Remembering Iris Chang

This post was written by Friday blogger Annie Reid.

The spring VLS is online, and includes a fascinating remembrance of Iris Chang, the author of The Rape of Nanking who committed suicide last year:

Many believed she was driven to kill herself by the sheer horror of her research, that years of listening to tale after tale of brutality had finally taken their toll. Helen Zia, journalist, activist, and author of the book Asian American Dreams, says it would “just compound the tragedy of her death if people were to think that speaking out about hate crimes, about human rights violations, about genocide, is bad for you.”

People make some sort of sense of the suicide of a writer like Primo Levi, as a witness to the atrocities he wrote about. But could the years of research and imagining that an literary or historical project like The Rape of Nanking take a similar toll? Or is it a reflection of a culture that leans towards trauma, real or imagined, as an explanation for every extreme of human behavior?

What Sigrid Loffler said, in reference to the Holocaust, is true of other collective human tragedies:

If memory experienced should not be lost or disappear from collective memory, it must be transformed from biographical reminiscence into cultural memory; personal memory must be conveyed from the experiences of eyewitnesses into the enduring form of literary construction.

Or historical construction, such as Iris Chang’s work. I don’t know anything more about Iris Chang, or the circumstance of her death, but here’s hoping her work serves as her legacy much more powerfully than the circumstances of her death.


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