James Dawes: The Guts of Atrocity - Guernica / a Magazine of Art & Politics
Dawes does not allow himself, nor his reader, to look at these narratives on a flat plane. Instead he requires a “pr[ying] open [of] the seams of the everyday.” His discussion about trauma, the body and gender politic, and the damages of history is one that lives and breathes, that takes on a persona, that must be addressed, named, and stared at in the face. In Evil Men Dawes shares facts with brutal bravery, both about himself as author, narrator, father, academic, man, and about the war criminals he interviews. Readers come to understand that the shifting between many hats worn throughout the course of a lifetime is often the exact thing that allows us to conveniently remember and forget aspects of who we are. “[I] began this project with the… assumption… [that] bearing witness to atrocity… is a good unto itself,” the author offers with conviction. Yet later Dawes doubts, saying simply, “I am not so sure anymore.” It is the presence and candid acknowledgement of such doubt that makes Evil Men a crisp and precise take on the quandaries of human rights violations as profoundly complex cultural lacerations, global constructions of top-down humanitarianism, and the conflicting role of the witness as being both part of the solution and, potentially, part of the problem. During one of his stories about his personal experiences while on the road, Dawes asks, “How do you go back, after that, to what’s normal?” This question hangs over the body of this text, the bodies within it, and the bodies reading it, placing at the forefront the reality that “go[ing] back” is one thing that cannot be done, that these words, stories, and actions cannot be unmade. Those lost, though remembered, cannot ever be fully resurrected, as they no longer have the ability to speak for themselves.