American Comparative Literature Association, Annual Conference, March 18-20, Harvard University
Marta Marín-Dòmine, Wilfrid Laurier University, Centre for Memory and Testimony Studies
The objective of the seminar is to explore the evolution of the representation of the perpetrator of mass atrocities in 20th and 21st century textual and visual works, fictional and non-fictional, and to identify a set of theoretical concerns pertaining to a critical reading of the figure.
In recent years, a significant body of scholarship has taken up the ethical question of whether we should – and if we should, how we can – engage with the perpetrators’ perspective of atrocity. This is particularly salient in the fields of memory studies and trauma studies, where testimonies and documents produced by perpetrators constitute a large part of the historical archive, and where writers, filmmakers, artists, and museum displays increasingly make use of the works and accounts of perpetrators to challenge and disrupt the ways in which we approach catastrophic events.
This question has seemingly become more salient in light of the recent vogue for perpetrator fictions and documentaries, most notably Les bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell, and The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer and Duch, le maître des forges de l’enfer by Rithy Panh. Such representations – and their moral burden – have generated a diversity of conflicting ethical and aesthetic responses, many of which interrogate the question what historical, ethical or aesthetic truth can fictional and/or non-fictional perpetrator testimony claim to represent?
The seminar departs from the debatable hypothesis that the 21st century has witnessed a turn in the representation of the perpetrator that, aside from delving into his “ordinariness”, aims at promoting an identification with the reader/viewer – as if he were like us and we like him. We invite presentations that elaborate on this hypothesis, whether to expand, criticize or nuance it, from any theoretical framework that takes into account the dialectic of ethics and aesthetics.
Furthermore, and against this broad starting point, we invite participants to discuss any of the following questions from a comparative point of view:
Schöne Zeiten in Auschwitz
Christophe Busch, Kazerne Dossin – University of Amsterdam
Representations of Perpetrators of Mass Atrocities Committed in the Great Lakes Region of Africa
Gerd Hankel, Hamburg Institute for Social Research
The Ambivalent Grotesque: Tournier’s The Ogre and the Malign Inversion of Evil
Yasaman Naraghi, University of Washington
The Voices of Perpetrators
Sue Vice, University of Sheffield, UK
Picturing the Perpetrator
Paul Lowe, University of the Arts London
Between Victims and Perpetrators, Approaching the Gray Zone
Mesnard Philippe, University of Clermont-Ferrand 2 – UBP
Åsne Seierstad’s One of Us: Perpetrator and Victim in the Construction of National Innocence
Ellen Rees , University of Oslo
The I-Narrator and His Foil: Identifying with the Holocaust Perpetrator
Gregor Rehmer, Universität Hamburg
A Cambodian Eichmann? Visions of Khmer Rouge Perpetrators in the Global Context
Stephanie Benzaquen-Gautier, Erasmus University Rotterdam
The Things We Bury: Confronting Atrocity in Tim O’Brien’s My Lai Writings
Iain Bernhoft, Boston University
Memory, Commemoration and the Politics of Representation in Post-Genocide Cambodia
Khatharya Um, University of California, Berkeley
Thoughtlessness and Skandala: The Trial of Duch
Benjamin Waterman, University of Waterloo