The TORCH Comics and Graphic Novels network are hosting a symposium on ‘Documenting Trauma: Comics and the Politics of Memory’. In the graphic novel Waltz with Bashir (2009), adapted from Ari Folman and David Polonsky’s 2008 animated film, the traumatised protagonist attempts to come to terms with his personal experience of the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s. In so doing, he seeks help from a psychologist, who informs him that ‘Memory is dynamic. If details are missing and there are some black holes, memory fills in the empty spaces until it completely “recalls” something that never happened’ (p.17). Related in comics, its multi-panel construction and the inclusion of gutters or ‘empty spaces’ formally distinct from the continuous flow of the movie animation, Waltz with Bashir intimates an inherent connection between sequential art and the recovery of traumatic experience. As Hillary Chute writes, ‘comics and the movement, or act, of memory share formal similarities that suggest memory, especially the excavation of childhood memory, as an urgent topic in this form’ (2010: p.4). By foregrounding the issue of representation in this way, Folman and Polonsky’s comic raises a number of important questions around the contingency of memory, the capacity to (mis)remember, and the politics embedded in the work of those who remember in the present. For example, though drawing attention to the massacre, the comic problematically foregrounds not the trauma of its victims, but of those complicit in its perpetration. Furthermore, Waltz with Bashir concludes with photographic images, raising further questions about its representational strategies. Does the inclusion of photographs serve to verify the drawn images that come before them? Or does it in fact reveal their fictionality, emphasising the extent to which they are retrospectively constructed?
Beginning with a talk from comics artist Nicola Streeten, and concluding with a keynote from Professor Hillary Chute, this symposium will seek to address the following questions: why have so many comics and other graphic narratives, the production and publication of which has exploded in recent years, been framed as memoirs or non-fictional documentaries of traumatic events? Is there a relationship between the comics form, as distinct from film and written narrative through its inclusion of multiple visual panels, and the remembrance and recovery of trauma? How do the interpretive demands made by these disjointed formal attributes impinge on readers of comics and shape their relationship to historical traumatic events?
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This event is run in collaboration with the English Faculty and Astor Visiting Lectureship Scheme 2017, the John Fell Fund and The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH).