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Talking Cure?

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Such a project seems almost utopian, even whimsical. Already, the Nigerian playwright and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka has published a book, The Burden of Memory, The Muse of Forgiveness (Oxford), casting passionate doubt on the whole idea of confession and absolution as strategies of social healing. Since the 13 percent white minority, as Facing the Truth points out, still owns four fifths of the farmland, 90 percent of the capital, and 95 percent of the industry, does it really need forgiveness too? And those white South African students at the University of Stellenbosch to whom Moyers introduces us are not exactly a comfort. Most seem weary of hearing so much bad news. Only one seems aware that the benefits he has enjoyed for most of his life come with "a moral blame." Another actually complains about affirmative action for blacks.

Words like denial come to mind. But so do words like collective responsibility and collective guilt. How much good are they to the squatters' camps and shantytowns? Can you cash them at a bank, trade them for a job, or buy back your loved ones? Maybe only art is generous enough to hold together, in simultaneous consciousness, the remembrance of terror and the willingness to forgo revenge. Certainly we are most dazzled by those interludes in Facing the Truth when the actual words of actual victims are turned into theater and song.

But this sort of television is also an art, more expansive and compelling than any article or book. One of the all-news cable channels should have broadcast these hearings, and this ambiguity, live. Once again we have reason to be grateful to Moyers, who suggests that however wishful it may be, some ingenious device like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is obviously required to repair a century so addicted to state violence and reciprocal terrorism that they amount to brain-smoking forms of crack -- to a tour of hell from which we get back picture postcards of death camps and Pol Pot; of secret police and Shining Path; of pink-cheeked bombers of federal buildings and abortion clinics and skywriting kamikazes of Kingdom Come; of Belfast, Beirut, Jakarta, and Jerusalem.


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