Sculpting in Time With Burundian Marble


In keeping (slightly) with the general curvature of my previous blog post (albeit unintentionally), I’d like to posit another connection between a Russian concept/idea/work and the Burundian novel Baho! by Roland Rugero. This time out, though, the citing of Soviet history is bound up in its artistry—namely the work of one of world cinema’s greatest directors: Andrei Tarkovsky.

In Tarkovsky’s filmography, there exists a consistent meditation on time and memory. His non-fiction book detailing his philosophy as a director, Sculpting in Time, solidifies this interpretation of his oeuvre; the Soviet director articulates his vision of a cinema whose chief distinction between itself and other mediums was this titular ability to “sculpt in time.” No other medium, posited the filmmaker, could so gracefully take in the full breadth of temporal reality (laid out before the artist like a block of untouched marble) and permit the artist to chip away at the block until its contours reflected a vision of time distilled, reconfigured, and meditated upon with clear-eyed, spiritual intent.

It is in this same register the Baho! strikes its most effective “beats.” The novel slips through and traverses time with freewheeling vigor—and its thematic spine is married to this same stylistic intent. As the character Nyamuragi traverses the hostility and misunderstanding plaguing him in the opening salvos of this novel, he also travels across temporal strata; the novel veers into the past with slapdash tales of how he and his family became aware of his muteness (12), or his early encounters with violence (18-20), all before returning with equal parts finesse and apparent laxness into the present.

The cumulative effect of these time-based switchbacks is to contextualize and set out before the reader the daunting scope and scale and depth of human life—not just day to day experience but the cumulative weight of memory. Linearity—or at least humanity’s default capacity to perceive time as an inexorable march forward—can often omit the most essential elements that contribute to the vagaries of life. In Tarkovsky’s Mirror, perhaps the best example of the director’s modus operandi at work, the main character’s life is depicted in an apparently haphazard darting back and forth from childhood to adulthood, to abstractions vaguely touching upon young adulthood. Like Tarkovsky, Rugero recognizes and rejects the frailty of baseline human perception, and strikes out for something richer and grander: a life placed in the context of the sum of its parts.


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