Remembering Rightly

A Brief Commentary on “The Silence of Others”
by John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Director


Many of us are probably familiar with at least one variation of the Harry Truman quote, “I never gave anybody hell! I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.” Perhaps less well known is Truman’s even more telling observation, “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”

Both of these sayings came to mind after previewing Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar’s film, “The Silence of Others” at the Mill Valley Film Festival last October. Out of 18 foreign titles I saw over a 10-day period, this work was a stand out; and I knew I wanted to bring it to our Walnut Creek audiences.

The 40-year Franco regime that ended in 1975 is a relatively-unknown historical footnote to much of the rest of the world; due in part perhaps to the “Pact of Forgetting” passed by Spanish parliament shortly after Franco’s death. A “forgetting for all, by all,” attempted to bury by silence the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the regime by granting amnesty to everyone.

But exactly how one can truly forget is a matter of reconciling the present and future to a past that can still linger with memories that just won’t go away; nor should they. Ultimately the struggle is not between forgetting past wrongs and the cautionary reminder to never forget what happened; but rather exactly how to remember, in order to move forward with remembered history not to be repeated.

Awhile back, I picked up a book entitled, “The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World,” written by Miroslav Volf. (The author is Director for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School.) In the book, he asks what does “remembering rightly” actually involve? He suggests that “whatever is ‘right’ cannot refer just to twhat is right for the wronged person, but also what is right for those who have wronged that individual and for the larger community., … It is about the struggle to do justice and show grace.”

This is the challenge that lies at the heart of this documentary film’s message that – as critics describe it -- plays out like a political drama. The film’s story line follows real people and unforgettable characters, exhibiting the tenacity and perseverance required to exact justice. And furthermore, it is a drama whose familiarity is as relevant and contemporaneous to American viewers as it is to those similar sharp divisions in Spain today.

The film speaks for itself, and rather than wax on this month with my own critique, I’ll provide one more observant quote for you, the reader’s interest. jb

Quote from a recent article entitled, “The Violence of Forgetting,” by Henry A. Giroux:

“Unfortunately, we live at a moment in which ignorance appears to be one of the defining features of American political and cultural life. Ignorance has become a form of weaponized refusal to acknowledge the violence of the past, and revels in a culture of media spectacles in which public concerns are translated into private obsessions, consumerism and fatuous entertainment. As James Baldwin rightly warned, “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

The warning signs from history are all too clear. Failure to learn from the past has disastrous political consequences. Such ignorance is not simply about the absence of information. It has its own political and pedagogical categories whose formative cultures threaten both critical agency and democracy itself.

What I have called the violence of organized forgetting signals how contemporary politics are those in which emotion triumphs over reason, and spectacle over truth, thereby erasing history by producing an endless flow of fragmented and disingenuous knowledge. At a time in which political figures … are able to gain a platform by promoting values of “greatness” that serve to cleanse the memory of social and political progress achieved in the name of equality and basic human decency, history and thought itself are under attack. Once ignorance is weaponized, violence seems to be a tragic inevitability.”

Giroux is a professor in the department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

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