The post-genocidal condition: Ghosts of genocide, genocidal violence, and representation
Van Der Rede, Lauren
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As a literary intervention, The Post-Genocidal Condition: Ghosts of Genocide, Genocidal Violence, and Representation is situated at the intersection of genocide studies, psychoanalysis, and literature so as to enable a critical engagement with the question of genocide and an attempt to think beyond its formulation as phenomenon. As the dominant framework for thinking genocide within international jurisprudence, and operating as the guiding terrain for interventions by scholars such as Mamood Mamdani, Linda Melvern, and William Schabas, the presumption that genocide may be reduced to a marked beginning and end, etched out by the limits of its bloodiness, is, I argue, incomplete and thus a misdiagnosis of the problem, to various effects. Moreover, I contend that it is this misdiagnosis that has led to what I name as the post-genocidal condition: a deferred return to the latent violences of genocide; enabled often through various mechanisms of transitional justice. This intervention is not a denial that under the rubric of the crime of genocide, as an attempt to destroy in whole or in part what Raphael Lemkin referred to as an “enemy group”, millions of people have died. Rather what I posit is that the physical violence of genocide is a false limit – that the bloodiness of genocide has been mistaken for the thing-in-itself. Thus this intervention is an attempt to offer another way of thinking the question of genocide by reading it as concept, enabling a consideration of its more latent violences, its ghosts. As such, I argue that genocide is first an attack on the minds of the persons who form the targeted people or group, through the destruction of cultural apparatuses, such as books, works of art, and the language of a people, to name but a few; and is lastly an attempt to physically exterminate a people. Thus this intervention invites a return to Lemkin’s formulation of the term in Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress (1944); that the word genocide is meant to “signify”, and as such offers a reading of the question of genocide as signifier, understood, I suggest, in the Lacanian sense. Thus, I posit that genocide, as signifier, operates on both the levels of metaphor and metonym, and as such both condenses and displaces its violence(s). The metaphor for genocide as signifier is, furthermore, rather than the signifying chain as Lacan would have it, the network. As such genocide is marked as text, rather than work; its perpetrators not authors, as Lemkin and various pieces of legislation have described them, but writers; and those who engage with the question of genocide, to whatever degree, as readers rather than critics. Consequently, this intervention stages the question of the reach of impunity and complicity, beyond the limit of judicial guilt and innocence. Metonymically, the relational displacement at work within the network of genocide allows for a reading of the various constitutive examples of the violence(s) that, in combinations and as collective, produce a new signification, other than that of the definitional referent.
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