Seeing the Genocide against the Tutsi through someone else's eyes: prosthetic memory and Hotel Rwanda

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Abstract

Alison Landsberg’s theory of ‘prosthetic memory’ suggests that memories are not ‘owned’, that is they do not depend on lived experience, but rather they can occur as a result of an individual’s engagement with a mediated representation (e.g. a film, a museum, a TV series, a novel). One of the best-known mass cultural responses to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda is Terry George’s 2004 feature film, Hotel Rwanda. While the film was a huge commercial success, Rwandan survivor testimonies paint a very different picture of what happened in the real ‘Hotel Rwanda’ (the Hôtel des Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital of Kigali). This article discusses the different versions of the ‘Hotel Rwanda’ story through the lens of prosthetic memory and considers the usefulness of Landsberg’s theory for analysing memory narratives from or about Rwanda. While Landsberg promotes prosthetic memories as ‘in the best cases’ capable of generating empathy and political alliances, I show that, when mass-mediated representations create revisionist false ‘memories’, this can have harmful consequences for survivors of trauma. After focusing on the ethical implications of what Landsberg describes as ‘seeing through someone else’s eyes’, I conclude that prosthetic memory is a concept that should be treated with caution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-948
Number of pages14
JournalMemory Studies
Volume14
Issue number5
Early online date29 Sept 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021

Keywords

  • Prosthetic memory
  • Rwanda
  • Genocide against the Tutsi
  • Hotal Rwanda
  • Testimony
  • Paul Rusesabagina
  • Alison Landsberg

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