Speaking Difference

In “The Cure by Love,” Kaja Silverman’s intricate and tender analysis of Hiroshima, mon amour (1959), she suggests that it is the necessary participation of the viewer (of the film, but it is easy to extend the idea outward) that allows for the past to be redeemed in the present, and therefore, any such redemption hinges on the spectator’s willingness to employ their own memories in service of revivification.

By making this subjective appropriation exemplary of true vision, Hiroshima, mon amour teaches us a lesson that runs directly counter to all of our usual assumptions about what it means to treat another person, another culture, or another nation with respect. It indicates that the basis for an ethical relation to the Other is not distance, but its exact obverse…Hiroshima, mon amour shows us that it is only by making something our own that we can set it free, bring it to “its authentic appearance.” This film also gives the lie to the assumption that through our revisions and reconstruction of the past we cannot help but betray it. It suggests that it is only through reconstituting what we have loved in a new form that we can be true to it.

The obverse of distance, as Silverman would have it, is incorporation. I am trying to set this idea of hers alongside that of Rancière’s, and what for the last year has been a rallying cry in my research and thinking, namely that “distance is not an evil to be abolished, but the normal condition of any communication.” In an ethical relation to another, are these two propositions incompatible? They certainly seem so on their surface, but so long as Silverman’s appropriation maintains the difference of the past from the present, then subjectivity becomes a tool used in communication, implicating speaker and listener, or self and another. It puts difference in relation to  a concrete sets of experiences, instead of defining it in terms of an abstract notion of what is common or normal.


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