The Limits of Art

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The Limits of Art

It was the longest of many battles fought in Tuscatlán or any other part of El Salvador.  It began at midnight when the first grenades fell from the hillside, and lasted all night until the evening of the next day.  The military said that Cinquera was impregnable.  Four times the guerrillas had attacked and four times they had failed.  The fifth time, when the white flag was raised over the command post, shots fired into the air signaled the beginning of the celebrations.

Julio Ama, who fought and photographed the war, wandered through the streets.  He had a rifle in his hand and a camera, also loaded and ready to shoot, around his neck. He went through the dusty streets in search of the twin brothers.  The twins were the only survivors of a village exterminated by the army.  They were sixteen years old.  They liked to fight alongside Julio, and between engagements he would teach them to read and take photographs.  In the tumult of the battle, Julio had lost the twins and now could not find them among either the living or the dead.

He walked across the park.  At the corner by the church, he entered a lane.  And there, finally, he found them.  One of them was sitting on the ground, his back against a wall.  The other lay across his knees, bathed in blood.  At their feet, in the form of a cross, were their two rifles.

Julio approached--perhaps said something.  The living twin neither spoke nor moved. He was there and he wasn't there.  His unblinking eyes stared without seeing, lost somewhere, nowhere, and that tearless face was the whole of war, the whole of pain.

Julio left his rifle on the ground and gripped the camera.  He advanced the film, calculated the light and distance in a flash, and focused.  The brothers were centered in hi viewfinder, motionless, perfectly profiled against the wall newly peppered with bullet holes.

Julio was about to take the picture of his life, but his finger refused.  Julio tried, tried again, and his finger refused.  Then he lowered the camera without releasing the shutter, and retreated in silence.

The camera, a Minolta, died in another battle, drowned by the rain a year later.

Galeano, Eduardo. "The Limits of Art." The Book of Embraces. Trans. Cedric Belfrage. New York: Norton, 1989. 28-29.

Eduardo Galeano moved us with this abrazo.  Our group chose this particular one because we felt that it dealt with a topic of some importance in today's society.  His story struck us with an illustration of great humanity in an inhumane world.  The links at the top left of the page will go to further analysis of "The Limits of Art." These pages were created by Quel Gordon, Matt Green, Claire Albrecht, and Rebecca Balser.

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