The Implicated Subject
Beyond Victims and Perpetrators
Michael Rothberg


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction From Victims and Perpetrators to Implicated Subjects
chapter abstract

This chapter introduces the conceptual framework of the book. Starting from a discussion of responses to the killing of Trayvon Martin and other examples of racist violence, the chapter argues that the familiar categories of victim, perpetrator, and bystander do not adequately account for our connection to injustices past and present and proposes a new theory of political responsibility through the figure of the implicated subject. The chapter distinguishes an approach based on implication and implicated subjects from related approaches to complicity, postmemory, and the beneficiary; it lays out the stakes of the book; and provides an account of the chapters to come.

1 The Transmission Belt of Domination: Theorizing the Implicated Subject
chapter abstract

This chapter discusses thinking on intersectionality, complicity, and responsibility that contributes to an understanding of the implicated subject. It considers reflections on victimhood, perpetration, responsibility, and memory that have emerged in the field of Holocaust studies, and supplements it with approaches to structural injustice and the Black feminist theory of intersectionality. Drawing on these diverse sources, the chapter formulates a theory of implication and the implicated subject that offers an alternative to the usual accounts of human rights violations and their aftermaths. Above all, this theory leaves behind the detached and disinterested spectators who dominate discussions of distant suffering in favor of entangled, impure subjects of historical and political responsibility. The implicated subject, the chapter argues, is a transmission belt of domination.

2 On (Not) Being a Descendant: Implicated Subjects and the Legacies of Slavery
chapter abstract

This chapter begins by considering what the concept of the "implicated subject" can lend to the debates about historical redress, restitution, and reparations that have accompanied attempts to confront the long-distance legacies of transatlantic slavery. Next, in order to assess those legacies, it reflects on the very word "legacy" along with its conceptual kin. In a third section, the chapter turns to a literary example, Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, in order to think further about how the category of the descendant functions in the aftermath of traumatic histories. Kincaid's powerful polemic provides a visceral and affectively charged example of what implication might mean for the beneficiaries of slavery's legacies. Finally, the chapter considers Kincaid's text in dialogue with Catherine Hall and Nicholas Draper's Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project in order to distinguish between two forms of implication: the genealogical and the structural.

3 Progress, Progression, Procession: William Kentridge's Implicated Aesthetic
chapter abstract

This chapter considers the implicated aesthetic of the Jewish South African artist William Kentridge. Kentridge's work serves as inspiration for thinking about the narrative form embedded in transitional justice—a politico-legal regime that has emerged in response to transformations like the one in South Africa. The chapter provides a brief introduction to the "narratology" of transitional justice. It argues that transitional justice brings with it a fundamental narrative tension involving the negotiation between continuity and discontinuity, on the one hand, and between implicated and disembedded subjects, on the other. This framework helps open up the narrative dimensions of Kentridge's experiments in animated filmmaking, where he first begins to explore the minimally narrative genre of the procession. The two final sections of the chapter illustrate how Kentridge's quasi-autobiographical exploration of "complex implication" opens up a deep, multidirectional history of race that is simultaneously post-slavery and post-Holocaust.

4 From Gaza to Warsaw: Multidirectional Memory and the Perpetuator
chapter abstract

This chapter reflects on complex implication through the example of Jewish diasporic critique of Israel. It focuses on a controversy that arose when a radical American sociology professor declared that "Gaza is Israel's Warsaw" and forwarded students a photo essay with "parallel images of Nazis and Israelis," several of which depict the Warsaw Ghetto. Through this example, the chapters maps the range of forms that public memory can take in politically charged situations in which complex forms of implication are at play. That mapping includes an extended discussion of artist Alan Schechner. A concluding section turns to two Jewish critics of Israeli policy, Judith Butler and Ariella Azoulay, to argue that thinking through implication—rather than vulnerability or perpetration—represents the most productive avenue for solidarity. The concept of implication, the chapter concludes, offers an opportunity to confront the role of perpetuators of injustice.

5 Under the Sign of Suitcases: The Holocaust Internationalism of Marceline Loridan-Ivens
chapter abstract

This chapter considers the life of filmmaker Marceline Loridan-Ivens. Loridan-Ivens was a Holocaust survivor who experienced the emancipatory and destructive possibilities of revolutionary struggle when she took up anticolonial causes. The chapter begins by exploring relevant varieties of internationalism: socialist and anti-imperialist internationalism and human rights. It recounts how Loridan-Ivens first entered the public sphere through the testimony she gave in the film Chronicle of a Summer about her deportation to Auschwitz. Later, Loridan-Ivens went on to make films in such political hotspots as Algeria, Vietnam, and China. The chapter focuses especially on the film about the Vietnam War she made with her partner Joris Ivens and argues that it involves a shift on Loridan-Ivens's part from the position of surviving victim to implicated subject offering internationalist solidarity. Yet, the chapter concludes, such solidarity comes with its own pitfalls that also deserve critical exploration.

6 "Germany is in Kurdistan": Hito Steyerl's Images of Implication
chapter abstract

This chapter addresses project undertaken by the internationally prominent German artist and theorist Hito Steyerl. In the video November, and in subsequent videos, performances, and essays, Steyerl explores the life and death of her childhood friend Andrea Wolf, a radical activist who joined the PKK (Kurdish militants), and was killed in battle by the Turkish state. In Steyerl's hands, Wolf's life becomes an opportunity to reflect on questions of internationalism and political solidarity. While Wolf's comrades have celebrated her as a martyr and internationalist hero and the dominant media have typically labeled Wolf a terrorist, Steyerl comes to a more complex and ambivalent verdict about her friend and her commitments. In refusing binary simplifications and highlighting how the complexities of Wolf's story intersect with her own story, Steyerl's project helps us interrogate the implicated subject as a figure of historical responsibility and internationalist solidarity in a time of globalization.

7 Conclusion: Transfiguring Implication
chapter abstract

The conclusion considers what it means to call the implicated subject a "figure" and addresses the widespread, but uneven nature of implication along with the possibilities for transfiguring it in the direction of long-distance solidarity. Reflecting back on the preceding chapters, it offers eleven theses that synthesize the argument of the book.