Sadasdad

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Author’s draw upon the complex interplay between modes of representation and their ability to shape meaning, in order to reflect upon their attitudes towards the past. This interaction manifests in the examination of the conflicting strengths and limitations of history and memory throughout Mark Baker's memoir The Fiftieth Gate and Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis as both texts place emphasis on the inherent bias of acts of inclusion, emphasis and omission. Consequent of the inability to objectively capture definitive truth, all modes of representations of the past are unassailably mediated by the author and thus the purpose of the construction is crucial to the perspective of the past offered. By limiting the pervasive influences of historical and contemporary zeitgeist through the examination of multiple mediums, sources and perspectives the more holistic representation of the past informs the individual’s awareness of the universality of the human experience by informing the present of the past.

Through Baker’s journey towards his conscious recognition of the dichotomy between definitive truth and the authorial mediation of historical discourse and memory, Baker highlights the complexity of his contrasting role as both a son and historian. His dual purpose of mediating “an exchange of pasts” accentuates this conflict as whilst he questions of the reliability of his parent’s memories, “it was not the facts held under suspicion, but credibility as a survivor”, his personal triumph with the approval of his parents is emphasised by the first person narration “I have won their interests”. His need to vindicate his parent’s memory as a historian with documented evidence manifest in his search for evidence. Although he is able to confirm aspects of her mother’s story that “she was once rich, tremendously rich” with a document in Gate 47 written by the Head and Secretary of the Village of Bolszowce, “bought a village, Kinashev, a stable, barn” tension arises when his father’s memory “it was cold, winter, we had winter boots on,” with the repetition of winter to assert the certainty of his recollection, contradicts the document that, “the twenty seventh day of October 1942 was a hot day.” The experiential nature of memory symbolised by the use of “cold” to signify the fear which characterises his father’s perspective against the definitive statement of fact offer that although diametrically opposite in nature, both accounts simultaneously arise as truths.

Baker elucidates that due to the imperceptibility of definitive truth, the interplay between various forms of representation complement a cognitive understanding of the human experience in the present through the past. Throughout Baker’s memoir, the development of his cultural identity is amalgamated from the nuanced perceptions of the past offered through the multiple forms of representation in The Fiftieth Gate, to support Baker’s purpose of, “an exchange of pasts.” The imaginative recreation of Hinda’s death represents Baker’s construction of the unknown past informed by memory and the archive of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem. The contrast between his initial historical approach to the novel with focus on “fecks, fecks, fecks” contrasts the inferences which he draws in his imaginative recreation. The ending of the poem, “tell him, Tell Him that I-” suggests Baker’s acknowledgement of the unspeakable and inability to capture the nature of the Holocaust which further signifies his surrender of his identification with the superiority of historical fact. Furthermore by structuring the novel into fifty chapters, Baker utilises the sustained images of “gates” metaphoric of the pursuit of definitive truth, to assert the ultimate unknowability of definitive truth. The opening poem and last line, “the first light illuminates a hidden fragment of memory” reinforce the limitations of discourse however Baker’s choice of ending the novel with dance at the Buchenwald...
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