Rwanda: A New Imaginary
California State University, Dominguez Hills
Created: June 5, 2001
Latest update: July 12, 2001
We wish to inform you that tomorrow
we will be killed with our families
by Philip Gourevitch
Review and Teaching Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata, June 2001. Fair use "encouraged."
This essay is based on Philip Gourevitch's We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. Picador USA, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, N.Y. 1998. ISBN: 0-312-24335-9 $15.00 at Vroman's in Pasadena. Gourevitch brings up all the questions we've discussed on the process of violentization, on the meaning of such violence, on our fascination with it, on our moral obligation to understand it. "I presume that you are reading this because you desire a closer look, and that you, too, are properly disturbed by your curiosity. Perhaps, in examining this extermity with me, you hope for some understainding, some insight, some flicker of self-knowledge---a moral, or a loesson or a clue about how to behave in this world: some such information. I don't discount the possibility, but when it comes to genocide, you already know right from wrong. The best reason I have come up with for looking closely into Rwanda's stories is that ignoring them makes me even more uncomfortable about existence and my place in it. . . ." (At p. 19.)
Gourevitch tells in beginning about his encounter with a man who announces himself to be a pygmy. The pygmy expounds his principle of homo sapiens: "all humanity is one," in the author's words. The pygmy insists that he must marry a white woman, but cannot discover where to find one. Gourevitch starts with the story of the pygmy and then goes on into the stories from Rwanda. He tells us that he tells this story of the pygmy "because this is a book about how people imagine themselves and one another --- abook about how we imagine our world." "I wanted to know how Rwandans understood what had happend in their country, and how they were getting on in the aftermath. The word 'genocide' and the images of the nameless and numberless dead left too much to the imagination."
Gourevitch tells us at p. 6:
"In Rwanda a year before I met the pygmy, the government had adopted a new policy, according to which everyone in the country's Hutu majority group was called upon to murder everyone in the Tutsi minority. The government, and an astounding number of its subjects, imagined that by exterminating the Tutsi people they could make the world a better place, and the mass killing had followed." Imagine the scene between the pygmy and Philip Gourevitch. Assuming no language problem to bar communication, what would you say to the pygmy who tells you he must marry a white wife? To help you think this through, look to TR Young's concept of chaos theory - the theory of complexity. Look to Jonathan Lear's conception of knowingness in his re-interpretation of Freud. Recall that Jonathan Lear says that many feelings are translated directly into action, with no rational foundation. Consider the tension of conflicting feelings. jeanne's thoughts
Gourevitch asked the pygmy why the color of his wife mattered. The pygmy simply repeated that he must not marry a Negro. Gourevitch thought the whole conversation was about the Hutus and the Tutsis, that the pygmy announced himself as a pygmy just to clarify that he was neither Hutu nor Tutsi. Gourevitch uses this conversation to emphasize that every substantive conversation in Rwanda stems from the genocide and its effect on people. Certainly the desire to marry a white wife could reflect a desire to remove oneself from that conflict.
What would I say to the pygmy, in the interest of transforming discourse? That's a tough question. I don't think a lecture would go over too well in that setting. (They were in a bar.) I...