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1.D. Humanities at Large Blogpost 29 September 2017

Humanities At Large
Jackman Humanities Institute Blog
29 September 2017


This week Faculty Research Fellow Lisa Yoneyama (East Asian Studies and Women’s Studies) introduced our deliberations on the theme of reconciliation and redress. After making the statement of land acknowledgment, she began from our deliberations last week concerning the long-term effects of the now institutionalized land acknowledgement, noting that we seem to be working within a shared critical framework with regards to the questions of violence, shame, apology and reconciliation – which she has conceptualized broadly as questions of “historical justice” or “redress.”

Lisa pre-circulated four articles to the Circle of Fellows to inform our discussion:

  • Stephen Best and Saidiya Hartman. “Fugitive Justice.” Representations, 92: 1 (Fall 2005): 1-15;
  • Randall Williams. “Introduction: The International Division of Humanity,” pp. xiii-xxxii, The Divided World: Human Rights and Its Violence (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010);
  • Lisa Yoneyama. “Introduction: Transpacific Cold War Formations and the Question of (Un)Redressability,” Cold War Ruins: Transpacific Critique of American Justice and Japanese War Crimes (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), pp. 1-39;    
  • Lisa Yoneyama. "Politicizing Justice: Post-Cold War Redress and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission." Critical Asian Studies 42: 4 (November 2010): 525-552.

She began with one of the most prominent features of our shared framework informing our discussions, namely a refusal of a state-sponsored politics of recognition and a skepticism toward state-mediated reconciliation or justice. In addition, we seem to be interested in problematizing any framework for Transitional Justice based on a linear temporality. Not only is such a conception of temporality derived from a Christian worldview (as Courtney clarified for us last week); but it can also be theorized as modern, statist, also liberal and Enlightenment (as in the logic of a Bildungsroman). Transitional Justice embeds an Enlightenment model as well as a global liberal economy: with completion, we can move forward and continue to participate in the economy of consumption. This engages Allen Feldman’s logic of “post-violence” (Allen Feldman, “Memory Theaters, Virtual Witnessing, and the  Trauma-Aesthetic,” Biography 27.1 (Winter 2004):163-202, with its attendant disavowal of the structural violence of colonialism through the repudiation of more spectacular, visible violence and the concomitant risk of relegitimizing the status quo, from which Williams borrows a critique of the South African TRC.

‘Fugitive Justice’ introduces another way of conceptualizing time and justice, as in the Best and Hartman article on Ottobah Cugoano alias John Stuart, which analyses liberation as incurring a ‘debt’ on the ‘beneficiary’. This idea has been further taken up in Critical Refugee Studies, as for example by Eric Tang (Eric Tang, Unsettled: Cambodian Refugees in the NYC Hyperghetto  (Temple University Press, 2015), writing about New York survivors of the Cambodian genocide and their refugee histories:

"Refugee temporality is the refugee’s knowledge that state-mediated resettlement is a false proposition; it is the disavowal of resolution, an unclosed refugee sojourn. This does not mean that Cambodian refugees gave up on redemption. Instead, they now regarded it as deferred by extending what Saidiya Hartman and Stephen Best describe as the pause between the 'no longer and the not yet'; 'The political interval in which all captives find themselves – the interval between the no longer and the not yet, between the destruction of the old world and the awaited hour of deliverance. That interval is the hour of the captive’s redemption.' Best and Hartman write specifically about survivors of the U.S. plantation who, since slavery’s abolition, have been burdened with questions of redress and redemption…. For survivors, there is no compensation, no wiping the slate clean. There is only “future justice,” which is justice that must remain elusive to “index…the incommensurability between grief and grievance, pain and compensation.” Fugitive justice resists social and legal redemption, which, after all, only redoubles violence through a premature resolution. Fugitive justice is experienced fleetingly in the unclosed interval between past injury and an awaited redemption, “between the no longer and the not yet.” (Tang, 159)

The limits of the law are exemplified by the International Human Rights regime, critiqued by Best & Hartman, critical legal studies scholars, and critical race theorists. Randall Williams, for example, critiques non-violence for its mobilization of “shame” by international humanitarian operations (e.g., NGOs) that obscure the active role played by the West in producing and reproducing violence in colonial and postcolonial relations. Yet there is a productive ambivalence in this regime, as many of the indigenous claims can only be heard through international law, including, e.g., the claims of the Marshall Islanders regarding the damages associated with the nuclear activities in the Pacific.


Sahtu Dene film still shot
Peter Blow and Gil Gauvreau, Village of Windows: the story of the Sahtu Dene and the atomic bomb. VisionTV, 1999. [still shot: click the image for availability information]

Thus, two sides become visible in the debate, the Target of Justice and the Subject of Justice: the Subject of Justice creates discursive space through the mobilization of state recognition, a UN resolution, etc.; while the Target of Justice is foregrounded as subject and agent of state-mediated justice, violence by another name. Lisa’s book was written very much within this framework, as she focused on the issue of redress for the comfort women who came forward forty and fifty years after WWII to testify to the violence of Japanese imperialism.


Comfort WomanKim Seo-Kung, Peace Monument, 2011. Bronze statue located in front of the Japanese embassy, Seoul, South Korea. Photograph by Lisa Yoneyama.

The International Human Rights movement from 1988 on tried to embrace violence towards women as an important cause for recognition and redress, with the UN as a significant platform. The introduction of a forum for the ongoing recognition of violence thereby both legitimates the state and at the same time begins to conceptualize violence as a process. To return to the statement of land acknowledgment, its institutionalization could provoke the conditions not only for the re-legitimization of state possession (ongoing violence) but also for much broader recognition of the state’s illegitimacy of tenure.

Our discussion started from the question of time and temporality, as a framework for specific histories of redress. What does a Cold War even mean in the legacy of all the other conflicts, colonial and postcolonial histories? Lisa noted that in the context of her work on comfort women, the temporal gap between event and testimony, action and legibility, led her to wonder when to place an ‘end’ to the Cold War, with the Korean peninsula still divided after the collapse of the USSR.


Cold War Ruins coverLisa Yoneyama, Cold War Ruins: Transpacific Critique of American Justice and Japanese War Crimes. Duke UP, 2016.

Is the Cold War a new form of colonialism, a neocolonial regime with client states willingly subjecting themselves to a hegemonic power? If the quintessential logic of neocolonialism rests on extermination and resettlement, can we not see precisely those conditions realized in the Pacific under the pax Americana? Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia (among many others) both flourish and, simultaneously, experience the land depossession, population removals, and extermination typical of colonialism.

Fellows noted that our discussion was extending the critique of the temporal framework of apology that we examined last week to a critique of the interval or suspension between grief and grieving, as the slave subject refuses to accept that the past is closed, refuses to think wholeness might be re-achieved. Our skepticism about the speed of the Canadian government’s move to reconciliation in the aftermath of the TRC, for example, seems linked to our state’s embrace of (past) grief and refusal of (ongoing, present and future) grieving and grievance. Yet acknowledging that we’re always in the interval grounds a spatio-temporal conceptualization that provides us with a way of dwelling in multiple sites of grief. In this way, it might offer a way out of the logic of colonial injustice, in which liberation serves as prepayment of the violence the state will continue to perpetrate.


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