Report from Norway

Could Bergen’s Concord displace the Oslo Accords?

En route from Norway after a stimulating one day conference, “Hollow Land: Landscape, Memory, Politics,” organized at the University of Bergen by Øyvind Vågnes and  Asbjorn Gronstad, and sponsored by Nomadikon:  New Ecologies of the Image, and the Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.  The conference featured talks by graphic narrative artist Joe Sacco and Israeli political geographer Eyal Weizman, plus yours truly.  Sacco’s marvelous “comics journalism” was the centerpiece, providing a Brueghelesque panorama of everything from Israel/Palestine to Bosnia.  Many questions hovered in the air:  why have comics turned from fantasy and superheroes in our time toward non-fiction, documentary and autobiography?  What is it about hand-drawn and hand-letter image/text composites that provides an access to history and memory that no other medium can match?  Could it be the rapid and startling reversals of time, the implosions of space?  The immersion of the viewer/reader in montages that, unlike film, can be traced and re-traced?  The feeling of patient handiwork, and the care of the pencil in re-tracing the lineaments of faces, clothing, architecture, and landscape?

Eyal Weizman conducted a dizzying tour through the segregated spaces of the Holy Land, tracing its hollowed out spaces and vertical geographies.  A few surface centimeters of pavement and soil belong to the Palestinians on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Below that, a few feet of United Nations international soil.  And below that, it all belongs to Israel, all the way to the center of the earth, in an imaginary cone of soil, stone, and (presumably) molten rock some 4,000 miles deep.

Why should Bergen, Norway be the site for an event of this sort?  Why do Norwegians care about Israel and Palestine?  Perhaps it is compensation for the now obvious failure of the Oslo Agreement, which everyone now agrees has simply provided cover for the accelerated colonization of the West Bank, and the intensified brutality of the military occupation there.  An uncanny coincidence:  the conference took place on the same day, September 20, 2011, that the Palestinians brought their petition for statehood to the United Nations.  Where it will lead is not that clear, but it has at least had the effect of putting this issue back in the center of global awareness.  It will probably have the effect of isolating Israel and the U.S. even further, as the vast majority of the world’s nations will vote in favor of Palestinian statehood.

Norway is, of course, licking its own wounds at this moment, reflecting on the trauma of a vicious terrorist attack by a right wing extremist in Oslo just two months ago (July 22, 2011), motivated by the predictable toxic mix of Islamophobia, hatred of immigrants, and Christian fanaticism.  Norway, bless its heart, has responded with restraint, sanity, and sobriety.  It is not going to war with anyone, most especially with itself.  The U.S. could take a lesson from it at a moment when it commemorates 9-11 with jingoistic and militaristic ceremonies that suggest it has learned nothing in the last ten years, and forgotten the terrible things that it has done in its misguided wars.

–W. J. T. Mitchell

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Filed under Criticsm, Media, WJT Report

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