Genocide Studies: Sound, Image, Archive. Abstracts from the one-day conference

Below is a list of the abstracts for papers delivered at the one-day conference in Newcastle University on November 8 2013 (in the order they appear in the schedule).

Towards a Phenomenology of Genocide: A Critique of Lemkin’s Cultural Essentialism
Roy Knocke (Ruhr University, Bochum and Lepsiushaus, Postdam)

Over the last decade, genocide scholars increasingly turned to the creator of the term genocide, Raphael Lemkin. The reason behind the orientation towards the “father of genocide research” is the reasonable tendency to a multi-causally meaning of genocide. Leaving behind the one-sidedness of physical destruction in the UN Genocide Convention and the affiliated concepts since the 1980s, one can observe an intensified turn to non-physical aspects of destruction during genocidal events.

Using published and unpublished (from the New York Public Library) writings of Lemkin, I argue that this theoretical affiliation is problematic, because it works with an essentialist notion of culture which repeats ascriptions of identities in phases of a genocidal process, namely symbolization and dehumanization. Against this, drawing from a complementary reading of Hannah Arendt´s Origins of Totalitarianism and The Human Condition, I sketch a phenomenology of genocide, which grasps genocidal processes as total dominations of time, embodied in collective identities which are transformed in different ways during genocidal acts. Describing these changes bears the potential to a multi-causally meaning of genocide, obviating essentialist claims.

Universal Jurisdiction and the fight against impunity in the Spanish Courts
José Elías Esteve Moltó (University of Valencia)

On 10th January 2006, the Spanish National Court (Audiencia Nacional) admitted the first ever lawsuit to try China for crimes of genocide against the Tibetan people. This has been a landmark decision by the Spanish judges, who decided that the legal and moral arguments put forward by the lawsuit provide grounds to bring Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, and other Chinese officials, to stand trial in Spain, for allegations of Genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity. It is the first known case to do so, not only for the Tibetans, but for any group within China who have suffered in this way through the Chinese government.

Prima facie description of genocide. The National Court legal ruling clearly stated that the facts presented an overwhelming act of genocide: “…the various acts that occurred systematically in Tibet and in relation to the Tibetan people (…), possess prima facie and without a trace of doubt (…)the nature and description laid down in Article 2 (of the
Convention on Genocide)”. Whilst the International Commission of Jurists, and other legal academics have described Chinese actions in Tibet as a genocide, no court has had the opportunity to pass judgement, leaving thousands of Tibetans devoid of the justice that international law seeks to provide, and hence an opportunity for reparation and forgiveness.

In this paper I will examine the grounds on which the Audiencia Nacional admitted this lawsuit and the legal frameworks that govern this process.

‘Borrowed’ Concepts and ‘Meta-Effects’: A Case Study on the Use of the Term Genocide in Contemporary Historiography
Markus Beham (University of Vienna)

The proposed paper will ask whether there exist certain patterns regarding the labelling of atrocities in contemporary post-WWII historiography, applying, inter alia, methodologies of terminology history. In particular, the question regarding the usage of the word ‘genocide’ as a concept endemic to legal scholarship will be at the heart of this analysis.

Which purpose does the use of such a ‘borrowed concept’ – meaning the use of a term originating within one field of scholarship within another – serve? Discussion will include the implications this carries, also referred to as the ‘meta-effect”. Does this serve any analytical purpose or does it even carry descriptive value?

To elaborate upon this, four case studies on historiography dealing with incidents of atrocities that took place prior to 1945 will be made, contrasting assumedly clear cases with such cases, where the categorization of events is under dispute.

While the work itself takes an interdisciplinary approach between history and legal scholarship, apart from focusing upon the search for atrocity labeling patterns, it is also intended as a critique of ‘borrowed concepts’, however, without taking resort to exclusivism of terms but much rather encouraging a more differentiated and conscious approach.

“The past still haunts me today;” Reading Survivor Accounts of Genocide from a Safe Distance
Paul R. Bartrop (Florida Gulf Coast University)

The majority of people who read first person accounts of genocidal experiences do so from the safety of a non-genocidal environment. This will usually be after the fact, in a sheltered country away from the site of the destruction, and through the filtered lens of the reader’s own understanding (or lack of understanding) of the events from which the testimony originates.

This paper is based in part on the author’s forthcoming book Encountering Genocide: Personal Accounts from Victims, Perpetrators, and Witnesses (ABC-CLIO, 2014). It explores some of the pitfalls that can stand in the way of contemporary readers who encounter genocide through the testimony of survivors. These can include the following:

• A lack of full contextualization of a testimony
• A lack of empathy with the author of the testimony
• An inability to appreciate the reasons behind the writing of the testimony
• A disagreement with the content of the testimony

The paper will argue that survivor accounts are a special genre of literature, which must be assessed using different criteria than other forms of literary endeavour. Through an examination of a number of testimonies from a variety of genocidal experiences, the paper will offer conclusions relating to the ways in which survivor accounts can be approached, the better to be able to understand their value.

The gaze of the victim: reconnection to the past through archive footage to stimulate emotional reprocessing.
Stefanie Dinkelbach (National University of Ireland, Galway)

This presentation introduces a perspective that, based on interdisciplinary research, understands mental and emotional dissociation as one of the root causes for genocide and collective violence. The stimulation of a process of reflection, mourning and empathy that can counter this loss is explored in reference to the experimental documentary film ‘The Legacy/Das Vermächtnis’. While the film uses contemporary documentary scenes together with archive material, photography, text, voice-over narration, music and sound to create an audio-visual collage, it is the archive footage of the victims and in particular the gaze of the victims that holds the potential to re-establish the lost emotional bond.

From chronicle to posttraumatic films – documentary films about Auschwitz-Birkenau
Tomasz Łysak (University of Warsaw)

The aesthetic changes in documentary films about the Holocaust can be seen as a reflection of changes in the technical modes of film production, that is, a shift from silent black-and-white footage without location sound to synchronic sound adopted by filmmakers such as Jean Rouch to “create” a Holocaust witness in Chronicle of a Summer (1961). Another perspective would entail inquiry into the use of archival materials (Nazi footage from the Warsaw Ghetto) and, at the other end of the spectrum, a refusal to use these “ideologically tainted” representations (Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah).

In my presentation I would like to focus on select cinematographic representations of Auschwitz-Birkenau: liberation footage shot by the Red Army, Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog (1955 – who incorporated scenes from Wanda Jakubowska’s feature The Last Stage 1948), Andrzej Brzozowski’s Archeology (1967 – employing forensic conventions known from Soviet liberation photographs), and finally Irek Dobrowolski’s Portraitist (2005). It is my intention to pinpoint diverging visual readings of the camp: from the aerial shots opening the Soviet footage to testimony gathered more than 60 years after the liberation.

Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah in the twenty-first century
Sue Vice (Sheffield University)

In this paper, I will analyse Claude Lanzmann’s most recent feature films, The Karski Report (2011) and The Last of the Unjust (2013), in relation to Shoah and to the archive of outtakes from which the new films are drawn.

The Karski Report consists of extra material from Lanzmann’s interview with the eponymous Polish envoy. It is a self-contained meditation on the ‘report’ about the murder of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and Belzec extermination camp that Karski delivered during the war to Roosevelt, and its rejection on the grounds of its unbelievability. In the present, the spectator is likewise challenged by Karski’s remark on the genocide: ‘our brains are not able to grasp it’. The Karski Report is different from Shoah since it appears to take place in real time and does not include the latter’s distinctive interleaving of landscape shots between sequences.

The Last of the Unjust also deploys techniques that do not appear in Shoah. It is an extract from the ten-hour-long interview – his first – that Lanzmann conducted with Benjamin Murmelstein, the former president of the Jewish Council in the Terezín concentration camp during the war. Its interleaving the interview with present-day footage of the camp is supplemented by another technique that distinguishes it from Shoah, since, in apparent contradiction of Lanzmann’s well-known antipathy, it includes wartime footage from a Nazi propaganda film.

In conclusion, I will consider these two new films in relation to Lanzmann’s archive of 250 hours’ worth of rushes, held at the United States Memorial Museum in Washington. Are these releases, and the archive itself, supplements that are crucial to the understanding of Shoah, or independent entities?

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One Response to Genocide Studies: Sound, Image, Archive. Abstracts from the one-day conference

  1. Pingback: Report: Workshop on “Genocide Studies: Sound, Image, Archive” | Genocide Research Group

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