Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Documents of barbarism

Wood s lot has a few Walter Benjamin links today, which is a very minor coincidence. Today I took volume one of the Selected Writings from the bookshelf to try to begin to read, once again, all four volumes in turn, rather than just reading the odd essay.

Two of the links above focus on Benjamin's death in Port Bou in September 1940. Well here's another: an extract from Michael Taussig's imminent book Walter Benjamin's Grave, a collection of essays that the author says share a "love of muted and defective storytelling as a form of analysis. Strange love indeed; love of the wound, love of the last gasp."

My favourite Benjamin essay is The Storyteller. It speaks of the last gasp of storytelling and its replacement by the mere communication of information. "Nowadays no event comes to us without already being shot through with explanations".

A good example of what this means is revealed if one compares the TV commemorations of the 7/7 bombings in London with the coverage of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. One can't help but be moved by the terrible stories of the first, no matter how mawkish the coverage. No explanation is necessary.

However, search for "Afghanistan" on the BBC News website and you'll struggle to find any mention in the headlines of similar sufferings. I got to page 39 before giving up. There were mentions of Women's Rights, fashion shows and even a golf course opening, yet next to nothing about civilian casualties. We know, of course, that many people have died. The information is not withheld, as such, it's just that we can't recognise it. For instance, yesterday we read that "US led-troops and Afghan forces have killed more than 40 insurgents in a raid in southern Afghanistan". The information is a form of explanation.

For brief stories of other deaths, of people with names rather than labels, visit the Afghan Victim Memorial Project with its list of individual victims. A random example being Koko Gul, a 25-year-old mother of two who died on October 27th, 2001.
In the village of Ghanikhel in the Shomali Plains. KoKo was sewing in the second floor when the U.S. bomb destroyed her mud brick home. Nearby bombing by the U.S. killed another 6-14 civilians. A U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter jet dropped a 500 lb JDAM “precision” bomb on KoKo Gul’s home.

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