The book's starting point is a double mnemonic erasure that characterizes hegemonic narratives of violent histories: of widespread, heterogeneous complicity and of "impure" resistances not easily subsumed to exceptionalist heroic models. The introduction outlines the project's key arguments about the role of critical artists in reconfiguring communities' memoryscapes and expanding our understanding of the spectrum of involvement with systemic violence—including both complicit and resistant patterns of action. It also contains reflections on conceptualization and case selection, as well as on the potential implications of the methodological choices made. A detailed chapter outline provides a map to the overall structure of the book.
This first theoretical chapter zooms in on the double mnemonic erasure—of widespread complicity and "impure" resistances—and traces it to specific social-ontological commitments in public, but also academic discourses about violent pasts, especially in legal theory and certain approaches in transitional justice. Building on social- and political-theoretical accounts of human relationality, positionality, and temporality, the chapter proposes an alternative ontology—one that can help us draw a map of the heterogenous and temporally dynamic spectrum of involvement that stretches between perpetrators and resisters. The chapter theorizes the multiple, complex, and ever-changing positions individuals occupy in the social field and introduces empirical evidence from the three case studies covered in the book.
In dialogue with the philosophy and sociology of art, this chapter demonstrates how mnemonic erasures, as well as the habits, relationships, and institutions they underpin, can be challenged cognitively, emotionally, and sensorially: via artworks that can seductively sabotage reductive scripts about "what happened" and prosthetically enable spectators and readers to see the past in its complexity, from different and dynamic points of view. Such works, I suggest, can trigger productive forms of mnemonic hesitation, which could open up a space for remembering and imagining differently. Building on care ethics, I then argue that artists who, through their work, chip at dominant mystifications—thematically and formally—provide a crucial labor of mnemonic care for the political communities they address.
France was partially and then fully occupied by Germany between 1940 and 1944. First, this chapter introduces several forms of French complicity and resistance, focusing on the multiple, overlapping structures that influenced people's complex positions in relation to the occupier, positions that were neither static nor reducible to one single identity vector. The official memory of the war is then reconstructed critically, with a focus on the double erasure. The chapter then analyses six artworks that—I argue—provided aesthetically the mnemonic labor of care introduced in chapter 3: Louis Malle's Lacombe, Lucien (1974), Jacques Laurent's Le petit canard (1959), Patrick Modiano's La ronde de nuit (1969), Brigitte Friang's Comme un verger avant l'hiver (1978), Marguerite Duras's La douleur (1985), and Alain Resnais's Hiroshima, mon amour (1959).
Symmetrically to chapter 3, chapter 4 begins by outlining the horizons of hope and despair that framed how various categories of Romanians navigated the authoritarian Communist order that lasted over four decades. I highlight several specific forms of complicity and resistance within the ecology of violence and then move on to a discussion of the past's mystifications by key memory entrepreneurs after 1989, aiming to contour the shape that the double erasure took in this context. Then, as in the French case study, I introduce several films and novels by caring refuseniks of official memory: The Black Envelope (Norman Manea, 1986), Orienteering (Dan Piţa, 1982), The Land of Green Plums and The Appointment (Herta Müller 1994, 1997), The Medal of Honour (Călin Peter Netzer 2009), and 12:08 East of Bucharest (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2006).
As in the previous two chapters, I begin the chapter on South Africa with a reconstruction of the main modalities of inhabiting and refusing the hierarchical racial order of apartheid. I mark watershed moments and try to provide a dynamic cartography of the spectrum of involvement—both resistant and complicit. I then move on to a discussion of the official story of "rainbowism" and its supporting male martyrologies, joining the critics who have identified its various erasures. The second half of the chapter discusses several artworks that, I suggest, have the capacity to seduce readers and viewers away from the dominant narratives parsed out by the convenient operations of the political-mnemonic scalpel: Zoë Wicomb's David's Story (2001), Achmat Dangor's Bitter Fruit (2001), Tatamkhulu Afrika's The Innocents (1994), John Kani's Nothing but the Truth (2008), Ivan Vladislavić's Restless Supermarket (2001), and Ralph Ziman's Jerusalema: Gangster's Paradise (2008).
This concluding chapter summarizes the book's findings and outlines future avenues of research. Perhaps most importantly, it reflects on the ethics of writing about complex violence and sketches an account of responsive and responsible theorizing. Lastly, it considers the paths not taken—theoretically and empirically—and what they might have yielded for the project.