Radical Psychology
2007, Volume Six, Issue 1

Surviving Reconciliation,
From the Social to the Singular [1]


Philipa Rothfield



This paper is an attempt to think about the voice of the survivor within national projects of reconciliation. It approaches this question through looking at the roles and identities implicit in the reconciliation process. It argues that reconciliation needs to be understood in terms of the Greek notion of the pharmakon, as a more ambivalent process than some of its advocates might imagine. Drawing on the work of Robert Meister and Pierre Klossowski, it concludes that the voice of the survivor may not always be served by the reconciliation process, and that this implication requires ethical thought.

The 'truth commission' has been enthusiastically adopted internationally to promote national renewal and create more inclusive societies after state repression and violence. The centrepiece of the truth commission is individual testimony to suffering.

Michael Humphrey, The Politics of Atrocity and Reconciliation, 2002, p.106

What happened, happened. But that it happened cannot be so easily accepted. I rebel: against my past, against history, and against a present that places the incomprehensible in the cold storage of history and thus falsifies it in a revolting way. Nothing has healed, and what perhaps was on the point of healing in 1964 is bursting open again as an infected wound.

Jean Améry, At the Minds Limits, Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities, 1986, p. xi.

The voice of the survivor is central for projects of national reconciliation which attempt to deal with past trauma in order to facilitate a better future. Survivor testimony performs a number of key functions in relation to reconciliation. It enables the gathering of evidence, helps establish the facts with respect to human rights violations, and legitimates the reconciliation process as a whole through the participation of those who have survived, and therefore witnessed, forms of atrocity. Inasmuch as reconciliation aims towards nation building, the acquisition of testimony fosters the development of consensus, the rule of law and the formation of a human rights culture.  [2] Reconciliation also allows for the articulation of an historical outlook which institutes a break with past conflict. Survivor testimony plays a crucial role in establishing the public record. It offers a first person perspective upon conflict and its concomitant harms, and is an important means by which to contest denials of wrongdoing, and secure accountability in the pursuit of social justice. [3]

Reconciliation tribunals are indebted to those who agree to make visible their personal suffering. [4] Individuals may wish to participate in order to articulate their pain, air their grievances or name their perpetrators. They might desire justice, revenge and relief or feel that they owe the dead a debt of survival which demands address through testimonial forms of witnessing. [5] Alternatively, they may speak out for the good of the community. Whatever the motivation, their reasons are their own: "There is no one reason for telling, nor one way of telling or listening, nor one type of story." (Weine, 2006, p. xvi).

The survivor of atrocity, like other members of society, will benefit from a future horizon of political stability and harmony. Can the same be said of his/her participation in those very processes which aim towards such beneficial goals? There is a tendency on the part of advocates of reconciliation to represent the giving of testimony as a form of cure, as a singular event which can offer release to the survivor of atrocity. This may be suggested through terms such as healing, forgiveness or moving on. For example, Desmond Tutu, the Chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) writes:

We have been privileged to help to heal a wounded people
though we ourselves have been, in Henry Nouwen's
profound and felicitous phrase, wounded healers. When
we look around us at some of the conflict areas of the
world, it becomes increasingly clear that there is not much
of a future for them without forgiveness, without reconciliation.
(Tutu, 2003, p.2)

For Tutu, reconciliation makes the future possible, by enabling healing and forgiveness.

Although reconciliation is a social good, there is a sense in which its benefits come at a cost. This paper represents an attempt to investigate that cost as it is borne by survivors participating in national projects of reconciliation. Survivors may find solace or therapeutic closure through participation in truth and reconciliation commissions, however, there is no guarantee that this will occur. Jacques Derrida has written of an approach to the Greek word pharmakon in which a range of meanings -- remedy, medicine, drug, poison -- are collapsed into a single notion of cure; the remedy. This is a problem of translation. Derrida claims that whilst the notion of remedy represents pharmakon's positive aspect, there is more to the term than this:

Its translation by "remedy" nonetheless erases, in going
outside the Greek language, the other pole reserved in
the word pharmakon. It cancels out the resources of
ambiguity and makes more difficult if not impossible an
understanding of the context. As opposed to "drug" or
even "medicine", remedy says the transparent rationality
of science, technique and therapeutic causality, thus
excluding from the text any leaning toward the magic
virtues of a force whose effects are hard to master, a
dynamics that constantly surprises the one who tries to
manipulate it as master and as subject (Derrida, 1981, p.97).

Derrida's reading of pharmakon aims to maintain its ambiguity with respect to good or ill, to preserve the implicit underside of remedial action.

I shall argue that reconciliation can be similarly understood, in terms of the notion of pharmakon, as a complex, perhaps ambivalent, process which can offer healing but at the same time signifies a negative potential. The ambivalence of reconciliation ensues from the good that testimony performs at the collective level as distinct from its personal cost. I use the term ambivalence to suggest more than one valence or value, that reconciliation can simultaneously embody competing, even conflicting, interests. Too often, social and singular interest is collapsed in these matters whereby social good is identified with individual benefit. Such a slippage tends to obscure the difference between singularity and sociality, a difference which cannot simply be bridged. I offer this position as a remedy to any idealized notion of survivor testimony which promises too much to the participant, or worse, normalizes a pathway of healing and closure to which the survivor of violence must conform. Awareness of the implicit tension between social reunification and individual recovery requires acknowledgement that survivors giving testimony may have particular needs that arise in virtue of giving voice to their suffering. Rather than imagine that participation in reconciliation confers healing, the notion of pharmakon invites a more careful ethical engagement with those who have already suffered enough. Reconciliation thus emerges as a form of pharmakon rather than panacea.

In what follows, I will look at reconciliation as a transitional process of nation building that aims to move beyond conflictual difference towards (re)unification. One way of staging that transition is to identify the parties to past conflict, assign differential roles such as victim and perpetrator, then set the conditions for their dissolution and reformation. In theory, the reconciliation process enables former subject positions (victim, perpetrator) to be relinquished and reformed according to citizen-based notions of identity. Ideally, citizenship thereby comes to be framed according to a new social compact, one which is founded upon a jointly acknowledged view of past conflict. What happens to survivors of political violence according to these forms of transition? Does giving voice to their suffering perform the requisite alchemy of cure on the way to collective renewal?

I will approach this question by looking at the manner in which reconciliation identifies the parties to past conflict whilst producing an emergent subject, citizen of what will become a posttraumatic society. I will do so through the work of Robert Meister on the psycho-social dynamics of transitional justice (Meister 1999; 2005). Meister's work combines moral psychology, political theory and psychoanalysis in order to evoke the dynamics of reconciliation. He asks the question: how does a nation deal with historical trauma so as to set itself upon a pathway of recovery? A central aspect of his work is to analyze the ways in which social trauma is made historical; a thing of the past whose recurrence is collectively resisted. This is what he means by the posttraumatic the production of collective social attitudes towards a traumatic past. [6]

Meister looks at the construction of a singular identity out of antagonistic forms of difference, according to which, a country is able to engage in postwar reconstruction. He captures the move from difference to unity by focusing on transitional forms of identification. Transitional identities represent the mobility of group subject positions in relation to agendas of nation building. In this context, they occur through imaginary shifts in identification, fantasies of collective guilt, attitudes of (mock) reparation, and defense against the return to prior identities. They function in contrast to retributive attitudes of psychological splitting in which aggression towards former enemies is split off and projected onto threatening others who are consequently feared as imminent persecutors.

One way of effecting this kind of reconciliation is to approach the nation as a whole, in terms which resist the resumption of former hostilities. Meister attributes such an approach to Abraham Lincoln. [7] He writes:

Rather than compelling all Americans to acknowledge
the pain that slavery inflicted on those whom our
nation previously treated as others, the figure of
Lincoln invites all Americans to identify themselves as
victims who survived the experience of slavery and
Civil War. (Meister, 1999, p.136)

The point of this unifying mode of address, according to which everyone is a survivor, is to provoke a shift in the antagonistic identifications associated with the war. If everybody is a survivor in Lincoln's terms, each person must give up their old subject positions. Both victims and perpetrators of past abuse need to give up their distinct identities so that they can together become survivors of slavery and of the war that put an end to it (Meister,1999, pp.139-140).

According to Meister, collective identity is achieved by perpetrators identifying with victims, and victims, as a consequence, identifying with the guilt of perpetrators. This staggered pathway towards mutual identification enables guilt to be shared (imaginatively if not actually). The burden of guilt is shared via what Meister calls a fantasy of collective guilt -- we could have been perpetrators, just as we Americans are now survivors of slavery and the Civil War (Meister, 1999, p.140). Mutual identification involves victims relinquishing their identity inasmuch as everyone comes to identify as survivors of a collectively experienced trauma. It thereby undermines the dichotomy of victim and perpetrator, creating the homogeneity of survivorship necessary for national rebirth. This is what Meister means by the movement towards posttraumatic justice. It represents a situation by which a nation is bound together in its joint perception of past trauma. [8]

The homogeneity of survivorship functions in contrast to ongoing conflict and its implicit divisions (Meister, 1999, p.142). If perpetrators are unable to identify with victims, they can only fear and hate them, and may consequently dread retaliation. Fear of retribution fuels ongoing aggression. It signifies the projection of fear and hatred which is then felt as persecution. The problem with ongoing divisions of this sort is that the war can never be over, for retaliation is always around the corner. Where fears of retaliation exist, antagonistic difference is vulnerable to the slippage between ceasefire, surrender and annihilation. [9] It is in the national interest then that perpetrators identify with victims, and vice-versa, to share in mutual identification, so as to jointly acknowledge that victims did suffer abuse or trauma. Once this occurs, the groundwork is laid to create the social consensus implicit in collective survivorship. Survivorship, according to this account, is a psycho-social form of identification -- socially staged -- which aims towards unifying a country formerly divided by war. It is the political means by which a society can reunite in order to begin the work of postwar reconstruction. In that sense, it is a social imaginary, trope of unification.

In terms of moral psychology, the survivor story puts the beneficiary on an equal moral footing as the victim: for we are all deemed survivors. The victim's voice can no longer be heard in this scenario because the binary logic of victim/perpetrator is superceded by the social consensus of citizenship. The emergent identity of survivor is not a reconceptualization of the victim so as to promote his/her empowerment. Rather, it represents the effacement of the victim's specificity altogether. Meister writes:

A Lincolnian view of national recovery
foregrounds national trauma as a unifying
experience and seeks to replace the moral
logic of victim/perpetrator with the moral
logic of common survivorship and collective
rebirth (Meister, 1999, p.137).

The notion of the "nation in recovery" is an important component of ongoing social cohesion (Meister 1999, p.135). According to Meister, posttraumatic reunification has to be maintained. It will always be haunted by a traumatic past and, to that extent, must defend itself against recurrence, against the return of an historical repressed. Nations which have emerged from a traumatic past need to keep their trauma in the past. They do so through refusing to revert to former modes/attitudes of conflict and injury. Meister uses the metaphor of a recovering alcoholic who forbids him or herself another drink for fear of reverting to unbridled alcoholism (Meister,1999, p.152). The recovering nation must similarly refuse like transgressions that threaten a return to former states of conflict.

This gives us a means to understand Austrian and German postwar legislation which proscribes Holocaust denial. [10] These states took a legislative stance against future acts which threaten to return their nation to former states of anti-Semitic destruction. Rather than a mere denial of free speech, the legislation represents an attempt to secure ongoing recovery for the nation state. The historical component of posttraumatic justice differentiates this kind of society from those founded on ahistorical forms of liberalism.

If trauma is to be made and kept historical -- a thing of the past -- the 'nation in recovery' must resist any return to prior antagonistic attitudes. [11] In refusing to entertain the subject positions of the past, the 'nation in recovery' also forbids the return to the subject position of the victim. For Meister, collective survivorship authorizes 'us' to stop listening to the voice of the victim insofar as this is what it takes to recover' from a traumatic history and reunite" (Meister, 1999, p.145). Further, "this stress on unity leaves the specific character of the slave's experience as a victim officially unrecognized" (Meister 1999, p.167). If everyone becomes a survivor, what about the experience and specificity of those whose survivorship is founded upon more than the vicissitudes of national reconstruction? Is the survivor's voice silenced by the reconciliation process itself? In one sense this is clearly untrue. Reconciliation tribunals such as South Africa's TRC made a huge impact in terms of representing the survivors and victims of the Apartheid era. The difficulty is that a new kind of survivor emerges from reconciliation, the citizen-survivor rather than the survivor of political atrocity. In Desmond Tutu's words, "all have been wounded by apartheid" (in Humphrey, 2002, p.108). Inasmuch as all are addressed by these inclusive words, a certain specificity is lost, the survivorship that belongs to former victims alone. Michael Humphrey writes:

The victim's personhood is assimilated
into a category of survivors upon which
the state seeks to build social renewal
(Humphrey, 2002, p.108).

If universal survivorship effaces the specificity of the survivor of atrocity, what happens to the voice of the survivor of political violence? Charles Villa-Vicencio puts the position clearly:

The legislation governing the TRC at the same
time challenges the nation as a whole (victims,
survivors, perpetrators, beneficiaries and
bystanders) to transcend resentment, retribution,
fear and indifference, as a basis for the creation
of a new future In pursuit of these ideals, the victim
is asked to give priority to his other obligations as
a citizen rather than a violated person in the creation
of a new and different kind of society within which
the bigger picture of national unity and reconciliation
is promoted (Villa-Vicencio, 2000, p.201).

According to this view, former victims are asked to privilege universal identity over and above their status as violated persons. Having given testimony, having had their day in court, survivors are now enlisted to move on, to "transcend" old hurts in the name of a future good national unity and reconciliation. It is little wonder that some testimonial witnesses have complex feelings about their experience of speaking out (Henry, 2000). It is also unsurprising that the Director of the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, Cape Town, Nomfundo Walaza, bemoans the fate of victims and survivors thus:

If we are to accept that at the core of the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC)
formation was a national gain (a political
settlement and avoidance of bloodshed), then
we have to face the unfortunate reality of a
conflict between the interests of victims and
survivors on the one hand and those of the
nation as a whole on the other
(Walaza, 2000, p.250).

It would seem that there is a divergence between the optimism of reconciliation advocates such as Tutu who posit the redemptive potential of reconciliation, and those who fear the traumatic effects of testimony itself (Rejali, 1994). Overly optimistic accounts of reconciliation provide an alibi for themselves by selling testimony as a kind of cure unto itself. [12]

If testimony were an acknowledged "poison" rather than "remedy", it would be harder to urge participation upon survivors of political violence, for who would assume such a right? More complicated still is the idea that reconciliation may simultaneously occupy both axes of the pharmakon; positive and negative, remedy and poison. Perhaps we need to recognize that social and individual interests may never fully converge. In light of this possibility, I would like to consider the work of Pierre Klossowski, whose reading of the corporeal philosophy of Nietzsche suggests a radical difference between what happens in a body, and its expression in social terms. Like Nietzsche, Klossowski questions the legitimacy of the social order, especially its capacity to comprehend human life. Klossowski identifies a tension between the social and the singular, between what he calls "the leveling power of gregarious thought and the erectile power of particular cases" (Klossowski, 1997, p.12). Gregarious thought, for Klossowski, is the means by which bodily states come to be communicated between subjects. Although we as individuals need gregarious thought in order to communicate, there is another dimension to life represented by the dynamic heterogeneity of the singular. Whilst individuals may gain social recognition through giving testimony, Klossowski's work suggests that the intensity of feelings engendered through violence may never find adequate expression in socially mediated settings. [13] What finally finds expression is something else, something legitimated by the authenticity of suffering but which at the same time, turns that suffering to its own (social) ends. Klossowski writes:

How can the attributes of power, health and
sovereignty be restored to the singular, to the
unexchangeable, to muteness since language,
communication and exchange have attributed
what is healthy, powerful and sovereign to
gregarious conformity? For it is gregariousness
that presupposes exchange, the communicable,
language; being equivalent to something else,
namely, to anything that contributes to the
conservation of the species, to the endurance of
the herd, but also to the endurance of the signs
of the species in the individual
(Klossowski, 1997, pp.59-60).

Klossowski's distinction between the gregarious and the singular suggests that national trajectories of reconciliation will inevitably privilege "the herd" in contrast to that which is "singular, incommensurable, unexchangeable" (Klossowski, 1997, p.60). Hence the (re)traumatized, the unsatisfied, unreconciled victim is a potential side effect of the testimonial cure. Klossowski's work suggests that gregarious agendas of reconciliation inevitably diverge from that which is singular and incommensurable. It draws attention to the specificity of embodied suffering which can be occluded by overly linguistic approaches to the articulation of trauma. [14] Scarry (1985) and Das (1996) both acknowledge that language can fail the body. [15] The complexity of survivor participation in reconciliation projects does not mean that it should not be sought -- posttraumatic nations must deal with human rights abuses [16] -- but it does suggest that the benefits of reconciliation at an individual level should not be exaggerated. The voice of the survivor is a crucial component of reconciliation, posttraumatic justice and nation building. But for survivor participation, truth commissions could not do their work. However, speaking is a risk, not necessarily a cure. The ethical obligation to participants who agree to lend their voice cannot be easily calculated. At minimum, it behoves us not to idealise their plight. If testimony is a sacrifice made on the part of former victims and survivors of atrocity, then this needs acknowledgment.

Advocates of reconciliation often see it as the way in which the nation is to move on, beyond the trauma of the past, towards a horizon of peaceful coexistence. Testimony contributes to the articulation of human rights abuse such that the nation as a whole can recognize past wrongdoing. Can the past be thereby left behind? What of the legacies of the past in the bodies of the living? Lebbeus Woods has an architectural response to the legacies of war in which he rejects the idea of restoration. In Woods' view, restoring cities to how they were before the war makes them into empty parodies for the consumption of tourists. The problem is that restoration covers up damage:

Wherever buildings are broken by the explosion of bombs or artillery shells, by fire or structural collapse, their forms must be respected as an integrity, embodying a history that must not be denied. In their damaged states they suggest new forms of thought and comprehension, and suggest new conceptions of space that confirm the potential of the human to integrate itself, to be whole and free outside of any predetermined, totalizing system (Woods, 1993, p.14).

For Woods, the "ragged tears" in walls and floors are the beginning of new modes of invention, ones that acknowledge past wounds -- "scabs" and "scars" -- as a basis for future invention. These represent the creation of "new tissue", a field of possibility that grows in the interstices of damage (Woods, 1993, p.36). If reconciliation were to be understood in terms of new tissue, it could be acknowledged that future possibility need not require the transcendence of suffering. Rather, the old would co-exist with the new, allowing for "a deeper level of construction [which] fuses the new and the old" (Woods, 1993, p.31). In this way, the voice of the survivor could participate without any compulsion to transform, to become other than itself.


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Améry, J. (1986). At the minds limits: Contemplations by a survivor on Auschwitz and its realities. (Sidney and Stella Rosenfeld, Trans.). New York: Schocken Books.

Das, V. (1996). Language and the Body, Transactions in the construction of pain: Mourning rituals conducted by women in India, Daedalus,125(1), 67-92.

Derrida, J. (1981). Plato's pharmacy. In Dissemination, (Barbara Johnson, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Felman, S. and Laub, D. (1992). Testimony, crises of witnessing in literature, psychoanalysis and history. New York: Routledge.

Henry, Y. (2000). Where the Healing Begins.  In Villa-Vicencio and Verwoerd (Eds.) Looking back, reaching forward: Reflections on the truth and reconciliation commission of South Africa (pp.166-173). London: Zed Books.

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Klossowski, P. (1997). Nietzsche and the vicious circle. (D. Smith, trans.). London and New York: Continuum.

Levi, P. (1989). The drowned and the saved. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

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Meister, R. (2005). Ways of winning, The costs of moral victory in transitional regimes. In Alan D. Schrift (Ed.) Modernity and the problem of evil (pp. 81-111). Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Rejali, D. (1994). Torture and modernity: Self, society and state in modern Iran. Boulder: Westview Press.

Roht-Arriaza, N. (1999). The need for moral reconstruction in the wake of past human rights violations: An interview with Zalaquett. In Hesse and Post (Eds.) Human rights in political transitions: Gettysburg to Bosnia (pp. 95-213).New York: Zone Books.

Roth, K. (1999). Human rights in the Haitian transition to democracy. In Hesse and Post (Eds.) Human rights in political transitions: Gettysburg to Bosnia. New York: Zone Books, 93-131.

Scarry, E. (1985). The body in pain: The making and unmaking of the world. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schaffer, K. and Smith, S. (2004). Human rights and narrated lives: The ethics of recognition. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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[1] This paper arises from my experience organizing and participating in a number of reconciliation conferences between 2002 and 2005, in Melbourne, London and Sarajevo. These were organized by the Global Reconciliation Network, of which I am a founding member. They were conceived as attempts to build pathways towards reconciliation in the wake of the September 11th attack in the United States, and its response worldwide. Their staging in different cities had very different qualities. The most recent conference, held in Sarajevo, August 2005, entitled Pathways to Reconciliation and Global Human Rights, offered the most inspiring and challenging situation. At the conference, there were a number of participating individuals who expresses resistance to, or skepticism towards, reconciliation. This prompted me to think about the participation of survivors in reconciliation projects, to understand their resistance and to honor their perspectives. In reconciliation parlance, bearing witness to another's suffering represents the attempt to ethically honor individual testimony. This essay's attempt to theorize ambivalence is a manner of bearing witness in philosophical terms to these many expressions of suffering.

[2] Hesse and Post discuss the extent to which a functioning rule of law requires a ‘reciprocity of understanding’ between the governed and those in power.  In their view, these forms of social trust are crucial if the rule of law is to take hold in societies having a history of impunity with respect to the violation of human rights.  They write that “inaugurating such a relation [of social trust between key parties] is a formidable challenge, in which reconciliation, facilitated by amnesty, may play some role”, (Hesse and Post 1999. p.20).

[3] This holds not merely for reconciliation but also for the collection of evidence for the criminal prosecution of war crimes.  See for example, the role of witnesses in the formulation of indictments by the ICTY at The Hague.  According to the ICTY, “Victims play a crucial role in the proceedings at the Tribunal as witnesses, contributing to the process of establishing the truth by talking to investigators and/or by giving testimony in court. In many cases, this requires considerable courage on the part of the witness.  To date, over 3,500 witnesses have taken the opportunity to tell their stories while testifying in court. Through this, they have contributed to the creation of elements of a historical record. The Prosecution has also interviewed 1,400 other potential witnesses.” (http://www.un.org/icty/glance-e/index.htm)

[4] For example, the Human Rights Violations Committee of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) heard 21,519 victim statements over a two-year period.  These statements were key to the TRC Report’s reconstruction of the Apartheid era, including its attempt to account for the numerous abductions, disappearances and missing persons cases that arose during that time; http://www.info.gov.za/otherdocs/2003/trc/4_3.pdf.

[5] See for example, Primo Levi’s work in relation to witnessing in which he claims that survivors are not the ‘true witnesses’ but must nevertheless speak on behalf of those who were, namely those who were killed and are therefore unable to speak (Levi 1988, p.ix).

[6] Wilhelm Verwoerd’s description of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission conforms to Meister’s notion of the posttraumatic.  Verwoerd writes that the TRC represents “the deeply meaningful process of official, public, inclusive remembrance and recognition of key past injustices”, (Verwoerd 2000, p.165).

[7] Meister draws upon Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, his Second Inaugural speech, and the 14th Amendment in light of its application in the prosecution of war crimes, and grants of amnesty as a basis for his analysis (Meister 1999).

[8] This can be understood as the ‘truth’ component of truth and reconciliation commissions.  It represents the nation’s acknowledgement of past wrongs.  For example, José Zalaquett, a member of Chile’s Commission on Truth and Reconciliation, claims that “the cornerstone of the whole policy was to reveal the truth about past crimes” (Roht-Arriaza 1999, p. 197).  Its findings enabled a general consensus to emerge between “all political parties and social sectors that count” regarding the atrocities of the Pinochet regime (Roht-Arriaza 1999, p. 198).

[9] Meister uses the example of General Robert E. Lee’s appeal to fellow Confederates to fight on in order to save family members from “abject slavery” (Meister, 1999, p.142).  The recurrence of the term slavery is telling from the point of view of retaliation.  Lee’s proposition that Southerners are vulnerable to enslavement by the North echoes the slavery imposed upon African-Americans.  Such is the retaliatory logic of reprisal.

[10] Although Austria enacted a number of laws in 1946 as part of its denazification program, it specifically enacted criminal sanction against Holocaust denial in 1992 (Law No. 148).  Germany introduced similar legislation in 1985 under its criminal code, and in 1994, under legislation against the incitement of racial hatred (JPR Law Panel 2000, Appendix B).

[11]  For example, “the United States survived its legacy of slavery by making a constitutional commitment not to repeat the patterns and practices deriving from it” (Meister, 1999, p.152).

[12] Villa-Vicencio for example writes that it can offer “catharsis for some victims and survivors” (Villa-Vicencio 2000, p.203), while Humphrey cites the view that speaking out is supposed to be
a “liberating and empowering act and a step towards individual and social healing” (my emphasis) (Humphrey, 2002, p.107)

[13] This view is supported by Alcoff and Gray who use Foucault to suggest that speech (testimony) always occurs within discursively mediated settings.  The difference between their approach and Klossowski’s is the way in which the body enters the picture.  For Klossowski, the body is a site of multiple, conflictual activities (impulses).  The multiplicity of the body itself is that which resists the conformity of linguistic sociality.  Its corporeal activities can never find adequate ‘expression’ in the generalisations of language.  On Foucault’s account, as utilised by Alcoff and Gray, discursive formations -- the courtroom, the confessional, the truth commission -- represent the means by which the survivor’s speech can become appropriated, reinscribed and reinterpreted (Alcoff and Gray, 1993).

[14] There are many accounts of reconciliation or testimony which emphasize their narrative status (Weine, 2006; Felman and Laub, 1992; Schaffer and Smith, 2004).

[15] Part of the difficulty for theorists such as Elaine Scarry is that testimony occurs in mediated narrative settings which may be inimitable to the expression of pain (Scarry, 1985).  Das (1996) refers to one such setting, the emergence of Indian nationhood out of the violence of the Partition in which more than 100,000 women were abducted and raped: “When asking women to narrate their experiences of the Partition, I found a zone of silence around the event” (Das, 1996, p. 67).  Das cites a number of metaphors produced by women; of imbibing a secret poison which could not be expressed.  What could find expression was a masculine position concerning the exchange of women and the restoration or preservation of honour.  Drawing on Nadia Serematakis’ work on Greek mourning rituals, Das writes of the zone between two kinds of death -- one which can be spoken of and therefore mourned, the other which can neither be spoken nor heard.  She concludes that the women’s experiences cannot be told, nor can mourning occur without addressing issues around the relation between “pain, language and the body” (p.67).

[16] If nation states do not address human rights violations, they risk the outbreak of continuing mob violence and revenge.  See for example, Roth’s account of Haiti’s record in relation to human rights abuse: “Getting away with murder was the rule.  Licence for further bloodshed was the obvious lesson” (Roth, 1999, p.93).

Biographical Note:

Philipa Rothfield is Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy Program at La Trobe University in Melbourne Australia.  Contact: p.rothfield@latrobe.edu.au

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