Our Memory of the Tragic
Emanuel Vigier - 17/12/2009
From the exhibition of Pierre Bourdieu’s rare and precious images to the round tables that cannot be missed. Already registered in our memory.
In black and white, the life of “gens de peu” (1) (ordinary people) in Algeria at the end of the 1950’s. A news dealer, a child who smiles, an old woman. And then the shadow of war: the camps of military groups. On the Museum’s wall, the following text gives the context: “In 1960, the number of Algerians brought together reaches 157 000, i.e. a fourth of the population.” Between 1958 and 1961, the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu takes hundreds of images in Algeria. He writes two books and some scientific articles on Algeria. Saïd Belguidoum, sociologist, explains: “There’s an odd affection in Bourdieu relationship to Algerians. We has almost familiar with them, with Algeria. However, like a lot of French people, he has lived a sort of repression. Despite his books “Travail, travailleurs en Algérie” (Work, workers in Algeria), “La sociologie de l’Agérie” (Algeria’s sociology), he didn’t want to talk that much.”
The need for memory
The exhibition, created in 2003 by the Institut du monde arabe on the occasion of the Year of Algeria in France, had never been presented as a whole.
In Marseilles, at the Mucem, the Museum of European an Mediterranean Civilisations, the number of visitors increased each day to see the sociologist’s snapshots and assist to the debates organised in the framework of the Averroès Encounters in collaboration with the Festival Rencontres à l’échelle. The images had remained in boxes for a long time. They are the documents that prefigure the intellectual’s thought, that show the research to come. “What strikes me in these images is their tenderness. It’s as if his thought is concentrated in each and one of them. Each framing contains a number of possibilities for further research. What is outstanding is that the human being is at the centre. This gaze will go through all his work.” adds Fabienne Le Houérou, historian.
A spectator intervenes: “I was born in Algeria. You just cannot imagine to what extent this type of event responds to our need for memory”. “Flambée de mémoire” (A blaze of memory) had written the historien Benjamin Stora in 2004, when “La guerre d’Algérie, 1954-2004, fin d’une amnésie” (The War of Algeria, 1954-2004, the end of an amnesia) was published.
At the origin
Is it this need for memory that brings success and the crowds in the agoras of the Encounters? After listening to the first round table, the words on the origins of tragedy are almost familiar. A collective memory is updated by the philosopher and philologer Barbara Cassin: “It’s a heritage made up of very few works during a short period of ancient Greece. This very ‘few is’ what unites us today.” Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles then write the texts that live through centuries. Antigone and Oedipus are still among us, at the theatre of course (2); but also at the cinema, in literature. Men and Gods facing their destinies have not become old. “There’s a part of man’s responsibility. The issue of responsibility is central. And that of guilt.” Vassili Papavassiliou is a well-known theatre man on the Greek scene. He adds this sentence: “The human being is never sure…” Is this a tragic statement? Being a performance is also the nature of tragedy. The writer Takis Theodoropoulos, reminds that tragedy is contemporary: “Tragedy appears each time a utopia collapses.” The 20th Century has a lot of examples to give.
The Encounters came to an end evoking current issues on the occasion of the last round table, “Wars and terrorisms, a tragic contemporary?” Stéphan Audoin-Rouzeau is one of the rare historians that look in the face of war (3) “War can become a way of life, this is the case in a certain number of African countries. Situations of “between” war and peace can endure. The violence of war changes…a war can burst out between neighbours, like in Bosnia, like in Rwanda.” Farhad Khoskokavar, an expert on Iran has published a book out of his investigation on jihadism (4). “The issue of humiliation is central. Henceforth, in a context of mondialisation, everyone has the right to dignity”.
In the hall, questions erupt. “Why not mention the economic war?” “You did not bring up the colonial wars…” In our memory, the figures of tragedy are well anchored. Inexhaustible.
Translated by Elizabeth Grech
1) “Les gens de peu” (Ordinary People), of Pierre Sansot, anthropologist
2) Founder of the Encounters and animator of the 1st round table, Thierry Fabre reminds the tragic element of the textes of the associated artist at the last Festival of Avignon, Wajdi Mouawad.
3) “Combattre, une anthropologie historique de la guerre moderne” (Struggling, a historic anthropology of modern war) of Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, Seuil 2008
4) “A l’intérieur du Jihadisme, Comprendre le mouvement jihadiste mondial” (Inside Jihadism, understanding the world jihad movement), Farhad Khoskokavar