Keynote Speakers

David Theo Goldberg

Professor, Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine, USA

Global Dread

Dread, I suggest, is the driving political affect of our current conjuncture. I examine the relational ambiguities of a dread that is more or less global, the dread globalization has prompted (contrasted with the dread of global imperialisms) and the dread of globalization as such.

Paul Gilroy spoke of postcolonial mourning, the nostalgia for a sensed loss of standing in a world bereft of empire, its affordances both material and affective. I will argue that this sense of imperial loss has given way to provincializing isolationisms. Presumptive privilege is being pervasively challenge. Taken for granted domination has slipped into self-doubt, and by extension to an unexpected and uncontrolled dread. I will trace both the specific prompts of this seeping sensibility and the social impacts and implications. The arc of the argument, in short, is to map dread as the driving political sensibility of our time.

Nayanika Mookherjee

Professor, Durham University, UK

‘Traitors’ of Justice and Reconciliation: The raped woman and ‘warbabies’ of the Bangladesh war of 1971

The work of justice attempts, at the most basic level, to recognize a past historical wrong and to offer redress and reparation. Its goals are to construct a more just future for the individual (or group) who suffered the injustice, and to chart a new future for society as a whole. Time allows those who seek justice to see historical trajectories—individual, communal, institutional and structural— as a means to imagine new or alternative futures or rethink past histories through processes of reconciliation. Conflict and Post-conflict situations are marked by the urgency and need for reconciliation. Following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the post-apartheid period in South Africa in 1994, debates on reconciliation has had a particular currency in addressing violent pasts, seeking ‘closure’ and ‘moving forward’. The idea of ‘national reconciliation’ emerged from a particular set of historical and political experiences, namely the transitions to liberal democracy that occurred at the end of the Cold War But is reconciliation always linked to justice, peaceful processes or peaceful outcomes? What is reconciliation’s relationship to revenge and/or justice? Are revenge and justice co-terminus? Are all post-colonialists committed to justice? Whose justice and whose reconciliation do these terms address? While there exists a critique of reconciliation, this critique is primarily framed around the binaries of victims and perpetrators.

Engagement with Justice and Reconciliation allows us to explore the anticipated and unanticipated consequences of their intertwining with that of the figure of the ‘traitor’ – ‘the enemy within’ – who are deemed to be a hindrance to justice and stand against the commonly conjoined twins of justice and reconciliation. The lecture seeks to map how bereft of historical political-economic contextualizations, the oft-repeated phrase of reconciliation and justice has become hollow and may veil past and present relations of power and powerlessness through the hierarchies of race, class, gender/sexuality, generations, religion, professions and visual economies which enables the framing of justice. Instead, drawing on philosophical, political and ethnographic accounts on the public memories of sexual violence during the Bangladesh war of 1971, the lecture will call into question the figuration of the ‘traitor’ in that of the raped woman and ‘war-babies’ of the Bangladesh war. This will allow us to reflect on what implications this has for theorisations of long-term ‘transitional justice’ and reconciliation within historical and contemporary contexts.

Pablo Mukherjee

Professor, University of Warwick, UK

Fossil Imprints: Energy Justice, Colonial Writing, Post-Colonial Theory

Theories and practices of justice are obviously central to the post-colonial condition. On the one hand, without these there can be no transition out of colonialism – “No justice, no peace” as the slogan demanding the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestine has it. On the other hand, they continue to define the failures and aporia of the dispensation after that transition – “Reconciliation without Justice” as in the case of post-Apartheid South Africa. Yet, such demands for justice often remain confined within the limits of the classical “distributive model” developed by Rawls and others. But as political theorists like Young, Taylor and Honneth have insisted over the past three decades, while distributional issues are crucial to justice, the latter cannot be reduced to them. Since poor distribution of justice is in turn determined by socio-historical processes of domination, oppression and recognition, any theory or praxis of justice must attend to these before they can be properly activated.

One trigger for such activation in our times has been the movement for environmental justice. Ranging from the exposure to racial and ethnic inequalities in relation to toxic hazards and “natural” disasters, to structural analyses of forms of colonialism and neo-colonialism and the mapping of tactics and strategies designed to disrupt them, this movement compels our simultaneous recognition of the historicity of environment and the environmentality of history. Furthermore, the recognition that energy – and in particular fossil fuels – have shaped our everyday lives in ways “that we have never fully understood” (Szeman and Boyer), now raise the possibility of cross-hatching justice with the notion of an “energy unconscious”. Such new forms of justice can finally put to rest the paradigmatic presence of the “distributive model”. But how new are ideas and concepts such as “energy unconscious” and non-distributive social justice? In this talk, I trace their literary genealogy to suggest that they have long been present in the anticolonial imagination. Thus, their re-emergence of within the domains of contemporary politics may then also tell us something about the relationship between post-colonial literature and history – why and how we remember to forget some kinds of writing, and forget in order to remember others.

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