rora's photographs that captured him "bare-chested, pointing his silver gun at the camera" or holding "an automatic rifle in hand, its butt resting on his thigh," and even more graphic ones where "he is sitting on top of a corpse of one of our soldiers, some poor sap who stood up to him in front of the wrong audience" (185). These descriptions of photographs in place of the actual visual object and thus the channeling of Rora's memories of the war only through storytelling underscores the limits of Brik's access to Rora's traumatic memories of the war. This aspect of the novel effectively highlights the fact that without the actual image, the "affective link" to the memories of others is compromised. Under this circumstance, the intragenerational transmission of memories is barely possible through entertaining yet unreliable storytellers like Rora, who is himself certain that "no matter how much more I tell you, you will never know anything" (210). Diplopic remembering in The Lazarus Project for the intragenerational transmission of memories is thus attempted but not fully realized in the absence of the images of the Bosnian War. The archival photographs of Lazarus Averbuch's corpse are limited in their ability to fully capture the images of violence Rora must have witnessed and also captured with his camera during the war. For this reason, Brik and the readers are unable to fully grasp what the civil war was like for Brik and Rora's generation. To bring home the fact that Rora is not a reliable resource for firsthand memories, his (i.e., Božović's) photographs embedded throughout the narrative are either out of focus or without spatial and temporal specificity. In fact, they create a contrast to the archival photographs that serve as documentary evidence of the violence that occurred in Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century. At the end of the novel, the schism between Bosnians who witnessed and experienced the war and Bosnians who watched the tragedy unfold from afar remains intact. Rora dies and Brik decides to resettle in Bosnia to try to rekindle his ties with the homeland.

The Lazarus Project limits graphic descriptions of the Bosnian War to Brik's retelling of Rora's memories and stories. Božović's photographs used in the novel reinforce the visual absence of the war and thus the impossibility of the transmission of traumatic memories to another person. Yet traumatic memories are recalled in the stories the survivors share with those willing to listen and retell. This storytelling/retelling affirms Hemon's conviction [End Page 192] that "[m]uch of literature is about comprehending our limits—the very need to talk in literature is a consequence of acknowledging our limits" (Boswell 253–54). When explaining why he collaborated with his best friend Božović when researching and creatively re-writing the story of Lazarus Averbuch, Hemon acknowledges some of his own limits, that he was distrustful of his own memory and "was afraid of being alone with Eastern European history" (Hemon, "The Lazarus Project: One Writer's Research"). In this sense, Božović is a crucial figure in Hemon's trajectory as an author for he is a reminder of the fact that it is impossible to compose a complete narrative of the experience of a war that one has not witnessed firsthand.

Hemon and Božović's second collaboration, the e-book My Prisoner, is an experiment in fulfilling the promise of diplopic remembering that aspires to make up for the intragenerational distance between Bosnians like Hemon's fictional characters, Brik and Rora. As Hariz Halilovic explains, the displacement of Bosnians during and post-Civil War "has not only revived and '(de) territorialized' the 'traditional' local and ethnic identities within the country, but it has also produced new categories and identities such as 'stayers' and 'leavers,' 'newcomers' and 'old settlers,' 'defenders' and 'deserters,' 'peasants' and 'city dwellers,' internationally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, and so on" ("Translocal Communities: Bosnians in Diaspora" 163). In My Prisoner, Hemon and Božović capitalize on the digital medium's ability to shape words and still and moving images into a single artifact, and try to realize a collaborative reckoning with the trauma of the Bosnian War. Hemon and Božović, by digitally binding together their mediums and hence respective histories in regards to the Bosnian Civil War, posit an antithesis to a divided generation of Bosnians still struggling to achieve a sense of unity at home and in the diaspora. In this second collaboration, Hemon and Božović once again try to capture with images and words the experience of being re-exposed to traumatic memories and what intragenerational remembering looks like between individuals with firsthand memories and those dependent on the testimonies of the eyewitnesses. In placing their respective media side-by-side, akin to how two images of a single object appear in binocular diplopia, Hemon and Božović experiment with undoing some of the categories Halilovic highlights and with which they themselves might identify.

The e-book My Prisoner focuses exclusively on the Bosnian War and the project's focal point is Božović's "My Prisoner" art event. It brings together in May 2012 at the Galerie Leonard and Bina Ellen in Montreal the present day Božović now in his forties and a 1994 video footage of Božović, a young soldier serving in the Bosnian army, permitted to visit his father Vlado, a POW in Silos, the Bosnian camp. The artwork is a projection that superimposes onto Božović's naked torso standing in the empty white space of the gallery the [End Page 193] recording of Vlado and Božović meeting in a room, embracing, and weeping. Hemon's essay, also entitled "My Prisoner," reflects on this art event as the visual manifestation of the traumatic memories that Božović has been living with since 3 April 1994. These visualized memories become the means through which Božović confronts his trauma head on, and for Hemon, the spectacle serves as the affective link he relies on to reproduce the historical background for the footage and to narrativize his own account of the Bosnian war from which he was spared as an asylum seeker in North America.

Regarding his photographs in The Lazarus Project Božović's personal website explains that they are "intimately and deeply connected with the book, but they also speak of something beyond its limits."10 Božović's "My Prisoner" could be viewed as the visual culmination of that "something" invisible in his photographs in The Lazarus Project. The novel merely cites a photographer's accounts of the Bosnian War based on the photographer's memories. Allowing Brik to turn his memories into a verbal narrative, Rora the eyewitness tries to memorialize his experiences during that war, a process which also benefits the aspiring writer Brik who, without Rora, has no stories of the war to write about. Hemon and Božović's collaborative My Prisoner project is this fictional dynamic brought back into real life. It is an expression of Hemon and Božović's mutual indebtedness as they continue in their effort to reconcile with how the Bosnian War altered their lives and friendship. "Our lives were bifurcated," Hemon states regretfully when explaining why they decided to collaborate on this second project. He compares his separation from his friend Božović to "the way that siege separates people" (Hemon, My Prisoner "Aleksandar Hemon: Meet the Author"). The e-book allows Hemon to immerse himself in Božović's memories of the war so that their lives could "become comparable again" ("Meet the Author"). And for Božović, it is an opportunity to work through the question of how "memory may have distorted some of my experiences (perhaps all of them)" (Božović and Hemon, My Prisoner Božović's "Artist Statement" 328). With its collaborative exploration of how time and trauma corrupt memory and how the Bosnian post-Civil War generation tries to share traumatic memories, My Prisoner becomes Hemon and Božović's second meta-memory project where diplopic memory becomes the operative mode of remembering.

Božović began working on the installation in 2012 as a student of photography at Concordia University. He initially envisioned reconstructing the Silos meeting by finding everyone who was responsible for staging the propaganda film in which he and his father were used as props, including the Bosnian army intelligence officers, the guards, and television crew who also interviewed Božović and his father after they were allowed the brief reunion. The idea was to combine the archival footage with his own reconstructed version [End Page 194] in which Božović and the perpetrators of this traumatic episode would be equally burdened with remembering the pain the war inflicted. If the installation were to have been conceived as such, it would have been a powerful example of "just memory," which entails remembering but also admitting that in order to heal from the wounds of the past some degree of forgetting is permissible and even necessary. It is also an ethics of recalling and commemorating one's own past along with the pasts of others. It is, in effect, a gesture "oriented toward inclusion and reconciliation" (Nguyen 16–7, 69), and it might have been the intended message behind Božović's "My Prisoner" had the artwork been curated in the way he first imagined it.11

Božović was not able to realize the project in the way that he desired for some of the key figures were not available. However, he was able to acquire the television footage. He also had conversations with his father and the well-known Bosnian television reporter Zvonko Maric who was involved in the making of this propaganda film. As Hemon explains in his essay, both sources revealed to Božović that his memory of this meeting was "completely false" (288). Božović had forgotten that he and his father were interviewed separately and his memory of being interviewed by Maric was inaccurate. He was in fact interviewed by a woman journalist and, most likely, Božović never even encountered Maric. It became clear that "the face and the name of the man in [Božović's] memory were transplanted from [Maric's] war reports [Božović] had seen" (296). This suggests that the memory corruption described here is a manifestation of PTSD. As Daryn Strange and Melanie K. T. Takarangi explain, in PTSD the recalled "thoughts and images will reflect genuinely experienced aspects of the event; sometimes, however, they may be memory traces of similar events witnessed in the news or entertainment media. In either case, people may inadvertently generate additional imagery relating to those traces that fits with the experienced event" (1).

These revelations regarding what actually took place in Silos constitute the background for Božović's "My Prisoner" art event as it appears in the e-book. In Hemon's words, in the realized and recorded version of the five-minute gallery performance, Božović "stands exuding pain and sorrow while the meeting at the Silos is simultaneously behind him and all over him, on his bare skin" (303). After completing his performance, Božović watches his performance that shows the television footage screened on his face and bare torso. In his artist statement, Božović explains what it was like to watch this propaganda newsreel, which he identifies as one where "the historical, the personal and the fictional simultaneously interfere with and enhance one another" (321). The footage is indeed now an historical artifact available to the public and thus open to interpretations likely to be determined by various political and historical contexts. However, it is also a deeply personal aide-mémoire for [End Page 195] Božović which will always remind him of being a pawn in this propaganda and the absurdity and trauma of finding himself in the position of being his father's imprisoner. It seems plausible that this outrageous experience traumatized Božović and led to his misremembering the details of the incident. The superimposition technique used in the performance thus produces a video that visualizes diplopic remembering whereby Božović, the remembering subject, sees simultaneously two images of himself from two different time frames and two versions of the same event: one that he remembers in his mind's eye (which he discovers was distorted) and another one that reviewing the television footage provides. It is these two layers—the past projected onto the present and the culminating double vision—that provide for the viewers of Božović's art a sense of what it must be like to live with both the haunting memories and actual images that have survived from one's active participation in a war that alters the mind and course of one's life.

In "America, the Holocaust, and the Mass Culture of Memory: Toward a Radical Politics of Memory," Alison Landsberg posits movie theaters as "transferential spaces" where the collective consumption of films supplies moviegoers with "prosthetic memories" as opposed to memories that are organically based, that nevertheless "become part of one's personal archive of experience" (66). The gallery space where Božović stages "My Prisoner" and where Hemon sees the artwork for the first time also functions as a transferential space. In his essay Hemon describes a scene from the installation where the diegetic and extradiegetic realms almost seem to collapse into each other. Božović's father "reaches from inside the image to touch his son's naked shoulder. The Veba [Božović] standing outside the image cannot feel the touch. The Veba inside is weeping." In Hemon's view, "[a]ll of the war is contained in it, all of the hurt and loss in that one impossible touch" (302). The painful disconnect between the two Božovićs displayed in this segment is sad to watch, but Hemon's observation suggests that the intragenerational transmission of traumatic memories might be possible with such powerful images that capture harrowing experiences and are shared with others.

In Hemon's reflections on the Bosnian war, even prior to his collaborations with Božović on The Lazarus Project and My Prisoner e-book, visual media figures prominently in his struggle to remain connected to his Bosnian past and the plight of his homeland. During the war, while living in Chicago, Hemon was cut off from his former life and was unable to closely follow the unfolding catastrophe in Bosnia. He resented the fact that no positive images of the homeland were transmitted through media and the "past was not available except as modified into images of horror coming from TV screens" (Boswell 251). It is perhaps this unpleasant recollection that contributed to his decision to not feature any visual representation of wartime Bosnia in The [End Page 196] Lazarus Project. Instead, the novel communicates the "images of horror" by way of secondhand storytelling and in English instead of Bosnian, for both forms of distanciation help Hemon capture the fact of his physical and psychological distance in the diaspora (250). In the essay "My Prisoner," on the other hand, Hemon faces more directly the images which poured out of the television screens during the war, because this particular footage features his friend Božović and his father, whom Hemon respectfully addresses as Cika-Vlado (Uncle Vlado). These images also reinforce the evidence for why the aforementioned bifurcation in their friendship occurred and how, because of the war, Hemon became estranged from his friend and their shared past in Sarajevo.

Hemon and Božović, in both collaborative projects, consider intermediality as a way to bridge the past with the present and facilitate intragenerational transmission of traumatic firsthand memories. In Hemon's view, "cameras and pictures are there so as to show that they can't quite formulate experience on their own," but when combined with writing, images can acquire "testimonial value" (Boswell 262).12 In fact, through the act of writing, Hemon claims that he is able to "become someone else" (256) and see the world from that person's point of view. Hemon's "My Prisoner" essay helps his friend Božović bring his memories into the literary realm by transforming into words the story behind the television footage projected onto Božović's body in the art gallery. The essay complements Božović's artwork in its desire to communicate a meta-memory discourse by delving into the discrepancy between how Božović for many years remembered the meeting with his father in front of the television cameras in Silos and how he initially narrated this experience in a letter he wrote to a friend in its immediate aftermath. Yet, while Božović's reliance on Hemon for documenting the entire story behind the installation is unquestionable, Hemon also reveals that, in the process of writing the "My Prisoner" essay, he repeatedly shared drafts of his essay with Božović cognizant of the fact that he was writing a story of the Bosnian War that belonged to his friend ("Meet the Author"). However, it must also be emphasized that Hemon's essay is not only a re-telling of Božović's misfortune; it also communicates how Hemon tries to come to terms with the guilt he has felt for seeking asylum in the United States rather than returning to Bosnia to join the fight alongside his friend Božović. He recalls how in this state of separation from the plight of the homeland "one starts turning inside, concerned with one's own survival, at which point the slow condensation of guilt begins in the mind, until drop by drop, it becomes a vast sea" (61). This second collaborative project experiments with putting an end to the feeling of alienation; it brings Hemon and Božović's respective lives together and they each expose their figurative wounds caused by the Bosnian Civil War. [End Page 197]

This digital collaborative project reveals that Hemon was also a prisoner of sorts burdened by guilt and in need of firsthand memories of the war. This burden is abated with Božović's help. Božović does not only free himself and his father from the propaganda footage, but he also alleviates Hemon's concerns regarding the perceived inefficacy of secondhand remembering. Božović's role in helping Hemon re-establish the affective link with Bosnia is affirmed when the latter confesses that "even if there is no way of knowing what would have happened [if I'd stayed in Sarajevo for the war], I know how I would have felt: I would've felt like Veba" ("My Prisoner" 272). By capitalizing on the technological capacity of the digital book format, this most recent collaborative project grants Božović's moving images the ability to speak for themselves and provides space for Hemon to weave together his and Božović's distinct and shared pasts. Ultimately, on display are two images of a single phenomenon: the cost of the Bosnian War. In reading and watching this project in the e-book format, the reader/viewer experiences diplopia and is thus exposed to the traumatic memories of a generation that is still alive. The book becomes an entry point into a realm that reveals "what war does to people" (304).

This article appropriated diplopia as an interpretive tool for understanding the complexities of memory, trans- and intragenerational remembering in Hemon and Božović's intermedial collaborative work. Diplopia, as the inability to see in focus, was a metaphor for memory distortion, especially in regards to traumatic events and experiences. Rora's storytelling instead of providing actual images of the Bosnian Civil War in The Lazarus Project and Božović's misremembering of a traumatic event that took place in 1994 were examples of diplopic remembering, which underscored how memory blends fact and fiction. Monocular diplopia (the overlapping of the actual and the ghost image) was evoked in The Lazarus Project for reflecting on the instances of superimposition, which conflated past and present and led to the transgenerational transmission of events and experiences. Božović's use of superimposition in "My Prisoner" was instrumental in externalizing the traumatic memories that he had been burdened with since the Bosnian Civil War. And finally, diplopia as the coexistence of an actual image and its shadow copy provided a framework for rethinking the schism between firsthand accounts and secondhand remembering. In Hemon and Božović's collaborative projects discussed here, diplopia provided a visual metaphor for understanding how, as members of the Bosnian post–Civil War generation in the diaspora, Hemon and Božović have curated intragenerational collaborative remembering by layering and placing side-by-side personal memories and histories with the hope that their lives can become comparable once again. [End Page 198]

Ece Aykol
Laguardia Community College
Ece Aykol

ECE AYKOL is Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York. She earned her doctorate in English and Film Studies from the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her scholarship and teaching focus on word-image and memory studies.

NOTES

. Support for this project was provided by a PSC-CUNY Award jointly funded by the Professional Staff Congress and The City University of New York.

1. Hemon's essay "My Prisoner" in the e-book My Prisoner was first published in the author's memoir The Book of My Lives (2013). The memoir does not feature any images. This article references and cites from the e-book version of Hemon's essay.

2. In "My Prisoner," Hemon explains that "Božović" is a common Montenegrin last name and this was a disadvantage for Velibor Božović and his entire family during the Civil War because "many Montenegrins identified themselves as Serbs and fought in Bosnia and Croatia" (64).

3. Ivana Bodrožić's The Hotel Tito: A Novel (2010) and Kenan Trebincevic's The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return (2014) are two survivor narratives that describe how ordinary citizens of Yugoslavia rapidly turned against each other, committed heinous crimes, and engaged in war profiteering during the Civil War.

4. Aida Šehović's Što Te Nema? (Why are you not here?) is a public monument the artist has been curating in different cities around the world since 2006. The first staging of the monument in 2006 was in Sarajevo and in 2018 it travelled to Zurich. The monument is collectively assembled and disassembled by locals of the city on July 11 and commemorates the 8,372 victims (mostly Bosniak men and boys) of the Srebrenica genocide (11–22 July 1995). This collective art event takes place in public spaces with busy foot traffic and invites the participants to fill fildžani (small porcelain coffee cups) with traditional Bosnian coffee served from a džezva (traditionally a copper-plated pot with a long neck). The props used are donated by Bosnian diaspora organizations and other peace-promoting NGOs.

5. The idea of being in a state of mind in the diaspora that balances a cosmopolitan outlook with a strong connection to the homeland free of nostalgia is scrutinized in John D. Schwetman's "Leaving Lagos: Diasporic and Cosmopolitan Migrations in Chris Abani's GraceLand" published in the Pacific Coast Philology special issue on Migration, Immigration, and Movement in Literature and Culture (2014). Here Schwetman applies to his reading of the character Elvis in GraceLand this unique position held by some members of the diaspora in the age of globalization.

6. Here Hirsch is referencing Roland Barthes' description of the photograph in Camera Obscura where he argues that the medium is "literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me [and a] sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze" (80–81).

7. Gustavo Sánchez Canales' "'He Is Basically a Decent Man': Some Notes on the Historical Background of Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project" provides a thorough analysis of the historical sources Hemon drew from when writing The Lazarus Project. Checking Hemon's narrative against the archival and published research on the actual Lazarus Averbuch the author consulted when writing the novel, Sánchez Canales effectively demonstrates the sections in the novel where Hemon diverges from historical facts and adds fictional elements.

8. On scapegoating and racial profiling in The Lazarus Project, see Georgiana Banita's Plotting Justice: Narrative Ethics and Literary Culture after 9/11 (2012).

9. Marko Valenta and Sabrina P. Ramet note that 38 percent of the Bosnian population lives outside Bosnia (2).

10. The page dedicated to The Lazarus Project on Aleksandar Hemon's website stages an interesting interaction between excerpts from the novel and Božović's black-and-white photographs. Unlike the consecutive line up of the photographs embedded throughout the narrative in the print and e-book versions of the text, the digital platform provides a more dynamic word-image interaction that is not possible in the other two, more static, formats. A detailed analysis of the author-visual artist collaboration in this particular digital context certainly raises interesting questions regarding technology's role in the construction of intermedial and collaborative memory narratives; however, this line of inquiry is beyond the scope of this article.

11. Viet Than Nguyen's conceptualization of just memory is derived from Paul Ricoeur's Memory, History, Forgetting. Here, Ricoeur defines just memory as a "measured use of remembering" (68). Nguyen is also indebted to Paul Gilroy who, in Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, argues that "histories of suffering should not be allocated exclusively to their victims. If they were, the memory of the trauma would disappear as the living memory of it died away" (114).

12. Hemon gives the example of W. G. Sebald's use of photographs in Austerlitz (2001). In Hemon's view, Sebald uses photos in his work "so as to show that they fail at documenting our experience. They can only be there because they are in the context of language, and language interprets them and organizes them as experience. Without language, the pictures are completely meaningless—their testimonial value is nil" (262).

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Additional Information

ISSN
2326-067X
Print ISSN
0078-7469
Pages
180-202
Launched on MUSE
2019-11-13
Open Access
No
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