The impossible transmission
by Hélène PIRALIAN
  • "What will happen?
    What will the future bring?
    I do not know. I have no idea.
    An empty space is always in front of me.
    What pushes me forward is
    a consequence that is behind me.
    That story is constructed backwards.
    It his horrible, it is unbearable."

S. Kierkegaard

____A genocidal project is a project that plans the murder of all human beings from a particular group. It is also a project that plans the destruction of the fundamental basis of what we call the "transmission". This is why the order to eliminate "to the last one" does not only concern the living but also their antecedents, reaching at the same time their descendants at the heart of their own humanity.

____When the perpetrators of a genocide put in place the dehumanization and the disappearance of the dead bodies, are they not trying to render the symbolization of death, the mourning of these deaths impossible? What renders the mourning of these deaths impossible for the descendants is not the death of these human beings. It is the disappearance of the "once living" of the dead that renders death impossible to integrate, because these deaths have never been alive. This is what is at the heart of genocides, this is what puts in place denial and maintains it and produces devastating psychological effects for the descendants. This compels them to offer their own bodies by way of tombstones.

____But isn't this Death that is impossible to integrate for the descendants of the victims of genocide also impossible to integrate for the perpetrators that inherit from a falsification of

their history and from mass grave of denied deaths? If this is the case, then the heirs from both sides would be caught in the same murder scene that would unite them but that would also haunt their world, always ready to be repeated.

____So, the question is, how can this gap in transmission in family relations be expressed and what comes to substitute a creative transmission for the survivors and their descendants? This is what I will try to explain and demonstrate to you and to do this, I will start with a small story by Denis Donikian, a second generation Armenian writer, a story entitled "De père en fils" -From father to son-, story taken from his book Le peuple Haï. (*1) . There, he describes this destruction-disappearance of the bodies, where his hero finds himself in a timeless world of inhuman petrifaction. It goes like this.

____"I have always been surrounded by flesh, by blood and by carnage. I was born in the world of death at the age of ten, when the Kurdes massacred my family and other families and everyone else that was not like them. Us, the children, we were taken tied to one another behind a hill, far away from the village, in a deserted place where no paths existed anymore. Other crutes arrived. They surrounded us and started to slit our throats. I played dead, and soon enough, I was covered by blood; it was the blood of the children that splattered on me. It even ran down my mouth. . I lied there still until dusk. They had said they would come back with shovels to bury us. Wild growling dogs started to pull on the dead flesh. I pushed aside the bodies that were on top of me and I edged my way out towards a slump in the ground. . Luckily, no one was there. I than ran far away as fast as possible.
____(And) Retrieved by a kurds from which he now keeps sheep, he tells:
____From time to time, he would cut the throat of one the animals, took off its skin and head and then cut the body in quarters. I looked at him doing it knife in hand, from the first motion to the last. I tried hard to keep my eyes fixed on that blade, to think of the blade and only the blade.
____In France, I worked with a butcher as an apprentice. Beef carcasses were hanging in the back of the store. I was taught how to cut the pieces. I worked long hours knife in hand, the blade deep in flesh to take out the bones. Once a week, my boss took me to the slaughterhouse. It was an immense room whit tiles on the floor where the blood would stream down towards a manhole. A cylinder gun placed on the forehead was used to kill the animals. They would bluntly collapse on the floor stricken by the blow, their legs still shaking. They were then hauled up with an electric winch and stripped apart. I learned the job and became a killer. I latter established myself as a butcher in a provincial town. Now, my son also works as a killer. He kills indiscriminately chickens, rabbits, cattle and lamb. He resembles me. I can say that I am proud of me I vanquished my memories. .

____Does this means that thanks to a shifting of the murderous act from Man to animal becoming a butcher, the narrator avoids becoming a Man killer?

____If the will to "dehumanize" the human body can de found at the core of every genocidal project, to reduce it to insignificant butcher's meat, doesn't the narrator transposes this scene of cutting up, from Man to animal, like if this scene kept the other to distance and prevented the scene of the slitting of the children's throat to reappear? Or wouldn't this be a desperate attempt to separate his human body from the animal body, as if killing the animal was a way to move away the murder of the children's bodies?

____In this way, he dives deep in the true meat, animal meat, to maintain his separation, his difference from the human body. This meat that I cut is not me. . This animal that I kill is not a Man. We are not animals. My body cannot be reduced to "this" meat or children are not animals, I kill animals not children.

____He makes of this shifted murder scene a shield that defers the comeback of this murder within the human being by transposing this impassable present in the reality of a compulsive act. A compulsive act from which the simple permanent repetition allows to maintain the separation from the truly lived scene, to keep it distant. This repetition serves moreover to mask the original scene that could without it reappear as a nightmare, children coming back into animals.

____This is why he will not be able to free himself from this murderous scene, to the point of sacrificing his life, tacking his descendants along with him. An attachment to this indelible horror holds him to this non-symbolical point, that of the collapse of the human being that's left for him to integrate, to tame, because he is his own and unique point of attachment to the human being.
____But he is not a mere butcher. He is, like he says an animal killer. But wouldn't he also be killer of life, killer of human life? To kill life before it can make sense, to kill it in the bud before it can become human and the fear of killing it if it appeared, is that a way to "vanquish his memories"?

____Spending his life trying to keep to a distance his hatred of the children murderers, isn't that also a way to survive but at the price of loosing his own life?

____To go even deeper in the devastated universe of the survivor, let us now take a look at another passage of this murderous heritage, another of these existential deadlock and for this let us take another character of Denis Donikian's book: Vrej, a son, this time. Vrej means vengeance in Armenian.

____Here is the story of his birth or more precisely of his baptism and of his death told in two different accounts. The one that tells about his baptism is entitled like the previous one, "de père en fils", "from father to son".

____"He was a chubby colossal man with a big beard and a round face. He was the bishop, shinning from head to foot, with a deep voice that flooded the ship with great serenity. . He was handed a blacked hair(…) podgy baby. (…) Magical formulas accompanied the first immersion in a basin of water of the last-born Sarion, the son of Saro Sarion(…) that stood in front of the officiating priest. Yes, old nightmares were inlaid in the priest's eyes; raped mothers, father taken by soldiers, long line of scrawny orphans saved at the last minute by the Mission. Eyes of tears and of steel. The child was plunged a second time with the same magical words. As the small child emerge from the baptismal water, Sarion saw himself again escaping drowning, struggling desperately in the river where the crutes had thrown him. The third time, the priest was struck in his psalmody, suddenly interrupted by a loss of memory.
____How must we call him? Asked the Bishop?
____- Vrej, answered Saro.
____Then, Sara Sarian, the little girl with the pink dress, turned around towards her mother to ask her the meaning of the name. It means vengeance said the mother. Quite simply vengeance. They dried the bather.(*3)

____Thus, Saro Sarian does not escape his souvenirs and here is what becomes of his son, who doesn't become butcher

____"Wednesday… Vrej will be put to rest wednesday. The heart. Rather young to die. Vrej. In his 50s, 55 maximum(…) Vrej has an art gallery. His engraver shop had become a hospital for sparrows and pigeons or any other type of poultry (...) He was friend of painters but he praised weapons. He would almost cry if a little sparrow would crash against a clean window but he would act like a butcher when the ancestral hatred would get to him. And more and more pail and more and more lumpish when evil would take over his soul (…)
____"Vrej…Vrej… Every day he had his path in front of him. He had his birds and his painters (…) And he didn't see. No he didn't see. Let his volcanic grudge be forgiven for he wasn't able to see. He would break the rigid frame of his paintings, he would heal the broken wings of his pigeons but he did not heal his own wounds, he did not break the shackles of his old memory. Him, complete with a solitary compassion, complete with the universe on which his painters would opened for him their windows. The colours whispered on his shoulder but he did not hear them. And his heart did not resist the contradiction."

____Wouldn't Vrej be like the son of our first narrator, meaning that he is also identical to his father, therefore becoming a clone?

____Another of D. Donikian's tails entitled this time " De pere en fille" "from father to daughter" recaptures this filiation of the clones: "As of now, I am you. Would say Araks, as she would take seat in her father's armchair. Araks, daughter of Ara sari, founder, director and sole journalist of the daily paper "Tarafa". who every morning at 9 O'clock sharp would make her father "come back" within her just by saying this magic formula: "As of now I am you."

____Follows the story of the place taken back by the father that ends by this exhortation: "Our children must resemble us, they must perpetuate us. They must have no other choice than to resemble us and to perpetuate us!" To which the girl answers in echo: "No other choice, father!" (*5)

____There is in this a sort of a freezing in the transmission as if not to let enter death. In this way, the suspension of time in the blocking of the generational movement produces a suppression of the generations and gives the illusion of contemporaneousness of the parents and the children.

____In this environment, there is for the descendants, no space to breathe, no space to create, because the repetition of the defensive system must be held rigid, identical, a genuine cloning, like for the son of the killer/butcher or "intact" vengeance like for Vrej. This is why we could also say no father no son, no father no daughter. A place where the human being is dissolved for not being able to construct himself and where it is no longer possible to love anything but sparrows.

____Yet, in the light of Vrej's deadlock, we understand better what the first narrator protects himself from, defends himself from, by what we could call a successful projective movement. Indeed, the father, by becoming a butcher finds a means to move away from a possible vengeance. As for Vrej, he dies from his impassable contradictions says the author. In a way, Vrej's father passes on to him his own memories and asks him to become an avenger. It is because of Vrej's father forbiddens him to love and asks of him to avenge and to hate and because Vrej is unable to avenge his father that he will die from the heart.

____But, if for the animal killer (the apparent survivor), his destruction is less visible than Vrej's one, what about his being, his identity. Did it stayed beneath the corpses in the mass-grave where he regenerated himself animal killer as the sole possible identity?

____If so, isn't he one of these walking-dead that can go unnoticed because silent, unconscious of the disaster that they express and that haunts the world?

____Is this a way of being survivor of a genocide? Being trapped in the relic of the parents, to the point of being rarely able to escape a death coming from oneself, carried in oneself like one of these belated bombes. In other words, as if this internal death could only occur belatedly at any moment in the real world, the mine lodged within, exploding.

____It is precisely on this belated mine that the lifting of the denial and the interrelation between genocides can have an influence.The lifting of the denial defuses the bomb and places it back in the past, so that it no longer affect the present.

____It is only from a double recognition or an alliance of these two recognitions, recognition of the government that inherited from genocide and recognition from others, that the burial of the dead can become possible and that the inner presence of the executioner omnipresent and all-powerful that maintained the denials can go away.

____It is therefore under these conditions, and under these conditions only that the inner blocked deaths can retake their place in the order of the "once living" and finally become deaths that can be buried without disappearing. Indeed, their death being no more synonym of their disappearance from earth, they become living that are dead and are no more just never having existed. As for the living, they can finally cease to be a receptacle.(*6)

____However, lets not be to idealistic. Even if the recognition of a genocide enables the living to liberate themselves, to be themselves and no more simple clones of their surviving parents, the experience of a genocide for the survivors or their descendants is an experience that weakens their lives and that keeps death dangerously close and ready to emerge under different insidious forms.


Notes :

(*1) The French word "Haï" (which means "hated" in French) is phonetically near to "Hygh" (which means "Armenian" in the Armenian language). Thus the author does a play on words with the title of his book "Le peuple Haï" (= The hated people).

(*2) D. Donikian op, cit., p.67-68.

(*3) D. Donikian, op, cit., p. 98-99

(*4) D. Donikian, op, cit., p.216-217.

(*5) D. Donikian, op, cit., p. 138.

(*6) However, in order to reinstate these disappeared deaths in their status of "once living", these recognitions do not suffice and require, for the mourning of these deaths to be possible, an important psychological work of inner modification of each subject for and by himself.