Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Act of Killing

“Behind every work of art lies an uncommitted crime” 

For once, actually true. 
Fiction can often get us closer to reality than the approach of non-fiction. Narratives so often conceal, and the very meaning of the word myth has been subsumed by this idea of the "narrative that is a lie." But, as we've so often explored on this site, this isn't the whole picture.

In fact, it's deeply misleading. Because the reality we live most intimately inside is the world of our own narrative, it is through narratives that we can be brought closest to the prima materia, without ever being able to fully say what it is outside its own context. A narrative exists only on its own terms. The further you are removed from that, the less vital it is likely to be. The more removed, the more easy to use it as a tool of deception.

For as much as narratives can bring us close to the blood of life, it is less of a mystery how they can be used to distort, to deceive, to fabricate. The tarot symbol of the Magus (and Hermes, the God most cognate) can lead us into greater understanding of both sides of this bi-valent truth. It is with logos rather than mythos that the Magus creates the illusions that form the world, but it is nevertheless world from word. The most primal and fundamental magic.

This bi-valence is intrinsically linked to what Horkheimer and Adorno called "the dialectic of Enlightenment." They were speaking more specifically of the rise of Nazism when they said “Myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to mythology," but it was nevertheless to this truth that they were speaking, that myths create false histories, they support the very sort of premises that served as justification for the now famous genocide that happened in factories of death such as Auschwitz and Dachau.

Similarly, there is a narrative that has been used to cloak the true history of a less famous genocide, that of Indonesian communists in the mid-60's. The sheer genius of the hard-to-watch, essential viewing of The Act of Killing is a recognition of this dialectic, that narratives can both conceal and reveal.

How so? The director, Joshua Oppenheimer, approached some of the very people that collectively murdered hundreds of thousands of peopleerased them so completely that their side of the story could not be told. They understood the grim truth behind the saying, "history is told by the victors." Yet so often the murderer must give themselves away because if there is no one left to speak, then who is there to gloat? Oppenheimer, it would seem, recognized the banal egoism that lies at the heart of those that kill for personal gain.

He approached them, and he said: let's make a movie. Rolled into that would be the true story of what they did at the time. What resulted is one of the most disturbing, one of the most surreal, and one of the most effective documentaries I have ever seen.
Later, Kongo, ....was surprised to find that his "Arsan dan Aminah" had reportedly been renamed "The Act of Killing" by Oppenheimer.
"Oppenheimer has never contacted me about changing 'Arsan dan Aminah' to 'The Act of Killing'. Frankly, I found out about it only recently, after the film had already been shown in the Toronto Film Festival," said Kongo with irritation, smoking a clove cigarette. The tall and slim man pointed out that he and Oppenheimer had agreed not to widely publicise the film, because in the beginning it had only been intended as part of the latter's thesis. (Article)

(For those having a hard time tracking it down, it can be viewed at here. For those who have Netflix, the full movie is available free streaming.)

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]

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