Dashiki Dialogues: A war between memory and truth

2014-04-14 10:00

There must be something perverse in how we all gawked at Oscar Pistorius crying his guts out in court this week.

As he all but curled up in a hot mess of puke and tears, I took a moment to observe how folks in our newsroom leapt out of their cubicles to watch the nearest TV screen.

Everybody wanted to see him testify about events leading up to when he killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on that fateful Valentine’s Day last year.

Interestingly, almost everyone in attendance projected the same curiosity normally reserved for those closely contested rugby games, a film thriller or a boxing match.

As colleagues gasped, chuckled and heckled at the screen, I knew we had entered a new space in the public life of both Oscar and the trial itself.

It’s become clear that whether Pistorius will come out guilty or not, the spectacle that has taken ownership of his story has now properly dehumanised him.

It has usurped his private life and his most tragic moments have now been drained of human significance. His fallout with his dead girlfriend is treated not unlike that of The Amazing Spider-Man falling out with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy.

But there’s another vignette. This has to do with how the public chatter is areconcluding Oscar’s guilt or innocence based on the televised performance.

Such violence, as the embattled Paralympian has been a part of, tends to create a divergence between factual truth and a witness or victim’s truthfulness. Consider the trauma and harrowing fact of learning you have shot and killed your loved one – to watch them die by your hand.

As philosopher Slavoj Žižek writes in Violence, the very factual deficiencies of the traumatised subject’s report on his experience bear witness to the truthfulness of his report, since they signal the reported content disrupts the manner of reporting it.

If Oscar was able to testify his painful experience in a clear manner, with all the facts organised in a consistent order, the diligence and quality of his memory would make us suspicious of its truth.

Žižek argues that what renders reports of traumatic events truthful is their factual unreliability, confusion and inconsistency. Calmness and clarity would make him look like an unremorseful, cold-blooded killer. But our public dialogues have turned this into a show item with Oscar wearing guilty dashiki.

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