Research Article


DOI :10.26650/LITERA477513   IUP :10.26650/LITERA477513    Full Text (PDF)

Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh

Didem Alkan

“The truth is poison,” goes a Khmer saying. Between 1975 and 1979, an estimated two million Cambodians were massacred following this “truth” that Khmers called “ideology.” To fully grasp the dynamics of this poisonous “truth,” Rithy Panh, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide, focused on the legacy of the regime through the examination of its agents and atrocities. Cinema became the first medium that motivated Panh to revisit this most tragic chapter of Cambodian history. In his films, Panh personally encounters the persecutors and asks them to speak, without being a part of the discourse himself. Elimination (2011) emerges from this silence, the strategy of dissimulation in his cinema. In this work, Panh revisits his experience of encountering the persecutors, while expressing himself by presenting a complete picture of the genocide to the public. This article aims to examine narrative and visual strategies utilized by Panh in order to communicate the reality of the Cambodian Genocide as a witness, filmmaker and writer. I argue that Panh’s consummate discourse stands as a visual-narrative construction, where the fragments of history are broken down to reconstruct the memory of the genocide through a combination of images and words.

DOI :10.26650/LITERA477513   IUP :10.26650/LITERA477513    Full Text (PDF)

De l’image à la narration: la reconstruction mémorielle du génocide cambodgien par Rithy Panh

Didem Alkan

« La vérité est un poison » selon un proverbe khmer. Entre mille neuf cents soixantequinze (1975) et mille neuf cents soixante-dix-neuf, (1979) presque 2 millions de personnes ont été massacrées au Cambodge au nom de cette « vérité » qui a formé l’idéologie des Khmers rouges. Rithy Panh, rescapé lui-même, a décidé de s’exprimer pour comprendre la logique derrière cette catastrophe : d’abord à travers le cinéma, et ensuite l’écriture. Dans ses documentaires, Panh ne raconte pas uniquement ses mémoires individuelles du génocide cambodgien. Il fait face aux génocidaires pour les faire parler et ensuite filmer, tandis que lui, dans un silence total, les observe derrière sa caméra sans aucune intervention. Ce silence grandit en lui-même et le mène à s’exprimer à travers l’écriture. Ainsi, en deux mille onze (2011), il décide de publier L’Élimination où il revisite ses rencontres avec les bourreaux, mais cette fois-ci, en prenant la parole, pour mieux transmettre la réalité. Cette étude vise à élaborer les stratégies cinématographiques et narratives utilisées par Rithy Panh pour transmettre la réalité du génocide cambodgien, en tant que témoin, réalisateur, et écrivain. Nous proposons que le discours de Panh se présente comme un dispositif visuel dans lequel les fragments du passé se décomposent au profit d’une reconstruction mémorielle à travers les images et les mots.


EXTENDED ABSTRACT


“The truth is poison,” goes a Khmer saying. Between 1975 and 1979, an estimated two million Cambodians were massacred following this “truth” that Khmers called “ideology.” In order to fully grasp the dynamics of this poisonous “truth,” Rithy Panh, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide, focused on the legacy of this regime through the examination of its agents and atrocities. Cinema became the first medium that motivated Panh to revisit this most tragic chapter of Cambodian history. Panh, in his films, personally encounters the persecutors and asks them to speak without being a part of the discourse himself. Elimination (2011) emerges from this silence, the strategy of dissimulation in his cinema. In his book, Panh revisits his experience of encountering the persecutors, while expressing himself by presenting a complete picture of the genocide to the public. This paper aims to examine Panh’s holistic approach, as witness, filmmaker, and writer, in order to communicate the reality of the Cambodian Genocide through narrative and visual strategies. Panh’s consummate discourse stands as a visual-narrative construction, where the fragments of history are broken down to reconstruct the memory of the genocide through a combination of images and words. The first part of this paper addresses the strategies and the generic complexity of Rithy Panh’s cinema and narrative. Panh’s primary objective is to reveal the logic behind such brutal violence. His cinema and narrative are both based on the process of extracting meaning both from the interviews with the persecutors and the visual archives that are omnipresent in his works. However, ethical concerns are present in any representation of immoral figures, since the reader could be unintentionally fascinated or identify him or herself with the represented persona, as suggested also by Charlotte Lacoste’s and Dominique Baqué’s theories. In response to that issue, the paper elaborates upon how Panh manages to balance ethics and aesthetics in his representation of the persecutors. Furthermore, Elimination’s narrative device represents a liminal space, in which the fragments of memory are in a constant combat with the problem of denial and omission of the genocide’s reality. In Panh’s work, the intersection of the narrative discourse, parallel to brutal descriptions of decomposed bodies, is not used to hyperbolize the truth of the genocide, but rather to bring the reader closer to the very nature of human beings. Cathy Caruth, in this sense, is a valuable reference, as she elaborates on the relationship between the juxtaposition of the body members and their function in the narrative discourse. Ultimately, Rithy Panh’s capacity for combining images with words facilitates the process of making meaning of the unspeakable and incomprehensible reality of the Cambodian Genocide. In this sense, his narrative could be viewed as a metadiscourse, in which he is in conversation with his reader. In doing so, his path of understanding transforms into a collective effort, and his progressive reconciliation through the artistic production becomes a shared experience of the humanity of recognizing his own nature.


PDF View

References

Citations

Copy and paste a formatted citation or use one of the options to export in your chosen format


EXPORT



APA

Alkan, D. (2018). Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, 28(2), 131-149. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA477513


AMA

Alkan D. Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies. 2018;28(2):131-149. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA477513


ABNT

Alkan, D. Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, [Publisher Location], v. 28, n. 2, p. 131-149, 2018.


Chicago: Author-Date Style

Alkan, Didem,. 2018. “Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 28, no. 2: 131-149. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA477513


Chicago: Humanities Style

Alkan, Didem,. Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 28, no. 2 (Dec. 2022): 131-149. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA477513


Harvard: Australian Style

Alkan, D 2018, 'Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh', Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 131-149, viewed 2 Dec. 2022, https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA477513


Harvard: Author-Date Style

Alkan, D. (2018) ‘Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh’, Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, 28(2), pp. 131-149. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA477513 (2 Dec. 2022).


MLA

Alkan, Didem,. Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, 2018, pp. 131-149. [Database Container], https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA477513


Vancouver

Alkan D. Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies [Internet]. 2 Dec. 2022 [cited 2 Dec. 2022];28(2):131-149. Available from: https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA477513 doi: 10.26650/LITERA477513


ISNAD

Alkan, Didem. Images and Words: Remembrance and Reconstruction of the Cambodian Genocide by Rithy Panh”. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 28/2 (Dec. 2022): 131-149. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA477513



TIMELINE


Submitted08.09.2018
Accepted18.10.2018
Published Online01.12.2018

LICENCE


Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.


SHARE




Istanbul University Press aims to contribute to the dissemination of ever growing scientific knowledge through publication of high quality scientific journals and books in accordance with the international publishing standards and ethics. Istanbul University Press follows an open access, non-commercial, scholarly publishing.